I have shared many treats with you from one of my favorite cookbooks Baked Explorations.

This to-die-for Monkey Bubble Bread was a masterpiece from that book.

And let’s not forget that the best brownies I have ever had (aka Sweet and Salty Brownies) are another glorious invention from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

The book also has some more savory offerings such as these Honey Corn Muffins.

What I have never shared with you is what constitutes a great cookbook in my opinion.  There are so many books out there and I think that reviews are a great way to know what you are getting before you invest and add to your collection.  So a couple of times a month from now on, I plan to share my review of one of the many cookbooks in my collection.

About the author:  I like to hear what the author’s intention was when writing the book.  Has she had great success at her bakery in NYC and now wants to share her much-loved and coveted recipes with you and the rest of the world?  Has he put his unique spin on classic recipes and wants to share his new ideas and techniques?  Do they want to supply their readers with everything that they would need to host a fancy meal for any occasion?  This statement of intent can often be found in a preface or introduction to a cookbook and I think that it can give you an insightful perspective as to where the author is coming from.

Recipe appeal:  Does just reading the names of the recipes and viewing the photos in the book make me want to drool?  If so, that is a good sign for a book.

Photos:  My number one priority for a cookbook is great photos accompanying most (ideally all) of the recipes.  It is always nice to see a beautifully styled photo of what you are attempting to create.  Also, if the author is trying to show you a certain technique, a smart layout with step-by-step images is so helpful and reassuring.

Story:  Another feature of a cookbook that I enjoy is some type of narrative or explanation with each recipe.  I also appreciate special notes or tips for successful execution.  It’s great to be told that a recipe can be made ahead or special instructions for how to store the finished product.  And I love to hear the story about how the recipes from the cookbook came to be or who’s grandmother they were passed down from.

Organization:  I live for organization.   Nothing gives me satisfaction like organizing a drawer or closet or even filing my torn-out recipes into appropriate categories in a binder does.  Call me Type A.  Call me a perfectionist.  I just love it.  So it should not surprise you that I lap up a great table of contents and well organized chapters.



So now that we have discussed what I look for in a good cookbook, let’s talk Baked Explorations!

Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito open their second book with a delightful description from Matt about how desserts have changed the way that he plans vacations.  He gives relatable examples of how the trips he plans now must include a quest for a particular dessert that the area is well-known for or a visit to a famous bakery in the area.  He explains that this book is dedicated to celebrating desserts that are traditional in different parts of the country and some that are wonderful but have somehow been forgotten about.

I feel that Matt is so accurate in his introduction when he says,

“Desserts like fashion, are highly influenced by cycles and trends.  If you were afloat in a sea of lava cake (aka molten chocolate cake) during the nineties, you were not alone.  The dessert was on every restaurant menu (regardless of cuisine and price point) throughout the decade.  As of this writing, spiking desserts with bacon is de rigueur.  These fashions are part of a natural cycle.  Lava cake will slowly fade into misty, dew-covered nostalgia, and bacon-flavored chocolate will become a fleeting trend, like parachute pants.  When Renato and I dig through our pile of neglected desserts, we like to focus on investigating those beauties that lived through a few heady trend cycles and then were unjustly tossed to the gutter, like grasshopper pie.”

I love that!  Desserts being like fashion trends is so true!  Hello cupcake shops on every corner.  French macarons becoming common on every bakery menu.  I could not agree with Matt more.  And I appreciate that he and Renato dedicate this cookbook to all of the regional American baked goods that were classics in their own time and place but have been brushed aside somewhat or lost in translation.

Baked Explorations offers some serious recipe appeal.  Tell me what could be wrong with Nutella Scones?  Yes, I would love to eat a piece of Double-Chocolate Loaf with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Spread for breakfast.   Thank you for asking!

(source:  Baked Explorations)

If you didn’t want an Almond Joy Tart, I would begin to wonder what was wrong with you!

(source:  Baked Explorations)

There is a Whiskey Pear Tart and you might say “Whiskey??”  But the author describes that the whiskey “sexes things up with smokey undertones”.  Ok, if you say so, I’m totally on board.  I can’t wait to make the Salt-N-Pepper Sandwich Cookies which are sure to be a sweet and savory treat.

(source:  Baked Explorations)

They tackle classic Whoopie Pies, Black and White Cookies, Buckeyes and too many yummy looking cakes to name.

The photos in this book are absolutely stunning as you can see.  There is an old-world nostalgic feel to them.  While there is only about 1 photo per 3-4 recipes, the quality of the images is enough to keep me satisfied.

In addition to the photos and drool-worthy recipes, one of my favorite things about this book is that there is a witty and entertaining introduction to each recipe.  Where in the world did Strawberry Jell-o Salad come from and why did Matt and Renato choose to include it in this book?  Oh let them tell you.  Is Budino anything other than Italian pudding and why is fresh made pudding so much better than store-bought?  You will learn.

As far as organization, this book does not miss the mark.  The 200+ page book is divided into five simple chapters:  Breakfast, Tarts and Pies, Cookies and Bars, Cakes and Confections and Pastry.  There are also helpful tips about tools, equipment, brand recommendations and measurements.

I hope you have gathered from my words how much I love this book and that I would highly recommend it to anyone with any interest at all in baking.

Wondering where to buy your copy?  I most often find that Amazon has the best prices for new books.  CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE YOUR COPY OF BAKED EXPLORATIONS.

What did you think of my first cookbook review?  Helpful?  Interesting?  Any books you would like to see reviewed?

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7 Comments ( Reply )

  1. Cassie
    Jan 30, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

    Great review, Mercedes. I love reading cookbooks and I have waaaaay too many!


  2. emily (a nutritionist eats)
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

    Great review!! I always fall for the pictures!
    I’ve been wanting to make monkey bread ever since you posted it!


  3. Melissa {thebakedequation}
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    Great review, Mercedes. It was very thoughtful and well done. If I didn’t own the book, your review would entice me to get it! I currently can’t wait for their 3rd cookbook to come out. I love, love, love their Whiteout cake and Grasshopper bars. 🙂


    • Mercedes
      Jan 31, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

      Thanks Melissa! I didn’t know a third book was in the works, but I will definitely keep an eye out for that! I would also like to get the 1st book!


  4. Deborah
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

    I have their first cookbook, and I’m dying to get my hands on this one!!


    • Mercedes
      Feb 02, 2012 @ 6:03 pm

      And I am dying for the first one!


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