Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rethinking Rose Levy Beranbaum

Yesterday, I saw Scate Bakes' admirable resolution to read Rose Levy Beranbaum's master's thesis, "Sifting Flour Affects the Quality of a Yellow Cake." I thought this was a joke until I clicked on the link. It turns out that there is such a thesis* and it's fascinating, not so much for the science of sifting as for what it reveals about the mental processes of the woman who wrote it. If you don't want to read the whole thing, though I recommend skimming it, you should do as Beranbaum suggests and scroll down to her addendum. 

I own Beranbaum's Cake Bible but have never warmed to its stiff and prissy perfectionism. I grow weary even thinking about halving egg whites. But yesterday afternoon I was at Barnes & Noble and, inspired by that strange thesis, pulled out Beranbaum's Bread Bible. The whole tone was different, looser, funnier, more effusive. She still comes across as obsessive and kooky, but in a charming way. I almost bought The Bread Bible, but have forbidden myself new cookbooks. 

Today, I read this Believer Q&A and like Beranbaum even more. 

*I just pulled out The Cake Bible and see that Beranbaum writes in the introduction about showing her master's thesis to her husband on their first date. Oddly, she says she got an A+ on the thesis, when in fact she only got an A. That's a revealing little slip, not something you'd expect from such a perfectionist. Except, of course, it makes complete sense.


  1. Thanks Tipsy Baker! I don't have the Bread Bible - but would imagine that the ingredient list is in a grid like the Cake Bible and Pie/Pastry Bible - - - i love the grid. If all recipes could be bullet-pointed with a story printed somewhere else, i'd be happy. The Bread Baker's Apprentice is a favorite for bread.

  2. I have used the Cake Bible a lot, and have a habit of giving it as a baby shower gift along with cake pans, on the grounds that future mothers will be making a lot of birthday cakes in their future. But the truth is, as much as it has taught me about chemistry and baking, there are a few recipes in there that have disappointed me. Like the yellow cake. I just want a perfect yellow cake recipe, and hers isn't. But for years, I used one of her chocolate cakes as my go to for birthday cakes, along with the neoclassic buttercream frosting. Then I started making the Double Chocolate Layer Cake from Epicurious and have used nothing but for the last two years. I even used it as the base recipe for my first ever attempt at a wedding cake.

  3. Mary,
    I want to hear about the wedding cake!
    With the neoclassic buttercream, do the egg yolks actually cook with the addition of the sugar syrup? I was always too worried about giving people salmonella to make that, but maybe if it gets really hot it's okay. I bet it tastes wonderful.

  4. I guess they technically don't; the syrup gets mixed in, but I don't think it's enough to truly kill anything. I just realized, looking it up, that I've ditched neoclassic in favor of other frostings as well. I did two for the wedding cake, a soft chocolate one with egg whites that heat to 160 for the filling and then for the outside of the cake, a classic egg white buttercream from Dede Wilson's wedding cake book that was an absolute misery to figure out but i finally mastered. When I think of the pounds of butter i went through getting there...I'll send you a photo on email. Or are you on FB?

  5. I saw this yesterday too, but I'm scared to read it. lol!!

  6. Hi! I just found your blog and LOVE IT! I am totally ambivalent about R.L.B. and usually follow her ingredient lists in the Pie and Pastry Bible but not her persnickety crust instructions.