08 March 2009

Review: Crumbs (Bake Shop in a Box)

It's been an unusually lucky couple of weeks for me. I posted earlier about winning a book in a blog contest. Well, I won two more after that! Guess I know what I'll be reading for the next while.

Crumbs: Bake Shop in a Box was the third book I won but the first I'm going to review. When I entered the contest I didn't realize it was for a kids book; I was just excited at the prospect of getting a new book on baking! But that's okay--I'm definitely a kid at heart.

The book is actually part of a set that includes fifteen recipe cards, measuring spoons, and a sheet of decorating stencils. Very promising indeed. Unfortunately--and I hate looking a gift book in the, um, spine--it was a disappointment.

Despite the cute illustration on the box itself, the book does not involve our heroine (with the unlikely name of Lolly LaCrumb) doing any baking of any kind. Instead she spends her birthday searching for the perfect cupcake, the one she dreamed about the night before. Of course she ultimately finds it, complete with sappy moral. Annoyingly, after all the build-up there's no decent illustration of the legendary perfect cupcake! I know if I were five years old and reading this book that's what I'd want to see.

The non-book components of the set are, sadly, not much better. The measuring spoons, when tested against my own, are inaccurate. The recipes also tend to call for measurements that aren't included in the set (e.g., 1/8 tsp). Better just let your child use the Bake Shop spoons for playtime while you use a real set for the baking.

The stencils are cute, although they're all on one small sheet making it painstaking to apply them without accidentally including part of the neighbouring designs.

The recipes are what really matter, of course, and I'm afraid all I have to say about them is: meh. The cards are nicely designed--laminated (easy clean) and illustrated (although ingredients are listed on one side and directions on the other, necessitating constant flipping back and forth). Unfortunately, the recipes themselves are frequently unclear, inaccurate, and not particularly interesting. Despite being designed for kids, beginner bakers will have difficulty with them. A glossary would have been helpful: not everyone (adults included) knows what 'cutting in' or 'reducing (liquid) by half' means. I ended up trying three of the recipes:

Superstar Raspberry Bars: Not only did these turn out too sweet (even for me!) but there was a problem with the directions. They're either really poorly worded or something was missing, leaving me wondering whether I was supposed to divide the crust into two parts (upper and lower). I didn't, which could be why the crust was a little too chewy. The directions were also vague about cooking time, and didn't even mention how to tell when the bars were done.

Rise and Shine Oatmeal Cookies: This recipe was the best one I tried, but still problematic. Portions are ridiculously vague--what does "small" or "giant" mean when it comes to cookie size? You're instructed to use half an ice cream scoop of dough to form each cookie, but since when are ice cream scoops a universal size? That could be why their numbers are also way off. Instead of "18 small cookies," I ended up with 40 med-large cookies (about 3" diameter). Luckily I had room in the freezer! This recipe also calls for a mixer, a piece of equipment not everyone has and a child is unlikely to be able to use. Adult supervision may be required anyway, but why not make these recipes for kids more kid-friendly?

Ritzy Rice Pudding: Possibly the worst of the recipes I tried. Not only does it require 30 to 40 minutes of stirring as the pudding simmers, but it needs to be chilled overnight. What child would have the patience to wait for the final result? I barely have the patience (or time). Which only makes it more annoying that the pudding is so mediocre. There are faster and easier ways to make better pudding. Furthermore I'm concerned that adding raw egg yolks after the mixture has been taken off the heat is a health risk. The pudding is still hot from simmering, but is it hot enough? There's also no mention of tempering the yolks to prevent them from turning into scrambled eggs should they simply be dumped into the hot mixture as the recipe directs. And again, portions are way off: instead of four ramekins of pudding, I ended up with six bowls of it. Methinks these recipes were not tested, which--frankly--is just lazy.

(By the way, you can sort of see my attempt at using the star stencil on the pudding, as suggested on the recipe card. It didn't quite work out, hence the attempt to cover up with more cinnamon).

Bake Shop in a Box is a great idea. Unfortunately, it was poorly executed. I think you'd be better off buying a few baking tools designed for kids, and taking a few minutes to find simple recipes online or from other sources. Baking with children should be a lot more fun (and tastier) than this.

Check it out on Amazon: Crumbs: Bake Shop in a Box

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