Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Dear Karen DeMasco,

We've got beef. Not the kind you cook and devour, but the metaphoric kind.

See, a while back I bought your cookbook The Craft of Baking on a lark. I rarely do things on a lark and, while I know this isn't your fault, it makes my desire for my larks to work out all the greater. It's my issue, I know, but with the delicious looking cover and the frivolity of a cookbook dedicated to just desserts ... well, your cookbook called out to me from the throngs of cookbooks as delectably indulgent.

And it is! It is. It has beautiful pictures, you write in an accessible fashion and the morsels you offer up run a fabulous gamut of the sugar-infused spectrum.

There's a problem, though. Only one of the recipes I've made has ever worked out just the way you describe it.

Your graham crackers are perfection. It's just, you know, every other recipe (and I've made several at this point!) that disappoints.

Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I pulled out your book this weekend to make John's birthday cake. Your recipe for burnt orange cheesecake seemed appropriately festive and so I began the long process of making it. Over the course of two days, I made graham crackers (fabulous as always!), macerated oranges over night, chilled and baked crust, drained cheese...the list goes on. Following your recipe to a "t", I ended up with far too many graham crackers, made a crust that's sticky and soft instead of crisp, generated (laboriously!) too much burnt orange sauce that fell into the cake instead of resting on top of it as you describe, and baked my cheesecake for 2 1/2 hours instead of the 50 minutes you told me it would roughly take. While, in the end, the cheesecake part of the cake was delicious, I felt so misguided by your recipe that I checked the back of your book. I figured there was no way there would be any positive reviews. Not only are there, though, but they're from famous chefs! Interestingly, however, they all seem to suggest they're excited to try your book, not that they've tried it. After so many foiled baking expeditions (and they really do feel like expeditions under your tutelage...John and I started calling your recipes "princess recipes" yesterday, so preciously and precisely rendered are they), I'm beginning to think you made some delicious food and then tried to remember how when it came down to writing your book. For recipes that are intensely precise, the accuracy of the end product is horribly remiss ... admittedly delicious (even when ugly, sugary stuff tastes good), but only ever right when it comes to graham crackers.

I've come back time and again to your book, hoping I was having an off-day during my last encounter. No more, though, Karen. We're through. I'm making your graham crackers forever and often, but the rest of the pages are going to be un-smudged by buttery fingers. I tried, Karen, I really did, and I don't like writing an unfavorable review. But I'm off to different cookbooks ... you know, the kind where the recipes reliably work.


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