While I like single-subject baking books – cupcakes, cookies, breads – for the amount of detail and the number of variations on a theme they inevitably offer, comprehensive/compilation cookbooks are often far more interesting. These cookbooks give you a chance to step out of your comfort zone and try something new, tempting you with a picture or a description of a dish you might not have ordinarily made while you’re flipping through pages. The Essential Baker: The Comprehensive Guide to Baking with Chocolate, Fruit, Nuts, Spices, and Other Ingredients is a cookbook like this. It has over 250 recipes in a wide variety of categories. The recipes are divided up by category/main ingredient (chocolate, dairy, etc), which make it easy to find a recipe for milk chocolate or strawberries, if they are ingredients you want to use up. Author Carole Bloom devotes a lot of time to talking about chocolate, so this book is a great choice for chocolate lovers.
Now, in spite of the title, it is clearly not a comprehensive book on baking. There are far, far more than 250 baking recipes out there and the book doesn’t really include any breads. But the recipes it does use are excellent: well written, accessible and delicious.
My one complaint about the book is that I don’t care for the way the recipes are laid out. The ingredients are written alongside the recipe (adjacent columns) in such a way that each ingredient appears next to the step in which it is used. While I appreciate the effort a successful one, at that – taken to make following the recipe easier, I far prefer to have all the ingredients listed up front; in this method, if the recipe extends onto two pages, so does the ingredient list, and it’s almost as though you’re being surprised with what comes next at every turn, rather than knowing all the ingredients in advance.