Book Review: Cakes to Die For! by Bev Shaffer

A food columnist’s tasty and detailed ode to cakes.

by Bakery Boy

Cake bakers have another reason to live, as if they need one more. Let’s face it: Cake bakers already have plenty of friends and admirers. Whether they’re making a single treat for the family table, dozens for a banquet hall, or truckloads for supermarkets, their sweet creations brighten celebrations  and make people happy. Now they also have Bev Shaffer’s inspiring and thorough ode to the genre, Cakes to Die For! (Pelican Publishing Company, $26.95).

Bev Shaffer

The Ohio-based chef, author, and culinary instructor is known for her long-running food column “Ask Bev” in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, her functional-fun column “Gadget Freak” in Northern Ohio Live Magazine, her radio spots broadcast on Akron’s WAKR, and her many appearances on Cleveland affiliates of major TV networks. She has developed more than 9,000 recipes and counting. In Cakes to Die For!, a 288-page hardback, she shares 175 of them, all for cakes.

Crunch of Praline Torte with Eggnog Cream. Photos by John Shaffer (Bev's husband).

It opens with the crowd-pleasing Moist Dark Chocolate Mocha Cake with Raspberry Filling, her “go-to” cake when she needs something “seductive,” she says. It ends with Bev’s Butterscotch Filling, about which she facetiously claims, “you could slather this between two pieces of cardboard and people would rave about it.” Between these appear scores of cheesecakes, cupcakes, “flipped over” cakes (her term for up-side-downs), “fancy-schmancy cakes” (which take more work but promise impressive results), and more. Photography by Bev’s husband, John Shaffer, show many of the cakes in mouthwatering detail.

Luscious Layered Tiramisu Torte

TIPS GALORE Useful tips are sprinkled throughout. Some explain the finer points of techniques like “cutting in the butter” or “folding ingredients” together. Others cause that light-bulb-above-the-head reaction with their but-of-course common sense. I like how she places tips labeled “a slice of advice” in the margins close to where they’re most needed. For example, next to the recipe for Deep Dark Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Roasted Pear Cream she writes: “When you draw your clean finger across the back of a metal spoon dipped in the custard mixture, and it leaves a path, it is ready.” I can visualize that perfectly now.

Here are a few more tricks of the trade:

  • To avoid spilling batter down the hole in a tube or Bundt pan, cover the hole with a paper cup while filling the pan.
  • Cool a cake completely before frosting. Dust off any loose crumbs gently with a soft-bristled brush. Freeze layers for several hours or overnight before frosting…which helps the frosting adhere better.
  • Just before using refrigerated nuts, toast them over low heat in a dry skillet to brighten their flavor.
  • Can’t find cranberry preserves [for the Pumpkin Patch Cranberry “Flipped Over” Cake]? Pomegranate jelly is a perfect substitute.

Although come to think of it, if I can’t find everyday cranberry at my grocery, I probably won’t find more-exotic pomegranate either!

Cookies to Die For!

Brownies to Die For!

ALSO BY BEV Like Cakes to Die For! (May 2010), Bev’s  earlier books, Brownies to Die For! (March 2006), Cookies to Die For! (February 2009), and Mustard Seed Market Cafe Natural Foods Cookbook (September 2007) are also available from Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, Louisiana; www.pelicanpub.com, 504-368-1175. For more about Bev see www.bevshaffer.com.

BEV’S MUST-HAVES FOR A CAKE BAKER’S PANTRY I found this helpful. Maybe you will too.

1 – Flour, unbleached, all purpose

2 – Baking powder

3 – Baking soda

4 – Sugar, granulated

5 – Brown sugar

6 – Confectioners’ sugar

7 – Sale, sea salt preferred

8 – Arrowroot (a starch thickener with certain advantages over cornstarch)

9 – Butter, unsalted please!

10 – Milk, preferably whole milk

11 – Eggs, large please!

12 – Chocolate: bittersweet, semisweet, milk, white, and unsweetened cocoa power—only the very best will do!

13 – Vanilla extract, pure please!

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3 responses to “Book Review: Cakes to Die For! by Bev Shaffer

  1. Great review on a great lady! Congrats, Bev!

  2. I have tried several of the recipes–wonderful results–and the pictures are beautiful.

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