Great Coffee Cakes, or “how to buy a cookbook on vacation!”

I admit it; I could happily live on breakfast alone. More specifically, luscious quick breads, muffins, and pastries. I have over two dozen baking books, but I still enjoy seeking out new recipes for pound cakes, quick breads, and international pastries such as danishes, croissants, and strudels. I bought Carole Walter’s “Great Coffee Cakes” while on vacation in Petoskey, MI (if you happen to be in town, check out the divine kitchen store Cutler’s, where I purchased this).

The first recipe I tried was the sticky buns, which were a flop. However, that was due to the fact that I was trying to proof yeast with no thermometer (baking on vacation in a sparsely equipped rental unit is always an adventure), so it is quite likely that I used too low a temperature to activate the yeast. The sticky topping was excellent, though. Once back home, I made several other recipes, and all were delicious, particularly the cherry almond cake and the Greek semolina cake (if you like Middle Eastern cuisine, this is quite similar to basboosah, a semolina cake soaked in a honey syrup).

The recipes are rated according to level of difficulty, which is illustrated by measuring cup graphics (one cup means easy, while three is difficult). The ingredients are largely things that you probably already have in your cupboards or pantry; there are few exotic ingredients other than crystallized ginger or flavored liqueurs such as Grand Marnier. The ingredients are clearly laid out, and if a recipe calls for another recipe from the book, the page number is given. There are numerous helpful sidebars with practical advice to help you make the most of your creations, such as working with yeast, what to do with scraps, freezing yeasted doughs, and baking advice. Nor is the book limited to breakfast; Carole also provides luscious cookies such as glazed ricotta cookies, biscotti, black chocolate madeleines, and several variations on rugelach, bar cookies, and spreads (cranberry orange, maple pecan, dried pear, toasted walnut, and blue cheese) to round out your day.

As other reviewers have noted, there are a few small errors and omissions, but nothing major (Carole has thoughtfully posted the corrections on her official website). If you live for muffins, sticky buns, and comforting old-fashioned pound cakes, this book is for you. If you’re looking for divine danishes (a bit more advanced), croissants and strudels, you’ll find those as well. There’s something here for all levels of bakers from novice to pro, and I loved the international touches such as babka (Polish yeast bread), Greek coffee cake, stollen, and pain au chocolat. I would have liked to see a few more illustrations (there are color photos in the center), but that’s a minor quibble for an otherwise outstanding guide to breakfast baked goods.

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