Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible is one of the great cookbooks of the twentieth century. After The Cake Bible there was really no reason for anyone, even Rose, to ever write a cake cookbook again. But Rose does have two other cake cookbooks, one a little-known prequel to The Cake Bible, and a sequel, which, like almost all sequels, ultimately disappoints. In this post we explore Rose’s three cake cookbooks, a rather daunting task when one contemplates the number of irresistible calories coming out of the kitchen.
Romantic and Classic Cakes, published in 1981, predates The Cake Bible by seven years. In this first book, we see intimations of the book to come: we see Rose’s organization , and her love of teaching cake-making and decorating techniques. But there is just not enough to Romantic and Classic Cakes. The book is only 84 pages. There are very few actual cake recipes, and only certain types of cakes appear; there are, for example, no buttery pound cake type cakes. Nevertheless, I did make two excellent cakes from this cookbook.
“Chocolate Soufflé Ray” (page 45) was too good, but not necessarily to its credit. This is, as the title indicates, a soufflé, and it can be eaten as such right out of the oven, but cooled and fallen it makes a light and delicious flourless chocolate cake. (Rose actually gives us the opportunity to add a tablespoon of flour, but I saw no point in doing so.) To make this cake, you must caramelize sugar; I was not successful in following Rose’s direction by mixing the sugar with water before caramelizing. Instead, I melted and caramelized without added water. The cake is plain enough that I think whipped cream is necessary; even Danny, who usually opts for unadorned food, and refused cream on his second slice, saw the error of his ways and admitted that the cake really needed the whipped cream. This cake is reminiscent of Rose’s “Chocolate Oblivion Torte” from The Cake Bible, but not as leadenly heavy. And there is the problem: there is no reason to stop eating this cake (even with the whipped cream). Four of us (fairly moderate eaters, too) had no problem finishing off two thirds of the cake at one sitting, and there was no more left by noon the next day. [Go to the recipe.]
I was very fond of canned cherries when I was about four years old; now, I tend to sneer at them, unless they are in an expensive jar with a fancy label. Thus I was not expecting much from “Tart Red Cherry Topping and Filling” (page 72). I suppose that I could have used fresh cherries, but I did not want to pit the cherries. I should have known to trust Rose, for this cherry topping was really good. There is not much to the topping, just cherries and sugar, with the juice thickened with cornstarch and flavored with almond extract, but that is all we need for a perfect chocolate cake topping.
I used the cherry topping for “Le Gâteau Tombé (The Fallen Cake)” (page 43), a suggestion that Rose gives in the introduction to the cake. This is a fallen version of another cake, the fall being achieved by warming the eggs and sugar so that they can be beaten to a large volume, which will then cause the cake to collapse. Rose is ever the cake scientist. I actually did not pay that much attention to warming my eggs, but the cake did collapse enough to hold the cherry topping. The cake and topping were a great combination.
The Cake Bible is the only cake cookbook that anyone ever needs. In this book, Rose tries, and to a large part, succeeds, in dumping all her knowledge of cakes. Rose want to empower us, her readers, both scientifically and creatively (two categories that I know perfectly well are not mutually exclusive). She does not want us to follow blindly her recipes, but to understand them. She does not want us merely to reproduce her showcase cakes, but to have all the tools to create our own showcase cakes. Rose’s instructions are, though, meticulous, so if we want to be copycats, we can be very successful copycats. Rose gives her ingredients by both weight and measure. Her instructions include every step and leave nothing to guesswork, yet she does this without sounding patronizing, or by using excessive verbiage. At the end of most recipes is an “Understanding” section, useful for the curious, for those who do not follow directions and have a cake failure, and for those who might want to explore further on their own. The book has four parts: the first on cakes; the second on frostings and other “adornments”; the third on ingredients and equipment, a serious subject that merits more than some brief introductory material; and a final section with more cake science and tips on making wedding cakes. Rose’s cakes are almost all delicious, and her decorating style is simple yet beautiful. When I first got this book, I made cake after cake from it. I had just given birth to Shay, and was hungry all the time. Needless to say, I did not instantly lose all the baby weight I had gained, as I had assured Danny that I would. He compared this situation to watching someone trying to perform a magic trick that just didn’t work.
In a previous post I discussed two great recipes from The Cake Bible: “Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte” (page 84) and “Cordon Rose Cheesecake” (page 81). Rose classifies both cakes as custard cakes, and bakes them both in a water bath. This is now a very standard approach to baking cheesecakes, but I am not sure how common it was in 1988. I only began using this technique after reading The Cake Bible. Both of these cakes are favorites in our house; although I have tried many cheesecake recipes since The Cake Bible, it is my version of Rose’e cheesecake that is the most requested. In recent years, I have been topping the cheesecake with Rose’s “Lemon Curd” (page 340).
We recently hosted an ice cream extravaganza going away party for a family in our community, and I thought that cake would be an appropriate ice cream accompaniment. Thus I turned to Rose’s books for two pound cakes and an angel food cake. When I was young, these two types of cakes stood out for their architectural qualities: pound cake could be cut into cubical bricks and used to build houses, whereas angel food cake could be rolled and compressed into balls, which could also be used for building, but, even better, for throwing (even if just throwing into one’s own mouth). Rose’s “Perfect Pound Cake” (page 25) is almost, but not quite, a true pound cake. Although her pound cake has the same amount, by weight, of eggs, flour, and sugar, she does use more butter, and also does not just rely on air beaten into the batter for a rise, but adds baking powder. Thus her cake is lighter and more buttery than a true poundcake, but is probably better for these qualities.
“Chocolate Bread” (page 28) is a chocolate pound cake; it is very similar to “Perfect Pound Cake” but with some of the flour replaced with cocoa powder. I like both of these cakes unadorned (although ice cream on the side is quite acceptable); they both are the essence of cake. I have been making both of these two cakes for many years, and am nowhere near getting tired of them.
I used to think that Rose’s hazelnut chocolate pound cake, a variation on “Chocolate Cherry Almond Pound Cake” (page 32), was the best cake in the world, until I discovered Karen Baker’s milk chocolate pound cake. But I had not made Rose’s cake in many years, so I wanted to see if this cake might move back up to number one. This pound cake is made with finely chopped hazelnuts and chocolate. The baked cake is then glazed with apricot preserves and coated with a lemon glaze. On eating this cake after a long break from it, I must admit that it still might be the best cake in the world after all. Karen Baker’s cake is, however, almost as good and much easier to make. [Go to the recipe.]
These are only a few of the recipes that I have made from The Cake Bible. With two exceptions, all the recipes were great, but it is only fair that I mention these exceptions. I did not at all like “White Spice Pound Cake” page 30). The spice combination just did not work for me. On the other hand, I have talked to other fans of this book who quite liked “White Spice Pound Cake”. The other recipe that I did not like was the recipe for “Buttermilk Waffles” (page 103). This recipe uses two sticks of butter for 1¾ cups of flour. This is way too much butter! I love butter, and I love butter on my waffles (instead of syrup), but this much butter in my waffles made me feel sick. So I advise you to avoid the waffle recipe.
While Rose’s Cake Bible was, I believe, the book that Rose wanted to write, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes is the book that her publishers wanted her to write. We still have Rose’s signature ingredient lists, with ingredients by weight and by volume, and we still have fool-proof instructions. We no longer have an “Understanding” section, but the “Highlights for Success” boxes partially replace “Understanding”. The main difference is that this book is just one damn cake recipe after another. There is none of the organization, or the breaking down of recipes that are present in the previous book. People are sheep (and not very smart sheep, at that); this is the kind of cookbook that they want, not a cookbook that makes them think. However, if The Cake Bible did not exist to provide a point of comparison, a hint of what this book could have been, I would then say without reservation: “What a great cookbook!” Rose knows how to make the best cakes, and she knows how to tell us to do the same.
I had lots of egg whites left over from making five quarts of ice cream, so instead of making lots of meringues, I turned to Rose’s “Heavenly Vanilla Bean Angel Food Cake” (page 162). This is a generic angel food cake flavored with vanilla beans, but it is actually not that easy to make a successful angel food cake. I did succeed this time, but only by very carefully following Rose’s instructions. The problem that I usually have with angel food cakes is that they sink; I was careful to leave this cake hanging upside down for more than an hour while it cooled completely. The problem, though, with angel food cake is that it is way too sweet, but sweet as it is, it still has a much lower sugar to egg white ratio than meringues do.
“Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache” (page 104) may well be the best chocolate on chocolate cake that I have ever had. The cake itself is a butter cake with the chocolate from cocoa; Rose adds a couple of tablespoons of oil to achieve “a finer, moister crumb.” Rose suggests canola or safflower oil, but why use these undistinguished oils instead of opting for a healthier, more flavorful nut oil? I used hazelnut oil. The caramel ganache is made by caramelizing sugar, adding cream, then pouring the resulting caramel sauce over unsweetened chocolate. I had a problem with my caramel when following Rose’s instructions, and so dumped the first batch and made caramel the way I like, melting the sugar a few tablespoons at a time. After an hour or two, the ganache is the right texture for frosting the cake. Since the cake itself is only one split layer, there is a very generous ratio of ganache frosting to cake. The caramel taste was very subtle, but all the more delicious for this subtlety. Fortunately, we had lots of guests when I served this cake so there were no leftovers. [Go to the recipe.]
There is a tendency for people with summer birthdays in our house to request strawberry shortcake for a birthday cake, so it was no surprise when that was Danny’s request. Actually, what he requested was the strawberry sponge cake from Firehouse Food, but that cookbook is history as far as Cookbook Cornucopia is concerned, so instead I made him a very similar looking cake from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes: “Red Fruit Shortcake” (page 193). Like the firefighters’ cake, this is not a shortcake; the cake is a génoise (“White Gold Passion Génoise,” page 173). Rose should know better than to mislabel her cakes. Rose bakes her cake in a fluted tart pan with a recess, which I did not have, and so just used a cake pan. Without the recess, all my berries would not have stayed on top of the cake, so I split the cake and used the whipped crème fraiche as glue. I also strayed from Rose’s recipe by using blackberries instead of the unavailable fresh currants. The cake was good enough, but not as good as the firefighters’ cake. I do not think that even had I followed Rose’s instructions faithfully that it would have been that much better.
Flourlesss Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Rose Beranbaum, Romantic and Classic Cakes
2 ounces dark chocolate
4 tablespoons butter
4 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rum
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 9-inch cake pan, line the bottom with parch paper, and butter the paper. Lightly dust with flour.
Melt the butter and chocolate together, either over hot water, over very low heat, or in the microwave. Cool slightly. Beat in the egg yolks and water. While the chocolate is cooling, caramelize the sugar. Do this starting with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a small saucepan; heat over medium heat until the sugar is melted. Add the rest of the sugar, a little at a time. Stirring is not necessary; just tilt the pan about. Watch to make sure that the sugar does not burn. When the sugar is a dark amber, add it slowly to the chocolate, beating until smooth. Add the rum.
Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until fluffy. Add the remaining tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. First fold a big scoop of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold all together. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until done in the middle, 30 to 40 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.
Serve with whipped cream.
Hazelnut Chocolate Pound Cake
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum, The Cake Bible
¾ cup hazelnuts
4½ ounces dark chocolate
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup sifted cake flour (King Arthur recommended)
2 egg whites
¾ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup butter
2½ tablespoons almond paste
1 cup sugar
¼ cup hot water
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup apricot preserves
¼ cup powdered sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
Preheat the oven to 350°. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, making sure that they do not burn. Dump the nuts into a kitchen towel, and scrunch them around in the towel to remove as much of their skin as you can. Do not worry about the skin that still clings to the nuts. Let the nuts cool. Butter a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan (slightly larger than the standard size), line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, butter the paper, then dust with flour.
Once the hazelnuts are cool, pulse them in the food processor with the chocolate until nuts and chocolate are chopped as finely as they can be without getting oily. Combine with the cornstarch and flour.
Divide the eggs as follows: three egg whites in one bowl, one yolk plus one whole egg in another bowl. Add the vanilla to the yolk plus egg and lightly beat together.
Beat the butter and almond paste together. Add ¾ cup of the sugar and beat until fluffy. Gradually add the yolk plus whole egg, beating all the while. Fold in the chocolate, nut, and flour mixture. Fold in the hot water.
Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat. Add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter. Pour into the pan and bake until done, about an hour. Test for doneness by sticking a sharp knife into the center of the cake; it should emerge clean, except perhaps for some melted chocolate. Let the cake cool in its pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.
Heat the apricot preserves, them sieve. Brush the preserves all over the top and sides of the cooled cake. Mix enough lemon juice into the sugar to make a pourable glaze; pour over the top and sides of the cake.
Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa
½ cup boiling water
3 tablespoons water
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1½ cups cake flour (King Arthur recommended)
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons walnut or other nut oil
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups heavy cream, room temperature
1½ tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 9-inch cake pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, and dust with flour.
Dissolve the cocoa in the boiling water and let it cool, covered so that the water does not evaporate.
Mix together the eggs, water, and vanilla. In a mixing bowl (preferably the mixing bowl for your heavy-duty standing mixer), combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter, oil, and cocoa mixture. Combine, then beat together for 1½ minutes. Add the egg mixture in two parts, scraping the bowl and beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until done, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out of the pan and finish cooling on a rack.
The frosting takes several hours to reach the right consistency, so you might want to make it as soon as the cake goes in the oven. Pulse the chocolate in the food processor until the chocolate is in tiny chunks, almost ground. Start to caramelize the sugar by heating a few tablespoons of the sugar in a heavy pan. As the sugar melts and begins to color, add more sugar, swirling the pan to prevent burning. Eventually you will have added all the sugar. When the sugar is a deep golden color, pour in the cream slowly. It will steam and bubble up, so be sure your pouring hand is protected. The sugar may harden in the cream. Heat gently and stir until all the sugar is melted. Remove from the heat and add the butter. With the food processor motor running, pour the caramel into the food processor with the chocolate. When it is combined and chocolate is melted, turn off the food processor and add the vanilla. Let this ganache frosting cool at room temperature until spreadable, which may take a couple of hours.
When the cake is completely cool, split into two layers. Frost, using a third of the frosting in the middle, a third on the sides, and a third on the top.