Thursday, March 18, 2010
Chocolate Cakes Book Review by ChristineMM
Title: Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion
Publication: Chronicle Books (January 27, 2010)
Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook
Full Retail Price: $22.95
My Star Rating: 4 out of 5 = I Like It
Summary Statement: Finally the Cookbook I’ve Been Waiting For –but—Text Too Small and Crammed In
First and foremost I’m a chocoholic. I’m an avid home baker and enjoy making things from scratch that taste superior AND wind up being less expensive than store-bought prepared foods. I enjoy the process of creating things. I have a collection of over 350 cookbooks. I have been disappointed in the past when a book all about baking desserts has just one or two chocolate cake recipes and just one chocolate frosting recipe. I didn’t get that, given that so many bakeries produce fancy chocolate cakes, there is a lot more than Devil’s Food Cake out there, and so where were the recipes for the home baker?
I was thrilled to receive a review copy of this cookbook from the Amazon Vine program, sight unseen. However, I was immediately disappointed in the graphical layout of this cookbook. I’m really let down by the publisher’s design team. Yes, the full-color photographs by Ann Stratton are gorgeous (they remind me of the photos in Martha Stewart Living). However, the photos are almost too large and take up a full page. It’s perfect for skimming as a coffee table book but that’s not what I was looking for. It is great that nearly every recipe has a photo and that it’s right on the page with the recipe (unlike the older cookbooks with the color photos in the center of the book). These photos tempt us and entice us. Bravo for that.
The page size (8 x 8 inches) combined with full page color photos and 50 recipes in 144 pages means that something has to give, something must suffer, and that is the TEXT SIZE. The text is too small! Is this four point font? This is crazy! And before you accuse me of needing reading glasses, I just had my vision checked and I still do not need even the weakest reading glasses prescription! Six to eight paragraphs of tiny text all jammed in is not easy to read when one is busy whipping up the ingredients! I want this to be a practical book that I can actually use! The introductory paragraph for each cake has useful information but the very slim font style chosen for that and done in (chocolate) brown ink is also not the easiest on my eyes.
These recipes can get pretty complicated which does NOT scare me off but please, if we have to go through six or more 200 word paragraphs with critical steps, we need to be able to read them easily and quickly! First and foremost a cookbook must be practical and usable.
A technical note which some will like to know, all the recipes use standard measurements and also have metric system weight and volume measurements and the cooking temperatures also supply the metric and a gas mark number.
So far I’ve tried three recipes. I tried the Milk Chocolate Chip-Chocolate Loaf which was easy and fast (although I substituted bittersweet chocolate for the milk so it was super chocolate-y in a delicious way). However that recipe contained an ERROR. We are told to melt unsweetened chocolate but the recipe does not state what to do with it, when to add it, so I used my common sense. I wonder if other errors exist. I made the Simple Chocolate Buttercream frosting (she gives just this one which contains confectioner’s sugar and coffee), I prefer a little more complicated recipe using granulated sugar and my family prefers no coffee. It would have been nice to have both the complex and the simple recipe in this book. Lastly I made the Devil’s Food Cake which was delicious and moister than other recipes I’ve tried.
I have a well-stocked pantry so I can whip these up basically at any time with what I have on hand. The only ingredient I don’t regularly have at home is heavy cream which is a staple in a good amount of these recipes, all with the ganache frosting and some cakes with fillings. This is unlike some other cookbooks that require buying niche products that are hard to find.
Frugal bakers take note I compared the Devil’s Food Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting with the same cake from a local bakery. I estimate my cost was $7-$8 for ingredients bought at retail price versus $35. What a bargain to bake from scratch can be! (The chocolate is the most expensive part.) I recommend American made GHIRADELLI chocolate sold as chips or in baking squares which comes in a variety of types including unsweetened. They are easily found at a local grocery store or are available on Amazon.com. While I’d love to bake with more gourmet chocolate I have some budgetary constraints. Everyone who tastes my baked goods raves about how good they taste: all I do is follow the recipe, use that brand of chocolate and pure vanilla extract. Honestly that’s all I do (and following the recipes is not rocket science).
My children and I have flagged many recipes we can’t wait to try. Chocolate lovers will be tempted by these lovely photographs. I encourage home bakers to forge ahead with courage, as it’s likely that some of these recipes are more complicated than you may be used to baking. It will be worth it, believe me!
About my star rating,I give this 4 stars = I Like It, although I love the many recipes at a low cost I struggled too much with the too-small font to give this book 5 stars (sorry author, blame your publisher’s graphic design deparement for the book's shape/size and the font size issues). If I could divide the rating it would be 5 stars (“I Love It”) for the recipes and 1 star (“I Hate It”) for the font and 5 stars for the photographs. So that averages out to 4 stars.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program for the purpose of writing a Vine review to publish on Amazon.com. I was not obligated to blog this review here nor was I paid by anyone to write this blog post. For my blog’s full disclosure statement see the link at the top of my blog’s sidebar.