We all have a friend or two who is in dire need of being weaned from their Martha Stewart entertaining habits or persistent Rachael Ray cookie book fixes. But handing them the latest crémeux-filled pastry book from Michel Roux is only going to send them into "I can't do it, I need Martha!" baking relapses. It's time for one last Baking Style and CakeSpy shot.
Neither book is going to be revolutionary for an experienced baker, but a revolutionary baking book is not what you need here. For some friends, you need sheer silliness to get your point across. Maybe even a slim little paperback book like CakeSpy: Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life by illustrator and blogger Jessie Oleson that can help the Martha-addicted realize the lunacy of making cute decorations for every edible that comes out of their oven.
Oleson's "candy salad" (p. 91) consisting solely of green candy wafers massaged into lettuce, colored marzipan "tomatoes" and cubes of pound cake croutons ought to do the trick. No one in their right mind would want to eat that salad. Let's get back to simple, straightforward baking, shall we?
That's partly why that candy salad recipe, in Oleson's hands, actually works. In her recipe intros and illustrations, she often mocks the very recipes she has just created. And most books that feature such cute recipes steer clear of including any recipes you'd actually want to make. Oleson does a dance with a little of both (those fantastic, and charming, illustrations in between make it work). Like that "rainbow cake," a towering creation in which each layer is dyed a different color, or the homemade conversation hearts for Valentine's Day. The sort of recipes a Rachael Ray diehard would still find appealing, and yes, even a few recipes that those Michel Roux fans might pull out for their birthday charm.
If you're dealing with someone who fancies themselves more the "sophisticated" baking and entertaining type (the recipes in CakeSpy are more charming for their hilarity, not their flavor), go with Baking Style by Lisa Yockelson. It's the sort of book that uses words and phrases like "fanciful" and "establishing a tradition" in chapter headers and intros, so Martha diehards will feel right at home.
Fortunately, the "dazzling" word play, for the most part, stops there (most recipes have no headers and get straight down to shortbread business). And Yockelson comes to the table with some real baking resume creds. Look beyond the hot pink-everything (the cover, the pages, the photo backdrops!) and the recipes are solid and simple.
But also things your friends actually might make: Vanilla milk cake, chocolate macaroons, rose water rum babas, panettone. Only here, they're described in ingredient terms (that panettone is called "fruit bread [with] ginger preserve glaze"), so the recipes are hardly intimidating for novice panettone bakers.This is a book with real (hot pink) heft.
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And who knows. Maybe next year your friend(s) will get excited about a simple French crémeux.
[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com