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It’s time this week’s Throwback Thursday Cookbook Review, and this week the selection is personal.

I remember 1987 very well. Suzen and I moved to NYC from Boston, found our Tribeca loft and very early on began the steps that led to Cooking by the Book. In one of those steps, Suzen started taking cooking classes and met instructor Stephen Schmidt, the newly minted author of Master Recipes. If you have ever seen Master Recipes, then you know it is an amazing, groundbreaking book.

There are 941 pages and well over 500 recipes. Stephen’s clever idea was to introduce the concept of a master recipe [or technique] — something that can serve as the foundation for multiple ideas.

For example, there is Master Recipe for Sponge Cake, with 2 ½ pages of ingredients and instructions. Detailed instructions so that you will successfully and flawlessly craft the best sponge cake possible. Information on pan sizes, techniques and scaling the recipe are all woven into the Master Recipe to give you perspective and options. Then, once you have mastered the idea, Stephen follows with recipe options:

  • Apricot Sponge Layer Cake
  • English Triffle or Zuppa Inglese
  • Filled Orange Sponge Cake
  • Sponge Layer Cake with Praline Butter Cream
  • Chocolate Ganache Cake
  • Italian Rum Cake
  • Sponge Roll Cake or Roulade

You might not know these are all dessert siblings, but they are. The recipes for these other treats often refer to the original Sponge Cake recipe, requesting some modifications or starting with a completed Sponge Cake but then extending the flavor.

So, if you have Master Recipes on your kitchen island, you may be doing some page flipping, working both with a master recipe and a particular variation. Your hand will not get too tired and you’ll find yourself immersed in detail and receiving a superior education.

Master Recipes has over 30 chapters ranging from Master Herb and Spice Shelf through Stocks Braised Meat and Poultry, Shellfish, Quick Breads, Pies, and onto Fresh Fruit. Stephen is an exceptional chef, writer and teacher. Master Recipes is a master book, something that is ageless and a volume we resort to every single week.

Although Stephen can describe and teach any element of a meal, the man does have a sweet tooth that is refined but very large. His desserts are brilliant, for example the Angel Food Cake I blogged about a few days ago:


Originally published 1987 and reissued in 1998, you can still find copies of Master Recipes online. Stephen is a dear friend of Suzen and me. He and I have slightly different perspectives on the world and politics, but we do have common ground on desserts, of all kinds. That’s probably the best way to forge a relationship.

And if you want the best in desserts — or soups or stews or braised fish — then you want to lift up all 941 pages, find an easy chair, and enjoy some delicious browsing. Master this book and you will have mastered cooking.