More than 26 years ago, Rose Levy Beranbaum was living in Manhattan and working on her first cookbook. She baked the cakes and carried them across Houston Street, one by one, to the photographer’s loft. Once they were immortalized, she fought the publisher for four-color printing. “It was so important to me, I said, ‘I will give up all my royalties if you’re willing to do four-color.’ [My editor] almost had a heart attack,” Beranbaum says.
Passion and tenacity paid off: She got both. The Cake Bible became a sensation, a multiple-award-winning critical and commercial triumph – now in its 52nd printing. Since The Cake Bible established Beranbaum as the doyenne of desserts, she has authored nine more cookbooks, countless articles and recipes and created the popular blog Real Baking with Rose Levy Beranbaum (www.realbakingwithrose.com).
On Saturday, November 8, Beranbaum returns to Bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy in Rhinebeck to meet the public, share recipe samples and sign copies of her latest, most comprehensive cookbook, The Baking Bible (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). It’s a stunner: 560 pages of delectable recipes – cookies, candies, pastries, breads, cakes, pies and tarts – complemented by sumptuous full-color photographs.
Beranbaum worked with an all-star team, including renowned photographer Ben Fink, head food stylist Caitlin Williams Freedman and longtime assistant Woody Wolston, in a state-of-the-art kitchen at a private residence in New Paltz to get every image just so. “Everything in the book looks just as I had hoped it would,” says Beranbaum, whose chose a golden kouign amann to grace the cover.
For Beranbaum – called “the most meticulous cook who ever lived” by New York Times reporter Amanda Hesser – attention to detail is as important in crafting a cookbook as in baking. “If people want to fly by the seat of their pants when they do something in the kitchen, better they should stick to savory than baking – in fact, it’s kind of a metaphor for life,” Beranbaum says.
To that end, The Baking Bible offers “Rose’s Golden Rules”: “Designate equipment for use only for baking.” “Use fresh baking powder.” “Use fine sea salt.” “Weigh or measure ingredients carefully.” (Measurements are given in weight and volume, metric and standard.) There’s a thoroughly descriptive section on essential equipment, and information on where to procure it. Foolproof baking tips include using a scale, lowering oven temperature for dark or glass pans and this intriguing morsel: “For the most delicious chocolate chip cookies, use browned butter. It’s easy to make: Simply cook the butter until the milk solids turn a nut brown. Allow it to cool to room temperature before adding it to the cookie dough,” Beranbaum writes.
Beranbaum the instructor is both precise and personable, making The Baking Bible a suitable place to brush up on pastry skills, or simply to begin. “Baking is the ideal thing to teach children. It involves so many different skills – not just skills, but areas of interest, like science and math, patience and artistry,” she says.
Each recipe in The Baking Bible is preceded by an origin story: Mango Bango Cheesecake, made with fragrant Indian alphonso mangoes, was created for cookbook author and screen actress Madhur Jaffrey. An airy lemon cake was christened Renée Fleming Golden Chiffon because, “This lemony cake soars above all others in my repertoire, making it the soprano of golden lemon cakes.” And in the case of Dattelkonfekt (Date Confections), the recipe comes from German emigrant Hanna Gaaertner, by way of granddaughter Naomi Lewin, a radio host who interviewed Beranbaum.
“It means so much to people when you mention their name, or the names of one of their relatives – they get a book for every single person in their family, which is probably why The Cake Bible sold as well!” Beranbaum jokes. “I don’t give [credit] for that reason; I just like attribution. It’s interesting to see nowadays, with the Internet, you can no longer get away with saying, ‘This is my recipe,’ and it isn’t. You can really trace the origins, and there are many things that I’ve evolved on my own, but some things I didn’t. I want people to know where they came from.”
With The Baking Bible, the right equipment, passion and tenacity, there may be no limit to where the home baker can go. “I think that’s definitely the most gratifying thing in my work: connecting with other people, and hearing back from them that they’re not afraid of baking as they were to start with, that they succeeded,” Beranbaum says.
Rose Levy Beranbaum, Saturday, November 8, 3-6 p.m., free, Bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy, 6423 Montgomery Street, Suite 3, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-1117, www.bluecashewkitchen.com.