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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Cakes Without Borders: Volume 1, The Maiden Voyage is a nonfiction cooking/food guide written by Jennifer Rao. Rao trained at university as a chemical engineer, and her position with a petroleum company involved world-wide travelling. As part of her desire to learn more about the culture of each country she visited, she would sample the cuisine and then visit grocery stores to try to obtain ingredients for experimentation when she returned home. Her interest in cooking and baking is paired with both her travel experiences and her university studies in this, her first internationally based guide to making cakes. Rao includes basic instructions for measuring and baking as well as links to instructional videos, such as her two-part series on Torting, Filling and Frosting a Cake. She goes one step further than simply recreating a favorite dessert that she experienced while away; rather, she creates a series of cakes that use the national dessert or treat as a springboard for her border-free cake offerings. She also includes an appendix of resources for help in obtaining ingredients and equipment as well as a bibliography.
Jennifer Rao’s Cakes Without Borders starts in the best possible way. She explains, with a chemist’s attention to thoroughness and precision, how to make a cake and offers the reader videos and online help to make sure the reader and she are both on the same page. She doesn’t assume you have the skills or experience as a baker, and she definitely doesn’t want you assuming you know how to make these cakes work based on your past experience, or lack thereof. Her directions are clear and precise, and even such subtleties as whether to spoon an ingredient into a cup or ‘scoop and sweep’ is covered for each step of the process.
I started to build an appetite as I read her recipe for a Bermuda-inspired cake featuring black rum, grated fresh ginger and rum buttercream, and I wondered briefly why she would introduce her cake recipes with what must be the best first. Then I continued reading. Each cake sounded as marvelous as those preceding it. While her recipes employ many of the same basic, wholesome and natural ingredients, each has its own distinct national flair. If I were hard-pressed to choose one, I’d have to go for the Italian Cannoli Cake, but each of the recipes presented make such a choice quite difficult. Even the most culinarily challenged might find themselves agreeably surprised at the way this author breaks down what seem like monumental baking feats into simple and understandable blocks of instructions. And if they’re still daunted, they might want to give this book to a friend who does bake. Cakes Without Borders is most highly recommended.