Bake This Beautiful Babka: A Book Review

Trust me, this is really a book review. And yes, I made this babka you see here from this book.

I write this review with overwhelming bias. In the pantheon that is my library, bursting with 1,000+ books on cooking and baking alone, Lisa Yockelson is one of my top three favorite authors. I have all of her books including the ones that she wrote in the early 90s, out-of-print titles that I tirelessly tracked down from online secondhand booksellers. Yockelson’s writing (and baking) style has thoroughly evolved in the past 20 years since she’s been writing cookbooks. She writes fluidly, her thoughts ring in my mind like dulcet tones. As a lover of words, I read her work and I am mesmerized.

Yockelson’s last two books, Baking By Flavor and ChocolateChocolate, were paeans and calculated explorations of intense flavor and lush ingredients. Her latest book, Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes celebrates her overriding love for baking, its art and craft. In her native United States, Yockelson isn’t considered a pastry chef but a baking journalist. She develops baking recipes by prodding and prying, examining and exploring to get the best possible iteration of whatever recipe she’s trying to formulate. Then she details each recipe’s course to maturation in discourses that are as enlightening to read as they are lessons in baking.

Some may consider Baking Style as Yockelson’s magnum opus. In more than 500 pages, it recounts over 30 years’ worth of time clocked in the kitchen. The book’s collection of 200 recipes, each one, is a product of innumerable tweaks and twists. And instead of headnotes preceding each recipe, it’s an extended essay, what Yockelson describes as “… my personal storybook… that invites you to take in the art of baking as the evocative, gorgeous, and creative lifestyle that it is – a delicious kind of pursuit for feeding every one of the senses.” I feel my head nod instinctively as I read this phrase repeatedly because it’s how I feel – and why I love – baking.

As an author, and because baking demands it, Yockelson is almost excruciatingly exact. The first three parts of Baking Style particularize the Elements (ingredients), the Craft (baking process), and the Language (baking terminology) used in the book. Even I, voracious reader that I am, find myself drowning in the words so while it’s necessary to read these chapters, do it in phases. And don’t be put off by Yockelson’s overriding fastidiousness about equipment (“…using baba molds gives these great big dramatic crowns…”), ingredients (“I use Fior di Sicilia”), and technique (“making and kneading the dough by hand creates the finest, airiest rolls”). Baking recipes are but a blueprint and when you’ve come to understand the language of baking, your own baking style will follow.

The book itself is a work of art, it’s elegant and genteel, the impression I have of Yockelson through her words and work and the same author photo she’s used in her last two books. The book is vibrantly pink with swirls of curlicues and playful fonts. The colored photos, of which there is no lack, are simply styled, concentrated to highlight the author’s prodigious table and bakeware collection. Sophistication and pricey plateware aside, Yockelson’s recipes are approachable and very doable: cookies, cakes, hand-crafted bars and breads, breakfast items like waffles and crepes, and the random weekend baking project too. Have a look at the Chocolate Babka (pg. 194; above and cover photo) that I bake from the book, a dough laden with eggs and butter and lashed with Belgian chocolate. It envelopes the house in a love potion aroma; all of a sudden, I seem to have more visitors on that day. I also bake the Featherbed Bread (pg. 252), a more straightforward loaf and equally lovely.

Enjoy this big, thick book and savor it slowly, letting your mind fill (as mine does) with fantastic fantasies of the edible kind.

My rating: /5


Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes
By Lisa Yockelson
Hardcover: 528 pages
P1,999.00 at all Fully Booked Stores .

This book is part of my Lori’s Book Picks for February. Click image on the sidebar for a discount.

See my other book reviews here.

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