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Cookbook review: '101 Gourmet Cakes' fails to deliver gourmet results

"101 GOURMET CAKES SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH," by Wendy Paul, Front Table Books, $18.99, 145 pages

The expectations with Utah author Wendy Paul's "101 Gourmet Cakes Simply from Scratch" are high — expecting results like those of a favorite neighborhood bakery — along with the ease of baking patterned in her other books. Unfortunately, this one doesn't quite measure up to making the cakes that appear perfectly finished throughout the book.

There is little discussion around technique, with a scarce "do not overmix" instruction being one of the only guides in creating a smooth texture.

In recipes tested, the use of standard, pantry-staple ingredients resulted in dry cakes that would likely not be a step up for home bakers. For example, while any formally trained baker will tell you that cake flour results in a more tender, delicate crumb, Paul's recipes call for all-purpose flour. For the Napolean — a French dessert that can truly be called gourmet if done correctly and from scratch — the recipe asks for boxed puff pastry and custard powder.

Although Paul's quick-and-easy style is apparent in the ingredients in the "101 Gourmet Cakes" recipes, it does not translate into the experience of baking from them. Several of the recipes have grammatical errors and out-of-order steps, and there are a few issues with some of the ingredients, whether they are listed and not used or there's some left over at the end. The Piña Colada Cake, for example, asks the baker to incorporate whipped cream, a non-listed ingredient, but fails to make use of the Swiss Buttercream that is listed. Occasionally, the baker is asked to divide an ingredient, only to be left with some of it at the end of the recipe.

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SNICKERDOODLE CAKE

Snickerdoodle cookies are one of my kids' favorite treats, so I thought I'd make this cake just for them. It's so much fun and a great surprise cake for any party — or just because.

5 large egg whites

½ cup whole milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2¼ cups sugar, divided

1 tablespoon baking powder

3 cups flour

pinch of salt

1 cup butter, softened

1½ cups buttermilk

1 tablespoons cinnamon

1 recipe Swiss Buttercream frosting (see below)

In a large bowl, mix together the egg whites, milk, vanilla, 1¾ cups sugar, baking powder, flour, salt, butter and milk. The batter will come together quickly, do not overmix.

Pour batter into two greased, floured and parchment-lined 9- or 10-inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes, until cake is golden and springs back when touched.

Remove from the oven and cool completely. In a small bowl, combine remaining ½ cup sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. Combine 1 tablespoon cinnamon with Swiss Buttercream frosting. Frost sides, middle and top of cake with frosting and sprinkle the top and sides with cinnamon sugar for garnish.

For the Swiss Buttercream frosting:

8 egg whites, room temperature

1½ cups sugar

1½ pound unsalted butter, softened but cool

¾ cup vegetable shortening, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 pounds powdered sugar

Heat sugar and egg white in a double boiler until sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and beat on high in a mixer until stiff peaks form. Beat in butter, about 3 tablespoons at a time, then add powdered sugar. The frosting may look like it's curdled, or coming apart, but it will come together within a few minutes. Once frosting is done, add vanilla or other flavoring and mix for 1-2 more minutes.

— "101 Gourmet Cakes Simply from Scratch," by Wendy Paul

Jennifer Ball is a freelance journalist out of Los Angeles specializing in food criticism and LDS media.