Cookbook Review: Baking At Home With the Culinary Institute of America

I’ve toyed with the idea of going to culinary school for several years now. I’m a total nerd with a love for all things learning (I’d be a professional student if they would pay me to go, and not the other way around), so what better to learn than how to make my favorite tasty treats! Unfortunately, the finances at the present moment allow for little more than a roof over my head, so the thought of culinary school is on the back burner. (Haha! Get it? Back burner! Kitchen humor about culinary school! I’m so funny.) But I won’t let that deter me from learning! No way. I’m taking matters into my own hands. I’m firing up the oven, donning my pretty pink chef’s coat, and homeschooling myself! And I think I may have found the perfect textbook—Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Who better to learn from than the masters themselves? If I can’t go to culinary school, I’ll bring culinary school to me!

The introduction reads like a class lesson. I can almost imagine the professor, a distinguished gentleman in a pristine white chef’s coat, who in my mind’s eye looks a bit like Michael Chiarello (I’m not sure why), standing before the students, lecturing about the different types of flour or leaveners, and the roles they play in baking. But this isn’t a boring lecture, where the constant stream of scientific drivel lulls my brain into a deep trance, my head suddenly becomes too heavy for my neck to hold upright, and before you know it, I’m down for the count. This is actually interesting. With just the right amount of science for my brain to process—not a pretentious, intellectual overload, but not a complete lack of science either. There are things to learn here, and they’re presented with the non-culinary student, and non-scientist in mind. There are even instructional pictures to go along with the methods they demonstrate so you can see, at each step, what your work in progress should look like. Very helpful when you’re starting an entirely new technique and have absolutely no idea what visual clues you should be looking for in your dough or batter.

The recipes begin with the oldest form of baking—bread. From sandwich bread to artisans to pizza dough, the bread chapter has a little bit of everything, but none too overwhelming. Like all the recipes throughout, they’re things you would find in most baking books. From Yeast Breads and Quick Breads, the lessons move on to Cookies, Pies and Tarts, Cakes and Tortes, Custards and Puddings, Frozen Desserts, Pastries, and Chocolates and Confections. All are made with ingredients readily available from your neighborhood grocer. No need to plunk down a fortune on exotic ingredients from a specialty store here. Most are things you’d already have in your pantry. Each of the recipes is written clearly, in everyday language, so they’re incredibly easy to understand. And at the side of each recipe, there are tips to help you along the way. There’s even references with page numbers back to the techniques you’ll use in each recipe, so if you need a refresher on the “straight mixing” method while making your muffins, flip back to page 30 to brush up on your skills!

Filled with beautiful pictures, the book has a clean, sleek presentation. Exactly what I think the kitchens and classrooms of the Culinary Institute of America would look like. The pages exude an air of prestige without pretentiousness, and I really feel like I’m in the presence of the greatest cooking school in the country when I flip through its pages. The only thing I would wish for are even more beautiful pictures. While the majority of the recipes are accompanied by an illustration of the finished product, I’d love to be able to see what all of them look like. It would have saved me the initial disappointment of my Cream Puffs not looking like what I had imagined. (The taste wiped away all traces of that disappointment, however. Those things were amazing!)

At $40, it is a bit of an investment, but the price of the book is a steal compared to what it would cost to actually enroll in the Culinary Institute of America, so I’m happy with spending just a fraction of the tuition to teach myself at my own pace. It may not be quite up to scale of the actual schooling itself, but I think it’s a pretty good start for an amateur. Maybe once I work my way through the 200 recipes of Baking at Home, I’ll graduate to the real textbook quality of CIA’s Baking and Pastry book. But we’ll see.

Stand Out Recipes:
  • Raisin Bread with Cinnamon Swirl
  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Anise Biscotti
  • Raspberry Mascarpone Tart
  • Sour Cream Streusel Pound Cake
  • Chocolate Sabayon Torte
  • Caramel Swirl Ice Cream
  • Cream Puffs
  • Berry Napoleon
  • Soft Caramels

Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America
Published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc. in 2004
ISBN: 9780471450955
List Price : $40.00

Rating(1 = Worst,
5 = Best)
Depth of InformationPracticality
ValuePermanent Library
Gift GivingLevel of DifficultyAverage
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Anonymous said...

Your description of a classroom is so dead on! Seriously just took me back a few years lol. $40 is an amazing price! I had books in culinary school that cost $200 dollars and we'd rarely even use it.

I've heard good things about CSCC' culinary program, don't know if they have just a concentration in baking like most schools but it's worth looking into.

Ingrid said...

I've got that one I'm gonna have to hop over to my bookcase and take another look at it.

Anonymous said...

I don't have this book or anywhere in english. It's difficult obtein this kind of books in my city (Bahía Blanca, Argentina) snif...snif!!!


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