October 08, 2011

The Happy Baker: A Girl's Guide to Emotional Baking by Erin Bolger

**Although this was obtained as an ARC copy from the Amazon Vine program, I went and looked at a published version and did not see any edits. Therefore, comments about structure and format of this book will be included in the review.**

To Date, I have tried 9 of the 63 recipes in this book. As I try more, I will add them at that time to the review.

The Happy Baker: A Girl's Guide to Emotional Baking was written with a purpose. That purpose was for the author, Erin Bolger to let off a little steam in regards to the dating world and provide some delicious treats. In fact, this book (although technically separated into four parts) has two major aspects. The first, are the journal type pages filled with stick figure drawings and stories of Erin's pursuits in the dating world including her disappointments and the second are the actual recipe pages. This book does pretty well in that second aspect but the first leaves a lot to be desired.

Before heading into those parts of the book however, I'd like to take a moment and talk about how this book is organized and formatted and the different sections it includes. The first thing in this book is a rather large introduction that details what the book is about and what made Erin want to put it together. Next we move on to some tips she has for baking and ingredient selection, these are pretty helpful so I recommend taking a look at them. The Table of Contents shows up next and I actually have a real problem with how they chose to format this part of the book. Instead of listing out what recipes are in what section, they instead show each of the parts and give three sample recipe titles for each part. What is the problem with this? Well Erin's recipes are not separated into type sections like cookies, brownies, cakes, etc, instead they are a mishmash of types for each section that only are related through the clever titles that she assigns to them and her personal ideas towards them. With only 3 examples for each this makes it impossible for a reader to know where to head for a recipe without using the index (and personally I hate using the index for lookup) and truly makes this book not so user friendly. After the table of contents comes the four parts of the book that relate to different points in her life.

The first section is the Early Years in which Erin discusses her love life through high school, college, and her first serious relationship. From this section I have tried:

Slow and Steady Wins the Peanut Butter Cupcakes:
These turned out pretty good but the measurements were off. Instead of making 18 cupcakes, I ended up with 22 (although the frosting was enough for all). They were sweet, decadent, and moist, but so delicate that putting the icing on was quite the chore and mine didn't turn out nearly as pretty as hers (maybe someone with a softer hand will have better luck). The cupcakes are actually flavored with cocoa so its a bit of a chocolate/peanut butter mixture taste.

You Are Not As Sweet As My Sugar Cookie:
These were easy to make (although took some time because of a refrigeration step) and turned out crispy. As far as taste, they rate average and you can't even really taste the coconut they are rolled in.

The Second Section of the book is They Break It, You Bake It and the journal pages in this one break up from her first serious boyfriend and her rebounds after. Of this section of the book I've tried:

My Mom Is Always Right Choca-Mocha Squares:
These were excellent and kind of reminded me of a crispy brownie. However, once again in this recipe, the measurements were off and there was only enough frosting for about 1/2 of the recipe (and I didn't even use all the confectioner's sugar as it would have been too thick and impossible to spread).

The Big Hurt Cheesecake:
I'm not a cheesecake fan, however, my fiance loves the stuff. It was easy enough to make and he deemed it a 7.5/10 in the world of cheesecake.

You Can Kiss My Triple Decker Carrot Cake Goodbye:
Supposed to be three layers, I found that the ingredients for this made only enough for two. It was very good as far as carrot cakes go and the added pineapple was a nice touch.

Chapter 3 was The Good, The Bad, and The Fugly. This one shared Erin's foibles in Internet Dating, Speed Dating, etc. Among the recipes here I've baked:

Don't Rule Out These Mini-Cheesecakes:
These were merely average and the tiny bit of fruit on top didn't really add anything to the taste according to the Cheesecake expert at this house.

I Need A Man That Has Bigger Balls Than My Banana Bread:
Honestly, this cooked just fine but I couldn't find anything about it that was different than the hundreds of other recipes of banana bread out there.

Chapter Four is Erin talking about coming to terms with her relationship status. The recipes tried here are:

I Wish Tim McGraw Was My Man Double Chocolate Blondie:
These were really good, simple to make and the whole pan lasted roughly 1.5 days in my household. Everyone enjoyed them and wanted more.

Getting Lucky Just Ain't For The Irish Cream Cupcakes:
These were great cupcakes with a unique flavor. The Irish Cream is strong in this (my mom claimed it made her tipsy) but a warning to those who make it, way too much frosting is produced from the recipe for the amount of cupcakes produced.


When it comes to the excerpts and stories in this, I have to say that after reading them the first time, I will now skip over them. Maybe if I knew Erin personally I'd take a moment and look them over once in awhile, but not knowing her I didn't feel any connection and the stories weren't entertaining enough to do anything for me. I can see her family and friends appreciating these sections (and the strange stick figures) a lot more than perfect strangers would. I would rather she have left them out and instead perhaps just put little paragraphs of amusing clips on the recipe pages instead of these great big multiple page stories.

The recipes, from what I tried, are mostly successful and a bit above average in taste. However, the measurements were off in quite a few that I tried and while most of this stuff would be easy for a beginning cook, they may have some trouble with finding a way to compensate for these issues. Another complaint about the recipes that I would have are that some of them didn't have an expected yield of how many you could make. With the cupcakes it would tell you how many to line, but the cookies it was go until you don't have any more dough left without a solid number to base on. There were some reoccurring themes in her recipes as well that involved coconut, bark, biscotti, and chocolate covered cereal mixtures that seemed to have quite a few recipes dedicated to them. This isn't necessarily bad but may not be what one expects going into the book. A fantastic thing about the recipe areas are the pictures. This book does a tremendous job and there is a picture for every recipe (and a few others besides) that are simply gorgeous and fun to look at. The ingredients are all fairly simple to obtain and won't break the bank (except toffee baking chips, I couldn't find those anywhere and they're in a couple recipes, but that could just be my area).

I felt this book was kind of average. For a cook who was using it for the recipes, it was very hard to open because of such a tight binding and I had to break the spine (eek!) to get it to somewhat lay flat. It was also annoying to wade through the pages of stories that really were just average and kind of distracting. The recipes were cleverly named and mostly excellent (although there were a few technical flaws) but would be great for anyone with a sweet tooth or those that really do use baking as therapy. It's hard to find a specific recipe, but it gives you a chance to look through the pictures and perhaps find something more appealing to the eye than what was originally sought. I'll definitely be coming back to this book for dessert ideas as it is valuable in that way.

The Happy Baker: A Girl's Guide to Emotional Baking
Copyright 2010
160 pages

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