With holiday baking season upon us, it’s time to check in with Rose Levy Beranbaum, Fashion Design ’70, the three-time James Beard Award-winning fairy godmother of fabulous baked goods.
Rose has written 13 cookbooks, most of them about desserts. She’s known for her “bibles”—on cake, cookies, pie and pastry, baking, and bread—and for the kind of precise instructions that let even a novice produce a masterpiece.
After 35 years, she’s working on a revision of The Cake Bible, first published in 1988, and named Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2017. Like any good bible, this perennial bestseller is epic. There are butter cakes, cheesecakes, sponge cakes, wedding cakes, and even pancakes.
Each recipe includes pointers for success and some have an “understanding” note—how and why the ingredients or techniques work. For the White Rose Butter Cake, for instance, using only egg whites produces a softer cake than yolks or whole eggs would. In the Golden Wheat Carrot Ring, “carrots, which are 88% water, provide the liquid”; honey (more liquid) replaces sugar, so ¼ cup more flour is added. You don’t need to know this to make this cake, but read these tips, and you begin to understand how baking chemistry works.
This is pure Rose: exacting, technical—but passionate. She cares that you get it right.
For the Cake Bible revision, due out in fall 2024, she retested the recipes and updated ingredients, techniques, and equipment. The chocolate mayonnaise cake is gone because, “after making it again, I really didn’t like the flavor.” She also eliminated the gorgeous Rose Trellis Cake. “It’s far too difficult for most people to pipe the lattice,” she says. “It’s more suited for cake decorating competitions.”
But now there are two new versions of her beloved red velvet cake.
“There’s a heart-shaped one for Valentine’s Day and the other is something people have been begging for: a red velvet wedding cake. Red velvet is often quite dry, but these are exceptionally moist.”
For something a little different this holiday season, try Rose’s tahini crisps. These cookies can be black or “blond,” and add a touch of elegance to the table.
Makes: 20 2 1/4-inch round cookies
Oven temperature: 375˚F/190˚C
Baking time: 12 to 15 minutes (for each of two batches)
These cookies are crisp and amazingly light and tender, with an appealingly addictive sesame flavor.
Special equipment: Two 17-by-14-inch cookie sheets, no preparation needed or lined with parchment; a 1 tablespoon measure
• unsalted butter, 57 grams/4 tablespoons (1/2 stick)
• tahini, preferably Soom (see Baking Gems, below), 143 grams/1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon
• 1/2 large egg, lightly beaten before measuring, 25 grams/1 1/2 tablespoons (22.5 ml)
• pure vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 ml)
• bleached all-purpose flour, 71 grams/1/2 cup (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) plus 1 1/2 tablespoons
• baking soda, 2.7 grams/1/2 teaspoon
• fine sea salt, 1/16 teaspoon
• light brown sugar, preferably Muscovado, 54 grams/1/4 cup (firmly packed)
• granulated sugar, 25 grams/2 tablespoons
• hulled sesame seeds, for coating, 42 grams/1/4 cup
Mise en Place
Thirty minutes to 1 hour ahead, cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces. Set on the counter to soften.
• About 30 minutes ahead, stir the tahini until the oil that has separated is completely incorporated. Be sure to stir in any thickened part from the bottom of the jar. Then weigh or measure the tahini into a small bowl and set on the counter to come to room temperature (65˚ to 75˚F/19˚ to 24˚C).
• Thirty minutes ahead, into a 1 cup/237ml glass measure with a spout, weigh or measure the egg. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set on the counter.
• In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Make the Dough
Food Processor Method
1. In a food processor, process the sugars for several minutes, until very fine.
2. With the motor running, add the butter one piece at a time and process until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
3. Add the tahini and process until smooth and creamy.
4. Add the egg mixture and process until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5. Add the flour mixture and pulse just until incorporated. Scrape the dough into a bowl.
Stand Mixer Method
1.Grind the sugars in a spice grinder until very fine.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until lighter in color and fluffy.
3. Add the tahini and process until smooth and creamy.
4. Gradually add the egg mixture, beating until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
6. Cover and refrigerate for at minimum of 1 hour, up to overnight, to firm for shaping.
Preheat the Oven
• Thirty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack at the middle level. Set the oven at 375˚F/190˚C.
Roll the Dough into Balls
7. Into a small custard up, place the sesame seeds.
8. Measure out 10 pieces of dough (1 level tablespoon/18 grams each). One at a time, roll each piece of dough between the palms of your hands to form a 1 inch ball, then roll each ball in the sesame seeds while it is still soft enough to coat.
9. Place the balls 1 1/2 inches apart on a cookie sheet.
Bake the Cookies
10. Bake for 6 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet halfway around. Continue baking for 6 to 9 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned and the centers, when lightly pressed, have barely any give.
Cool the Cookies
11. Set the cookie sheet on a wire rack and let the cookies cool for 1 minute, or until firm enough to lift from the cookie sheet. Use a thin pancake turner to transfer the cookies to another wire rack. Cool completely.
12. Repeat with the second batch.
Store airtight: room temperature, 1 week; frozen, 3 months.
• Soom tahini is made with 100 percent roasted beige sesame seeds. If you use another brand, it may be thicker, so you may need to flatten the cookies before baking. I suggest baking a test cookie and then, if necessary, for the rest of the batch, flatten the dough balls to 11/2 inches, as for the Black Tuxedo Tahini Cookies variation.
• Kevala organic black tahini, produced in the United States, is made with 100 percent lightly roasted unhulled black sesame seeds. The Roland brand from Israel is made with 100 percent lightly roasted hulled black sesame seeds. Both are excellent alternatives.
• You can make the dough a day ahead and refrigerate it overnight. Unlike some other doughs using baking soda, longer storage before baking will not cause these cookies to darken.
Black Tuxedo Tahini Cookies
These cookies resemble chocolate nonpareils. The flavor is the same with either type of tahini, but I love the black variety for its dramatic appearance and contrast with the sesame seeds. The only difference is that when it is made with black tahini, the dough does not spread, so be sure to flatten the dough balls to 1 1/2 inches after setting them on the cookie sheet.