Q&A with Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of the IACP Culinary Classics Hall of Fame inductee The Cake Bible
The Cake Bible was first published in 1988 by William Morrow.
Congratulations to one of our favorite authors, Rose Levy Beranbaum, whose book The Cake Bible was recently inducted into the International Association of Culinary Professionals Culinary Classics Hall of Fame. This bestselling, definitive cookbook makes cake baking a joy and brings professional-quality baking within reach of home bakers everywhere. Find out more about The Cake Bible and purchase a copy from your favorite retailer.
Rose, what were you doing career-wise when you wrote The Cake Bible?
I was holding baking classes in my school, Cordon Rose; writing for publications, including magazines and newspapers; consulting (I was the first outside consultant at Procter & Gamble, working on their chocolate cake mix); and traveling all over the world at every opportunity to learn about the cuisine of other cultures.
What made you decide to write the book?
I was frustrated by baking books that listed several recipes for the same cake or buttercream but didn’t explain what the results would be. I also wanted to have all the recipes I created organized and in one place. Most of all, I wanted to share my favorite recipes with others and to empower them to reproduce them. To this effect, I created an “understanding” at the end of most recipes, to explain how the recipe differed from other ones and why certain ingredients or techniques were required. I knew that if there were mistakes in ingredient quantities, a recipe would fail and the reader might blame herself/himself and give up. To ensure that the book would be error free, I dictated the entire 1000-plus-page manuscript into a tape recorder and played it back against the galleys.
The book is loved by both professional bakers and home bakers. Did you intend to write it more for one or the other?
Actually this is the very question that Maria Guarnaschelli, the acquiring editor, asked in our first meeting. I said I wanted both professional and home bakers, but she said, “You can have both, but if you have to choose one primarily, which would it be?” My answer was the home baker, but that I didn’t want to dumb it down. I wanted to empower the home baker to achieve results equal to the professional.
What is your proudest achievement resulting from having written The Cake Bible?
The book has connected me to people from all around the world, creating a community of bakers. Technology has served to make this possible. By giving thoroughly tested recipes and the information necessary to achieve good results it has empowered people to become bakers. Most of all, I am proud that it has set the standard for baking books to offer weights as well as volume for measuring ingredients.
Did you have any idea it would become this kind of classic?
At first I wasn’t certain that my reviewers would appreciate all the information I was offering. And some readers told me they thought it was excessive–until they started baking from the book and realized that if they followed the recipe carefully they would succeed. I started getting questions from readers working from other books that seemed “easier” (because the recipe might have been on one page instead of three), until they got into trouble and there was no explanation for what went wrong! Shortly after the book launch, the New York Times featured it in a two-page article, and the sales zoomed (18,500 copies sold in one day!). I knew then that word of mouth alone would continue to propel the book.
What (if anything) has changed about your approach to baking since the book came out in 1988?
I think that the more one writes the better one gets and the more streamlined the instructions can be. I am thrilled that it is no longer necessary to give ounces, and that grams can come before volume.
What recipe from the book do you think has influenced the baking world the most?
More than any recipe it is the technique for butter layer cakes of mixing all the dry ingredients together, mixing in one quarter of the liquid, and then mixing in the remaining liquid and eggs in three parts. This method is faster and easier and results in a more tender and even cake.
Is there a recipe in the book that readers tell you they have trouble with?
Génoise. Almost always it’s because they haven’t beaten it long enough. There are some things that really benefit from a video, so I made one (it’s available on YouTube, along with more than 500 other videos). Also, eggs these days have smaller yolks in proportion to the whites, which results in a coarser génoise texture. (This is because the laying hens are younger.) I therefore recommend adding an extra yolk to the base recipe for the génoise, and to weigh or measure the yolks for recipes in which the eggs are divided.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to beginning bakers?
Get a scale–one that is accurate to 1 gram and can switch between grams and ounces and “tare” out the weight between each ingredient (return the scale to 0). Make sure your oven rack is level and that the oven is calibrated. The best test is to bake one of the basic cakes. If the recipe indicates to bake it between, for example, 20 to 30 minutes and it takes only 15 minutes, it will be very domed. If it takes 35 minutes, it will have a coarse crumb. Adjust the oven temperature accordingly.
Any particular recipe in the book that they should start with?
I would start with the All Occasion Downy Yellow Cake on page 39. People have reported that they learned more from baking from The Cake Bible than at culinary school. Bake your way through The Cake Bible and you will be a master baker.
Thanks, Rose! What’s up next for you?
My newest book, Rose’s Baking Basics, with over 500 step-by-step photos, will be published in fall 2018. I’m posting production phases on my blog, www.realbakingwithrose.com, so people can see the behind the scenes of writing a large, detailed cookbook. I’m also working on my great love, a book on ice cream; planning a wedding cake book; and making many notes for a future memoir featuring a half-century of my life in the food world.