For all the years I’ve spent flipping through my egg- and vanilla-spattered editions of the Bible books, I confess I still find myself wondering: who was Rose Levy Beranbaum talking to when she wrote these? Professionals? Indeed just about every professional cake baker doing business today went to school (literally) on the Cake Bible. Yet every serious home cake baker has a copy, and most don’t seem to find it intimidating.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one who was confused on the issue. During our conversation, Beranbaum recounted a story about an early editor, one who told her that while she could write for both the home baker as well as the professional, she’d ultimately need to pick one or the other as her primary audience.
“My problem is I can’t remember which one I picked,” Rose said with a laugh. “I want my cake and eat too, so to speak. But really my main audience is myself. I insist on having ingredient weights in there because that’s what I myself want, but I also put in the ounces and the volume for the home audience.”
Of course it’s Beranbaum’s insistence on providing so much information that has endeared her to legions of geeky cake makers and professionals who want to know what’s going on under the hood of a cake. But it was a hard sell at the beginning. Beranbaum can still recite, almost word for word, a letter she received from a prospective editor at Harper Collins in regard to an early draft of the Cake Bible.
“She said I threw the reader into a quandary of contingencies,” Beranbaum said. “That I told them more than they wanted or needed to know. That I went way over their heads, and that if I wanted her to be my editor I’d have to rethink my entire approach. I’ve never forgotten it.
“Of course I still get that kind of criticism. People say that I give too much information, that the recipes are long and difficult. What they don’t realize is that I put all that information in there precisely because I don’t want the recipes to be difficult, that I don’t want anyone to be confused about how to succeed. The recipes really aren’t complicated, but I guess they appear that way to some people.”
All of which is not to say that Beranbaum hasn’t made some compromises over the years. The fact that all of the recipes in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes are self-contained on two or three pages is a concession to home bakers, who she says don’t like to cross-reference in search of different components. However she staunchly defends her approach as not having caved to popular demands.
“Rose’s Heavenly Cakes may appear on its surface to be more for the home baker,” Beranbaum says. “But I didn’t do anything easier for the home baker, I just left out some of the scientific explanations. I don’t think home bakers want to be condescended to. I think they like to have something to push them a little, to inspire them. That’s why I do what I do.”