Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chocolate Cakes Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Chocolate Cakes: 50 Great Cakes for Every Occasion

Author:Elinor Klivans

Publication: Chronicle Books (January 27, 2010)

Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook

ISBN: 978-0811868723

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 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 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.


Ina's 5 and our Native Homeschool Blog said...

I appreciate your review. I love baking, an all chocolate cake book would be lovely. The print scares me. But if I get this thing my dad has that holds the recipe book and provides an attached magnifing glass, then this book may delight me as well.

Team Harris said...

Hi there... please don't feel like you have to post this comment. It's more of a question really, and I didn't know if you would see it if I posted it to the original post, which was four years ago.

I am wondering if I can ask you a question about sewing scout badges. I read your post about why you dislike Badge Magic. I do too!!! I am a new scout mom and a friend told me she swears by the stuff because she doesn't want to take the time to sew. I didn't either. So I bought it and got the council patch and troop numbers on and have HATED it. So I refused to use it anymore and decided that I just need to sew them.

Tonight I sewed the troop numbers on w/o removing the Badge Magic. However, it was quite the ordeal as the patches are quite thick... lots of pricked fingers and drops of blood.

So here is my question (thanks for bearing with me)... how do YOU machine sew them? Do you just run a straight stitch along the edge or do you do some sort of zigzag thing around the perimeter? I am confused and am NOT a seamstress. I bought my machine to do simple straight stitches and have not branched out since then. I am looking at the number of things I need to sew and my fingers hurt just thinking about it. I feel like I should be able to use my machine for its intended purpose but I'm lost!

If you have a few moments to share I'd be EVER so grateful. I realize you are busy. I have looked and looked and LOOKED all over the internet for instructions and they just aren't clear anywhere.

Thanks in advance!

Christina in WA mikeandchristinaATgmailDOTcom