Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri

352 pages; Color photographs Hardcover

Published by William Morrow/Harper Collins, NY, NY, October 2002

Reviewed by Alcia Paul for Good Cooking Spring 2003

Flipping through the pages it is full of promise. The photos are enticing, there is a good variety of cakes, the recipe layout seems user-friendly, and there is a considerable introduction filled with explanations of terms and techniques. Unfortunately the cakes are not as appetizing as the book. From the classic coffee cake that was messier than a powdered sugar doughnut, to the chocolate raspberry truffle cake that would have been better without the layers of cake, this book comes up short.
The primary cause of the disappointing results is the directions within the recipes. For example, when making a lemon butter cream frosting the baker is instructed to add the lemon juice into the bowl of buttercream. Of course there is a danger that the introduction of that much acid could cause the cream to curdle, but that is not addressed. Simply saying to add slowly, or even cautioning people about curdling would have eliminated the problem. 
Surely not all the cakes in the book are bad recipes or produce cakes of inferior quality. Perhaps it is simply that Nick Malgieri presumes his readers have extensive baking knowledge. Perhaps he was limiting the length of the recipes and did not have the space to guide the baker through the more delicate parts of baking. Regardless of the reason, the result is a collection of cake recipes that don't quite deserve the label "perfect".

It is never a good sign when the first recipe in a cookbook is unsuccessful. Malgieri begins with a chapter on coffee cakes filled with varieties like chocolate, cinnamon, and sour cream. I choose the classic coffee cake. The ingredients were simple and the directions were actually straightforward. If any of his potential readers has ever baked something with a crumb topping, they will probably presume there is an error in the ingredient list. He calls for the butter in the topping to be melted. I scanned the instructions expecting to read how I needed to cut in the cold butter. To my surprise it said to pour the melted butter into the flour and sugar. Skeptically I followed the recipe and was rewarded with powder instead of crumbs. The batter did bake into a nice cake. The flavor was balanced with just the right amount of cinnamon and sweetness. But the crumb topping fell to powder upon cutting and plating the pieces. The overall affect was one of dryness, not the moist cake I was expecting to have with my cup of coffee.

Dark and White Chocolate Cheesecake

Makes one 9-inch cheesecake, about 16 servings

Two layers of chocolate cake layers make this cheesecake complex and elegant.

Ingredients

Cheesecake Batter

2 pounds cream cheese
1 cup sugar
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large eggs
5 ounces white chocolate, melted

One 9-inch layer 1942 Devil's Food Cake, page 212, sliced into two layers

One 3-inch-deep 9-inch springform pan, bottom buttered and lined with parchment or wax paper; one 10 x 15-inch jelly-roll pan

Dark and White Chocolate Cheesecake

Makes one 9-inch cheesecake, about 16 servings

Two layers of chocolate cake layers make this cheesecake complex and elegant.

Ingredients

Cheesecake Batter

2 pounds cream cheese
1 cup sugar
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large eggs
5 ounces white chocolate, melted

One 9-inch layer 1942 Devil's Food Cake, page 212, sliced into two layers

One 3-inch-deep 9-inch springform pan, bottom buttered and lined with parchment or wax paper; one 10 x 15-inch jelly-roll pan

Instructions

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2. in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat half the cream cheese on the lowest speed until smooth, no more than 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar in a stream, beating for no more than 30 seconds. Stop and scrape again. Add the melted dark chocolate, beating only until it is absorbed, no more than 30 seconds. Beat in 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Add 3 of the eggs, one at a time, mixing only until each is absorbed. Stop and scrape after each addition and transfer to another bowl if you only have one mixer bowl.

3. Make the white chocolate batter following the same procedure as for the dark chocolate batter, using the remaining ingredients.

4. Wrap heavy-duty aluminum foil around the bottom of the springform pan to come at least 1 inch up the sides. Place one of the cake layers in the bottom of the pan. Pour the dark chocolate batter into the pan. Place the other cake layer on the batter and pour in the white chocolate batter.

5. Place the pan in the jelly-roll pan and pour warm water into the pan to a depth of 1/2 inch. Bake the cheesecake for about 75 minutes, or until it is lightly colored and firm except for the very center. Remove from oven and take the cheesecake pan out of the hot water. Remove the foil and cool completely on a rack.

6. Wrap the cheesecake and chill overnight. Unmold according to the directions on page 97.

Instructions

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2. in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat half the cream cheese on the lowest speed until smooth, no more than 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar in a stream, beating for no more than 30 seconds. Stop and scrape again. Add the melted dark chocolate, beating only until it is absorbed, no more than 30 seconds. Beat in 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Add 3 of the eggs, one at a time, mixing only until each is absorbed. Stop and scrape after each addition and transfer to another bowl if you only have one mixer bowl.

3. Make the white chocolate batter following the same procedure as for the dark chocolate batter, using the remaining ingredients.

4. Wrap heavy-duty aluminum foil around the bottom of the springform pan to come at least 1 inch up the sides. Place one of the cake layers in the bottom of the pan. Pour the dark chocolate batter into the pan. Place the other cake layer on the batter and pour in the white chocolate batter.

5. Place the pan in the jelly-roll pan and pour warm water into the pan to a depth of 1/2 inch. Bake the cheesecake for about 75 minutes, or until it is lightly colored and firm except for the very center. Remove from oven and take the cheesecake pan out of the hot water. Remove the foil and cool completely on a rack.

6. Wrap the cheesecake and chill overnight. Unmold according to the directions on page 97.