As a longtime reviewer of recipe books, I’ve come to realize there are two distinct categories in this genre. One is the practical cookbook you leave open on your kitchen counter while cooking. It delivers bright, inspiring images that lift you out of the doldrums of your everyday repertoire and offers concise, clear instructions using as little text as possible. Bottom line: it’s super-practical. The second kind is more of a bedside reading book, more literature than cooking aid. It comes with lengthy introductions and reflections on what particular recipes mean to the author and it’s not a book to pull out if you need to bake a quick batch of chocolate chip cookies for the last-minute guests about to arrive or the kids coming home from school.
This latter category perfectly fits Daphna Rabinovitch’s cookbook The Baker In Me (Whitecap Books, 2016), which received the top prize in the single subject cookbook category at the Taste Canada Awards earlier this year. The Jewish author of this 478-page tome has superb credentials that include director of Canadian Living magazine’s test kitchen, studies in Italy and co-authoring a host of other books, which have received accolades from culinary and literary critics. In this, her first solo book, she aims squarely at the ordinary baker and spends many pages explaining the basics for successful results making cookies, bars, chocolate, muffins, breads, cakes, pies and other desserts.
You’ll want to read these essays slowly and quietly before you tackle the recipes, which is why I recommend this book as good bedside reading. Thanks to Rabinovitch’s many years in the field, she has a plethora of baking tips and gems to share. She offers pragmatic advice on the art of measuring ingredients, the variety of cooking techniques (convection versus radiant) and what they are best used for, when to use chocolate instead of cocoa powder, and how to make your biscuits flaky.
Jewish readers will enjoy her challah, rugelach, Rosh Hashanah honey cakes and Passover recipes. Kid-size bakers will love the oversized peanut butter and oat cookies, the fudgy brownies and the peek-a-boo chocolate cupcakes. And grownup bakers will enjoy the challenge of a chocolate devil’s food cake with chocolate buttercream, One Damn Good Cookie, and the chocolate truffle pecan tart with spun sugar dome. There is lots here to impress friends and family with special occasion and everyday treats. But, as the title suggests, this cookbook is all about baking, so don’t approach it with a dieter’s caution. This is high-calorie fare. We’re talking the full mix of butter, sugar and chocolate with no concessions for waistlines.
Rabinovitch’s recipes aren’t that complicated or out of reach for a beginner baker, but there’s a fair amount of reading involved if you want to be sure you’re baking them the right way. For bakers who are keen learners, her expert viewpoint and strategic advice will add volumes to their knowledge of baking. For bakers who just want to get straight to the recipe with no lengthy reading process, this may not be the right choice for a handy kitchen companion.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.