A Cake Walk


This book was almost an afterthought.  It’s big.  I don’t go in much for large format books.  They take up a lot of shelf space and shelf space is one thing lacking in my house.  But I thumbed through it and … well, I immediately told myself the same thing I’m going to tell you right now:  “You gotta get this book!”

The Victorian Book of Cakes is a reprint of a book from over a hundred years ago, and it was probably THE guidebook for exquisite cake baking around the latter part of the Victorian era.  There are recipes and guides, lovely color plates, illustrations, and a treasure-trove of ads for ancient baking equipment.

Here are just a couple of pictures from within.  I could go on and on about what I like about this book but once again, if you collect cookbooks, this is probably one you want to get for yourself.

img_6130I’ll leave you with two pictures, one a multi-tiered cake … I want a piece right now.   The other is one of the ads inside the book … for a piece of industrial strength cake mixing equipment.  Wasn’t this the same mixer Charly learned to use in the movie “Charly,” the film remake of “Flowers for Algernon?”img_6132

No matter.

If you are interested in baking, cakes, frosting, pastries -or- if you just like to collect cool cookbooks, find a copy.  Buy this book!




Thomas Fenske is a novelist living in North Carolina.  He also collects cookbooks.  For more information:  http://www.thefensk.com



Cereal Killing

The bookstore where I browse now has five aisles with a jumbled up mess of cookbooks.  There is no rhyme or reason to the book placement, but sometimes when I am scanning the shelves I get the hint of a theme for the day’s search.  This past weekend I hit on such a theme when I found three breakfast cereal-themed cookbooks!


The first was “Cooking With Snap, Crackle, Pop & _____”

It’s a small book, kid-oriented.  Let’s face it, Rice Krispie Treats are one of the first things a kid learns to cook, or at least used to be before they started marketing them commercially.  Now?  Why bother, I guess.  Still, this 1998 publication tries to keep the tradition alive.  The “recipes” are basically variations on their own theme.

Still, it is an ingenious little book … starting from the cover which allows young cooks to personalize their book with their name and their picture if they want to … see the cutout?

img_6110I chose only one of the variations … little baskets.  Basically, you use a muffin tin to form your treats into little basket shapes.  My wife made these one Easter … made them into little Easter baskets with jelly beans as eggs and even added a pipe cleaner for a handle.  They were pretty cool.  All of the recipes follow this same theme … making things with Rice Krispie treats … Well, ya gotta start somewhere, right?

Well-made, with nice production values and high-quality stock which is a good plan when you are expecting little kids to be cooking.  It also has a nice intro to what one will need, and some basic cooking tools and stresses safety very strongly on the first page.  Kid’s book,  yes, but it’s a nice book.

img_6107Moving on to another flashy, eye-catching commercial book, trying to capitalize on the supposed novelty of using breakfast cereal as anything but … well, breakfast cereal.  The Breakfast Cereal Gourmet hardly lives up to its name.  It has one redeeming feature, it has a lot of images of classic box covers, and intersperses the text with “interesting” facts like, like the information that former president George H. W. Bush likes to crumble chocolate candy bars on his cereal.

It’s a “hype” book that doesn’t live up to its hype.  It includes a lot of blank space, which is irritating.  It is almost like a kid book, but unlike the previous book, which IS a kid book and is delightful, this one is way overdone and, really, although I guess a kid could enjoy some of the useless factoids, even they would get tired of flipping pages to see more of nothing.

img_6111A cursory examination of the recipes left me similarly disappointed.  They get lost in the overly-glitzy presentation … it seems the authors almost included them as an afterthought like “Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be a cookbook.”

Take this one … and I just picked one at random.  Mocha-cocoa Towers made with Cocoa Puffs.  You might notice that the entire recipe is not featured.  That’s because, in the interest of wasting space, most of the recipes span multiple pages.  I call this poor cookbook production.  There might be a reason to cut a recipe in two but they so waste space stretching this book out they did it like it was a bodily function.  If you really want this horrendous recipe, I’ll include it in the comments.  If you really want it.  Trust me, you don’t.

img_6105Now we get to what is, surprisingly, a real cereal cookbook.  The Kellogg’s Cookbook, from the Kellogg Kitchens edited by Judith Choate, is a 2006 publication that is a real cookbook with real recipes.

Sure, there are traditional uses for a lot of cereals, like bran muffins and coating for fried chicken.  They’re in the book … but they are not flashy “let’s see what else we can do” things to catch your eye.  They are “I’ve got this on the shelf and I’ll get some added value from this ingredient” sort of recipes, the kind Kellogg would include on the box!  In fact, that’s probably where most of these came from.


img_6113What I chose to include, and it was difficult to make a choice, was Corn Flake Banana Bread.  Something reasonable, using an unusual ingredient but it is mainstream enough that I thought … well, hey, I’d like to try it.  As you can see it looks like a cookbook recipe, all on one page, clearly defined …  it tells the reader you want to make this recipe.

We make a green bean casserole for holidays, a family favorite, that includes Corn Flakes as part of the topping (Not THE green bean casserole everybody makes, this one is much better) and I always have about 3/4 of a box of corn flakes left.  Now I know what I’m going to use them for.

So, maybe I didn’t make a cereal killing this weekend, but I’m out, what, seventy-five cents?  The Krispies cookbook is unique and I love the Kellog’s cookbook, so I’ll keep the other one around as part of a set.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find more and can build another mini-collections on the same theme