First Impressions: Love love LOVE all the illustrations! Just flipping through the book, we see not only beautiful pictures of rolls and flaky pastries, but also images showing how to mix, how to shape, how the batter should look, and so on. These kinds of pictures are so incredibly useful for knowing we're on the right track while baking.
This is also a book that's meant to be used in the kitchen. The pages are thick and glossy. The paperback book will lie flat on the counter and any stray globs or smears that get on its pages can easily be wiped away. The table of contents lists all the recipes for quick reference and the recipes themselves are laid out on the page in a way that makes intuitive sense while in the kitchen.
The Angle: This is a book that's intended to teach. It starts out with three full chapters - nearly half the book! - dedicated solely to ingredients, equipment, and technique. These chapters and the recipes that follow will give you an understanding of pastry basics and a solid foundation from which to do your own further exploration.
The Recipes: There are three main chapters of recipes in the book: quick breads, enriched doughs, and laminated doughs. Each chapter includes a few basic recipes (like those for classic brioche, basic sweet dough, and all-purpose danish), and then builds on those recipes to give you increasingly complex variations. There's a good mix of everyday recipes that you can whip up on a whim and special occasion recipes that require more planning and preparation.
We really appreciate that ingredient measurements are given in grams, ounces, and volume, and also that the recipes are very specific about things like pan size and temperatures. This takes out a lot of the guesswork that can lead us astray the first time we attempt a complicated recipe!
The Other Stuff: Don't skip over those first three chapters on baking basics! They're a treasure trove of information and explain things like why one sugar is used over another, why it's good to measure ingredients by weight, and how to tell when dough is properly kneaded.
There's also a DVD included with the book with videos and further instruction on the techniques used in the book.
Strengths & Weaknesses: The real strength of this book is in the details. Without the step-by-step instructions, the patient explanations, and the slow building of technique, it's just another recipe book. But add those back in and you're holding the first semester of a pastry course in your hands!
It's also amazing that this book manages to contain so many nitty-gritty details and still doesn't feel overwhelming or intimidating. This is really a type-A person's dream come true.
Our biggest complaint is that this book could have been twice as long! We would have loved to have seen chapters on pâte à choux, genoise cake, pâte brisée (pie crust), and other pastry fundamentals. We also felt that puff pastry was conspicuously missing from the chapter on laminated doughs and wonder why. We can only hope that Mr. Hitz is hard at work on a second book of intermediate-level pastry making!
Recipes for Right Now: Ginger Scones, Rum-Raisin-Almond Brioche, Apple Kuchen, Stollen, and Ultimate Chocolate Croissants.
Recommended? This book is perfect for anyone who would dearly love to get into baking, but hasn't known where to start. It would also be great for people who've been doing some baking, but want a better understanding of the fundamentals.
Buy the Book: Baking Artisan Pastries & Breads: Sweet and Savory Baking for Breakfast, Brunch, and Beyond by Ciril Hitz, $17 on Amazon.com.
(Image: Quarry Books)