frostingsMy Mother claims (and she’s an excellent cook so you can believe her) that the secret to a great cake is the frosting. An ordinary box cake can be transformed to extraordinary with homemade frosting while poor frosting can ruin even the fanciest cake. And don’t even talk to me about canned frosting! Homemade frosting doesn’t have to be difficult (even a non-cook like me can make great frosting!) and here’s the book to prove it.

Frostings by Courtney Whitmore is filled with scrumptious recipes and simply gorgeous photos, showing cakes that are fun, festive and very beautiful. Here is a case where judging a book by its cover is a good idea – just look at that pink confection! Don’t miss the recipe for Swiss buttercream or the many tips and techniques that are both practical and delicious. Yum!

bake it like you mean itGesine Bullock-Prado says it’s what’s inside that really counts, and in this visually sumptuous book, the author of Sugar Baby and Pie it Forward showcases cakes that are beautiful from the inside out.

Each chapter of Bake It Like You Mean It is devoted to a technique of making different types of cake, beginning with the easiest recipe and moving to the more technically difficult as the chapter progresses. When the cakes are cut, they will reveal intricate layers of patterns and designs, such as hearts, checkerboards, helixes, and colorful stripes that will bring a smile to everyone who enjoys them. This compendium of gorgeous cake recipes and techniques will yield glorious meringues, sponge cakes, pound cakes, cheesecakes, and tarts for all levels of bakers.

With her trademark wit and enthusiasm for the world of confections and baking, Gesine’s latest book will delight her fans. (description from publisher)

brown betty cookbookWhen three generations of African-American women decided to open a bakery in Philadelphia, they had no idea how quickly the accolades would come. With high praise from Rachael Ray magazine and other corners of the culinary world, the Brown Betty Dessert Boutique has found fame with their amazing poundcakes, cheesecakes, pies, and cookies, among other delectable treats.

This delicious cookbook features both the secret recipes that Brown Betty’s fans can’t wait to get their hands on, as well as the personal stories that explain the evocative names of such recipes as Alice’s Two Step and Strawberry Letter. The Brown Betty Cookbook features recipes that combine old-fashioned treats with thrilling contemporary flavors like sweet potato poundcake and dark cherry cheesecake and includes gorgeous and mouthwatering full-color photography throughout.

For home bakers who want to experience the best of Brown Betty in their own homes or dessert-lovers looking for something new, The Brown Betty Cookbook offers both inspiration and delectation. (description from publisher)

Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson is a charming collection of updated recipes for both classic and forgotten cakes, from a timeless yellow birthday cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, to the new holiday standard, Gingerbread Icebox Cake with Mascarpone Mousse. Make every occasion–the annual bake sale, a birthday party, or even a simple Sunday supper–a celebration with this charming collection of more than 50 remastered classics.

Each recipe in Vintage Cakes is a confectionary stroll down memory lane. After sifting through her treasure trove of cookbooks and recipe cards, master baker and author Julie Richardson selected the most inventive, surprising, and just plain delicious cakes she could find. The result is a delightful and delectable time capsule of American baking, with recipes spanning a century. Richardson guides home bakers–whether total beginners or seasoned cooks–toward picture-perfect meringues, extra-creamy frostings, and lighter-than-air chiffons.

With recipes to make Betty Crocker proud, these nostalgic and foolproof sweets rekindle our love affair with cakes. (description from publisher)

I feel a little guilty admitting this, but I literally could watch the Food Network all day long.  One of the shows I really enjoy is Ace of Cakes, where the folks at Charm City Cakes make the most unique desserts you can imagine.  So naturally when I was looking through the cookbook section of the library a few days ago and stumbled upon Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes by Duff Goldman and Willie Goldman, I had to pick it up.  I really just wanted to look at the pictures of all the amazing cakes they have made on the show, but I found myself really reading through the book because there was so much interesting information about how Charm City Cakes got started and what inspires the staff of bakers and decorators.

The coolest part of the book is definitely the pictures of all the crazy creations they have made over the years.  I wish I were as creative as these people!  Their cakes are like nothing I have ever seen before.  There are cakes to please every personality type and every interest you could have, and a lot of them don’t even look like cakes!  The full page of Star Wars themed cakes really warmed my little geek heart (though I was sad that they didn’t include my favorite Ace of Cakes creation, the cake in the form of Han Solo frozen in carbonite).  For the creative types, the book will inspire you to try out some new and cool things with cakes.  I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to bake or enjoys watching the Food Network.

Though there are several food-related adult mysteries to blog about (my favorite is  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by C. Alan Bradley, which Ann blogged about earlier) I’m choosing instead to highlight a delightful childrens book with a food theme — Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco.

Polacco has written (and also beautifully illustrated) many fine stories for the younger set, and some of those, such as Pink and Say, have some pretty weighty underlying themes.  But Thunder Cake is just a fun, family story which not only “teaches” about rain and thunderstorms, but also about how to put a cake together.  By ignoring the thunder and keeping busy gathering ingredients, Grandma effectively dispels her granddaughter’s fear of thunderstorms.  At the end of the story, you’ll find the recipe, which includes a surprise ingredient — tomatoes!  I used this book back when I was a school library-media specialist and I’m looking forward to the time when I can use it again when my own granddaughter is old enough to want to make cakes herself.

Hey – here’s an idea! Let’s combine two great party ingredients – alcohol and cake – into one! The result is the fun-filled Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked with Spirits, Wine and Beer by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone and a guaranteed good time for everyone.

Cakes range from the traditional that your grandmother might have made (well, your grandmother maybe, not, unfortunately, mine) such as English Trifle and Black Forest Cake, to cakes based on cocktails. The emphasis here is on fun – cake shots! – and tasty. Recipes are easy to follow and most include 2-3 variations. Also, each cake includes information on how much alcohol remains after baking – lightweight, feeling it and totally tipsy – as well as suggestions for appropriate special occasions and accompanying cocktails.

Of course, you will need to bake responsibly when including alcohol – you’d have to eat a lot of cake to get tipsy (although I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility) but you should be considerate of teetotalers and those with alcohol issues. The real goal here is to have fun, in the kitchen and with friends.

Heavenly indeed. Rose Beranbaum’s newest book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes will send anyone who loves cake (and really, who doesn’t love cake?) into raptures of delight. Watch out – just looking at the pictures might cause you to gain weight!

Recently named the Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes covers cakes of all kinds, from simple to complicated. Arrangement is by type of cake – butter and oil, sponge, flourless and cheesecakes, baby cakes (cupcakes and individual cakes) and wedding cakes. They run the gamut from traditional – angel food cake, trifle, triamisu – to the complex – Miette’s Tomboy, Golden Dream Wedding Cake – to the spectacular – such as the Apple Caramel Charlotte or the Holiday Pinecone Cake.

Recipes are presented in Beranbaum’s signature style – ingredients listed in a chart, special equipment and techniques explained, detailed instructions on creating the cake, tips and suggestions for success. While many of the cakes may seem to be only for the professional or the experienced baker, Beranbaum’s friendly, can-do style and excellent instructions offer plenty of encouragement for anyone. If you’d like to start with something a little less ambitious, there are plenty of simple, mouthwatering cakes too. And after a taste of success and you’re ready to stretch your baking wings, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes will be your guide.

ConfectionsFed up with a Hollywood lifestyle of “doing lunch”, massive traffic jams and insincere relationships, Gesine Bullock-Prado abandoned all the things that are supposed to make you happy – money, designer clothes, access to famous stars – and escaped to the Green Mountains of Vermont. There she found peace and happiness by following her true passion – baking.

In 2004 Gesine and her husband Ray opened Gesine Confectionary in Montpelier, Vermont largely on the popularity of her macaroons. Expecting to start small and build by word-of-mouth, they were overwhelmed by the long lines that snaked out the door on opening day – maybe it was the fact that Gesine’s sister, movie star Sandra Bullock, was helping at the register?

Star gazing might have brought people to the shop at first but the sweet, luscious treats bring them back again and again. Pies, sticky buns, croissants, scones and cakes of all description guarantee a slew of return customers. Customers become regulars, who become friends and consultants and the empty existence of their former Hollywood life becomes a distant memory. Not everything is perfect – there are setbacks and frustrations, bad employees and unreasonable demands – but mostly it is a dream come true.

Each chapter of Confections of a Closet Master Baker – written in a wry, straightforward voice – finishes with a delectable recipe. Gesine’s stories of her beloved family and memories of her hated Hollywood job ring clear and true. For anyone who longs to drop out of the rat race and follow their passion – or for anyone that loves to eat – this is a must read!

Easy Gluten Free BakingThe diagnosis of a wheat allergy or celiac disease can be devasting for the cook when they realize just how much wheat, wheat-by products and related grains are present in common foods and ingredients. Planning and preparing meals that are flavorful and healthy may seem impossible. If you’re in this boat, we’ve got a lifesaver for you – Easy Gluten-Free Baking by Elizabeth Barbone will make working in the kitchen a pleasure again.

Recipes cover all the favorites – muffins and quick breads, yeast breads, cookies, cakes and pies. There’s even a chapter on “tastes like” so that you can reproduce some of those treats you can no longer eat – Twinkies, Oreos, Ritz crackers and even saltine crackers. Best of all, everyone, whether they are on a gluten-free diet or not, will love the results.

Barbone tested each recipe 40-50 times, so you know there aren’t going to be any surprises and they’ll work every time. There’s lots of information about how to stock your gluten-free kitchen and tips for converting recipes to gluten-free. The ingredients used throughout the book are easy-to-find.

Barbone is also the founder of the popular Web site GlutenFreeBaking where you can find lots more resources and advice for people living gluten free.