Roses’ Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum

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.

Roast Figs Sugar Snow by Diana Henry

Just because we’re deep into the dark days of winter, surrounded by cold and snow and ice, that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy great homemade food. Roast Figs Sugar Snow by Diana Henry is geared to show you just how great cold-weather cooking and eating can be.

Henry has brought together a collection of ideas and winter recipes from the Northern Hemisphere including northern Italy, France, Russia, Vermont and the Scandinavian countries. The emphasis is on food that stores well for the winter – apples, pears, root vegetables, squash, nuts – and hearty meats – pork, beef, smoked fish. Dishes reflect the regions they are adapted from such as Mussel Chowder from Quebec, Swedish Thursday Soup, Danish Christmas Kringle and Russian Cheese Pancakes.

Scattered throughout are essays on the unique pleasures of winter food (including, yes, a discussion of sugar-on-snow parties, familiar to many from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods and which still take place in Vermont today) The overriding theme of this beautiful book is that winter isn’t necessarily a time to endure, but a season to be enjoyed and savored.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado

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!

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

School of essential ingredientsIn today’s fast food world full of instant puddings and potatoes, it is refreshing to read a book featuring real food. But The School of Essential Ingredients also features real people.  Each chapter focuses on a different student in Lillian’s cooking class, revealing not only their own particular foibles and dilemmas, but also how they each contribute something satisfying and indelible to the mix. There’s Claire, a mother struggling with the demands of her young children; Tom, a young widower still grieving over the loss of his wife to breast cancer, and Isabelle, an elderly woman tentatively dealing with the confusion of memory loss, to name but a few.

The book is satisfying on many levels. First, it just made me want to bake something — at times it seemed I could almost smell what they were cooking, even though my kitchen was very vacant.  Then, I got nostalgic, remembering favorite dishes from my childhood, and relishing how food often brought family together.  Finally, in a very subtle way, I witnessed the characters forming lasting relationships with each other and realized what a difference one person can make in another’s life.

In this first novel (but third book) by Erica Bauermeister, it’s obvious that she has a “love of slow food and slow life instilled by her two years living in northern Italy.” She’s whipped up a delightful, delicious dessert of a book.

Easy Gluten-Free Baking by Elizabeth Barbone

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.

Cake Love by Warren Brown

Who doesn’t love cake? Sweet, moist, delicious – a piece (or two) of cake makes the perfect final touch to a great meal – or a great late night snack! And a homemade, made-from-scratch cake? Divine. But not everyone has the time or skill for homemade cakes. If only we had our own personal bakery chef….

Warren Brown comes to the rescue with Cake Love, demonstrating the how and why of baking a cake (the best ingredients, the essential skills, the most useful pieces of equipment) and then provides lots of inspiration. Baking a cake from scratch isn’t really very difficult and can become a canvas for a lot of creativity. Brown encourages experimenting with flavors and techniques and to not get hung up on perfection – homemade cakes always get respect. Because, who doesn’t love cake?

As well as clearly illustrated instructions on baking techniques, Cake Love includes a wide range of recipes for all kinds of cakes from the familiar (Chocolate Pound Cake) to the innovative (Sassy, flavored with orange, mango and cayenne-pepper), frostings, glazes and fillings, and tips on how to assemble and decorate the finished cake. The cakes here are all about flavor and texture, not about being fancy, and are meant to be made with love and eaten with gusto.

Because, who doesn’t love cake?