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The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts

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Have you ever wondered where the ideas for baking red velvet cupcakes, brownies, birthday cake, Girl Scout cookies, and other dessert recipes came from? Discover the history behind America's most popular and nostalgic desserts with popular CakeSpy blogger and self-proclaimed "dessert detective" Jessie Oleson Moore. Moore has put her sweet-sleuthing skills to work uncovering the fascinating histories and tastiest recipes for America's favorite sweets, including whoopee pies, chocolate chip cookies, Baked Alaska, and New York cheesecake. From romantic musings on how desserts got their names to sugar-fueled scandals, these classic recipes and photographs are guaranteed to offer food for thought and leave you with plenty of room for dessert.

182 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Jessie Oleson Moore

11 books3 followers
Jessie Oleson Moore is a freelance writer and illustrator. She was born and bred in coastal New Jersey, and honed her artistic skills at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. After living in New York for many years, she ventured west to Seattle, where she worked at a refrigerator magnet company. She quit her magnetic job to found CakeSpy.com, and even (for a couple of years) owned a gallery in which she sold CakeSpy artwork (you can still buy it online!). Since 2007, she has worked as a writer, illustrator, and recipe developer. She has written for Serious Eats, Craftsy.com, New Mexico Magazine, and many other clients. She has created artwork for various companies including Microsoft, The Madison Park Greetings company, the James Beard Foundation, Taste of Home, Wine Enthusiast, and Sock It To Me.

Jessie has written two cookbooks of her own: CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life and The Secret Lives of Baked Goods. She has illustrated and released three all-ages coloring books: The Unicorn Coloring Book, Another Unicorn Coloring Book, and The Cupcake Coloring Book. In December 2017 she released a cookbook co-written with Andris Lagsdin, Baking with Steel, and a book she wrote and illustrated entitled Stuff Unicorns Love.

Apparently afflicted with wanderlust, Jessie has lived in New Jersey, New York City, Seattle, Santa Fe, Asheville, NC, and Philadelphia.

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5 stars
63 (33%)
4 stars
63 (33%)
3 stars
49 (26%)
2 stars
13 (6%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for Katy.
153 reviews4 followers
July 6, 2013
I'm no history buff, but reading about the history of desserts was right up my alley. Who knew that Duncan Hines was an actual person, and possibly the first "yelp-er" of his time (he was known for publishing lists of restaurants he enjoyed while on the road as an insurance salesman). And we have Mildred and Malitta of Michigan to thank for Rice Krispie Treats. This is a fun book, perfect for anyone who has ever wondered where pineapple upside-down cake even came from (I'll give you a hint: not Hawaii).
Profile Image for Orsolya.
617 reviews287 followers
December 18, 2013
Cakes, cookies, pies, puddings, bars…Whether these words make your mouth water or your waistline cringe in fear; one thing is for sure: these delectable treats are a major facet of our lives. How much do we truly know about these sugary concoctions? Jessie Oleson Moore takes a slice out of the mystery (pun, intended) in “The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories & Recipes for America’s Favorite Desserts”.

“The Secret Lives of Baked Goods” is a combination social history and recipe book of some of the most popular (and not-so-popular) desserts which grace America’s tables. Divided into sections (cakes, cookies, bars, pies, “lost” desserts, foreign treats, commercial (super market) goodies, and unique finds); the book is filled with historical factoids and blurbs concerning each recipe. Although these aren’t in-depth, research-heavy paragraphs; one will regardless learn interesting and repeatable dessert particulars.

Moore’s tone is passionate, educational, and yet conversational resulting in a work which is similar to reading the script of a Food TV cooking show (in a good way). This leads into clear, easy-to-understand recipes which will stand out amongst the reader’s usual recipe cards. What do I mean by this? Each recipe is tweaked with added, unexpected ingredients making even the most popular treat “different” and worth trying. Moore’s recipe adaptations are classy but simple enough for the everyday chef to maneuver.

The design and presentation of “The Secret Lives of Baked Goods” should also be noted. The work is filled with glossy, pastel-colored paged, delightful girly fonts, and whimsical drawings. Basically, it is very “cute”. Not to mention, the photography by Clare Barboza and the food styling by Laurie Pfalzer are phenomenal. The photos are beautiful, artistic, and are the epitome of what dessert photos should be. Sadly, there aren’t as many photos as one would find pleasing.

Moore successfully encases helpful tips into her text (I.E. slicing cheesecake with unflavored dental floss versus a knife and sprinkling peanut butter cookies with sea salt before placing them in the oven); which are well-received and emphasizes the cookbook aspect of “The Secret Lives of Baked Goods”.

The most frustrating portion of book is undoubtedly the “lost” desserts in which Moore admits to the items discussed being lesser-known but proceeds to converse about them in a manner that assumes the reader is familiar with details and descriptions while not providing photos. Not only is this aggravating (and encourages the use of a Google Image search), but also slows the momentum.

Although Moore retains her witty and often humorous antidotes, “The Secret Lives of Baked Goods” ends abruptly, in an unmemorable way, and could have used a solid summary or sum-up. She does present clear sources for those interested, though.

Overall, “The Secret Lived of Baked Goods” is a cute read for bakers or those with a sweet tooth. Although not the best cookbook or the best social history work; the two come together to form a quick but delightful read. The facts are “sticky” (another intended pun!) and the book will definitely make the reader crave sweets. “The Secret Lives of Baked Goods” are recommended for a fast and light book on desserts.
Profile Image for Amanda.
23 reviews27 followers
February 25, 2014
I expected this to be less of a cookbook and more of a . . . book-book. Maybe because the word stories comes before recipes in the title. If you're in it for the recipes, it looks like a great book. There are updated and modern recipes for popular and lesser-known (but traditional) baked treats. If you're reading it for the stories, history, and context, save yourself the trouble and do a quick Wikipedia check :).

Reading this has, however, made me want to read more contextual recipe and cook books.
Profile Image for Laura Harrison.
1,033 reviews113 followers
February 2, 2015
Informative and tasty :) A huge variety of mouth watering desserts. It covers simple classics to a bit more complicated, newer treats. Entertaining stories add texture and added meaning to this book. I enjoyed it very much.
Profile Image for Meran.
826 reviews43 followers
June 26, 2013
I've just begun this delicious, lovely cookbook and am already quite enamored of it! Of the recipes enclosed, some are old favorites, like Red Velvet Cake, some are new for me, like Opera Cake and Alice B. Toklas Brownies, all with accompanying stories special to the dessert. And ALL of the recipes are of desserts!

Now, I've been gluten free since 2007, and none of these are gluten free, however, some use cake mixes as bases, meaning I can use a GF cake mix when I try these out.

More review later when I've finished the book.

I received the book in a freebie draw made by Jeanne Sauvage, of theartofglutenfreebaking.com blog fame. I've been following her for a while and she has a great sense of humor, and definitely is like me in that she'll try to convert any recipe to gluten free cooking; and if it could be better, she'll keep at it, and keep posting her attempts. I was very surprised to know that I won the draw! And very thankful that i did. It's a great, fun book

Now that I'm done, I can give an honest review: Awesome food stories, and I want to work up the recipes, gluten free style!
Profile Image for Wendy.
2,343 reviews40 followers
May 30, 2013
"The Secret Lives of Baked Goods" is more than just a wonderful down-to-earth book of culinary delights like meringue pie, croissants, carrot cake and peanut butter cookies, it's a cornucopia of history, and anecdotes about tried-and true confections that titillate our taste buds. What I love about the book are the simple ingredients and instructions; an important element for a woman with a busy schedule and a family that loves a sugary treat. I have already recommended Jessie Oleson Moore's book to family and friends because it's worth buying.
Profile Image for Theresa Jehlik.
1,256 reviews5 followers
April 27, 2020
Moore has written a combination history/cookbook of American cakes, cookies, pies, and other sweet treats. She has woven together strands of various histories, myths, and interpretations to give readers the back story on our most common/beloved baked treats. Her recipes are designed for the home cook and are approachable by using easily found ingredients. Full-page photos are designed to make the reader eager to try out the recipes.
1,534 reviews
December 3, 2021
The recipes are a little ho hum, based as they are on classic widely available, but the histories and stories associated with these common goods is the real draw. well written and researched i really liked this book. And although it did not deepen my baking skills it did deepen my appreciation for items being baked. This book provides great context.
Profile Image for Wanda.
1,652 reviews12 followers
August 9, 2019
Some great recipes and the stories about how they were created are great. Really enjoyed this book.
108 reviews20 followers
August 23, 2013
Received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
*I made 5 recipes*
The good. Some interesting and classic recipes with a bit of history. Make a good present for a novice baker. Cute illustrations, photos, vibrant pages. Good layout?
The bad. Lots of dead space. While having margins and empty space is great for a cookbook for the cook to add notes, there was too much void. This could have been filled with more illustrations, more history on recipe, and a photo for every recipe. This was not bound very well and I want to blame it on the fact that this was PRINTED IN CHINA. That stood out to me and kind of bothered me. Maybe color print is just cheaper in China, okay fine but disappointing. After 3 uses in the kitchen pages began falling out. The history was enlightening but really lacking. I understand it is more of a recipe book than a history book, but the info was just little blurbs about this and that. With all the resources mentioned I thought the author could have elaborated more and maybe thrown in some historical photos.
The Recipes: I wanted to wait to write this review after having tried a recipe from each section, but I only made 5 recipes. First was the lemon meringue pie. The addition of food dye was completely unnecessary, and by the book is not lemony enough for a lemon lover. Luckily I had some lemon extract lying around and dumped some in the custard otherwise this would have tasted like egg with lemon. My father loved it so 4 stars. Second was Boston crème pie. This was a complete disaster and was just pure egg. This recipe calls for more than a dozen eggs. I think the measurements for the custard is all wrong because you end up with too much custard and in no photo of Boston crème pie is there a layer on crème on top of the cake. Also my cake batter didn’t meringue so the cake was dense. This gets 1 star. Third were the Joe Frogger cookies. Eggless, crisp, molasses cookies. These turned out fantastic and I thought this one had the best history and could’ve used more. 5 stars. Fourth was the Girl Scout shortbreads. These turned out cakey and not crisp and there were bland and not very buttery tasting. I find this to be true of most shortbread cookie recipes, so the hunt is still on. 3 stars. Lastly I made Blondies. Never had blondies before and this was a great recipe. I added walnuts and chocolate chips to mine so they were like choco-chip bars. 5 stars
Because of the bad minus 1 star which puts this book at 2.5 stars for me.
Profile Image for Lindsey.
253 reviews7 followers
October 31, 2014
This was a fun tour through old and modern baked goods. There was a short background for each and a recipe, usually tweaked by the author. I've heard of most of the baked goods, some very common, but I had no idea how long they'd been around or where they came from. Funny how you don't realize how interesting this information is until you come across it. This is the kind of stuff I would have loved to learn in history class in school. I've always loved history of the more mundane things in life (but have not sought out any reading material, at least not yet) and have not been so interested in the typical fare.

As a vegan, I would not even attempt most of the cake recipes in this book, as they have way too many eggs, so I would search out someone who has already created a vegan version of the recipe, which at this point in time, you are bound to find many variations on any dessert you can think of with a quick Google. Most of the cookie and pie recipes would be very easily veganized.

Baked goods in this book I've heard of but have never tried...
Boston Cream Pie
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Better than Sex Cake (which apparently has many wide variations that the author just kind of mish-mashed together in her version; her version seemed kind of meh to me)

Baked goods that I've never heard of and would now like to try...
Smith Island Cake (I've never heard of Smith Island until now either! Sounds like an interesting place.)
Baked Alaska
Joe Froggers (recipe looks like it might be similar to my mom's sugar and spice cookies)
ANZAC Biscuits
Opera Cake (especially since I am an opera fan and francophile (it originated in France))
Katharine Hepburn Brownies (only 1/4 c. of flour?! I will need to check to see if that's an error, but if not, I'm very interested how these would turn out, since I do not like cakey brownies whatsoever.)

A couple of the more ambitious recipes in here were croissants (they look insane to make) and princess cake.

Oleson really covers everything in here, even including a recipe that you can add marijuana to, Alice B. Toklas Brownies. She does not list it in the ingredients but mentions in the directions where you would put it in.

I will be returning this to the library, but it would be a fun one to own, as it is a pretty and colorful book with pictures of most of the baked goods.
Profile Image for Courtney.
52 reviews3 followers
December 21, 2016
I had a few problems with this book, which saddened me. First, the recipes and "secret lives" portion of each item was extremely basic despite the authors list of sources (which were poorly formatted, particularly for websites she used) but I could past that by simply imagining that the book was intended for a beginner audience. What belies that assumption are sloppy omissions from the actual recipes (you need to flip back a few pages to the red velvet cake picture to determine how many cake pans to prep) and the blithe suggestion to simply add whatever suits you to the carrot cake - crushed pineapple, nuts, raisins or all of the above. That's DISASTROUS advice to a cook who had never made the cake before since no amount is specified for each ingredient and the suggestion isn't even made to drain the pineapple! Adding several moist ingredients could also throw off the moisture balance in the cake leaving the reader assuming the error was theirs when instead it was sloppy writing and/or poor editing. When I hit the typo "granulates sugar" rather than granulated sugar, I was done. For a cookbook whose concept was predicted on sharing the history of each item, it was also a shame that Ms. Oleson didn't have more experience in historical writing - she begins several of the backgrounds jumping into a narrative but waiting a paragraph or two to ground the recipient in a time period which is very confusing. The high quality photography would be the only reason to purchase this book - shame on the publisher for not fixing these details before going to press!
Profile Image for Kate Lawrence.
Author 1 book24 followers
June 28, 2013
This fun, larky little book both informs and entertains, and will give dessert-lovers (like me)lots of topics to chat about with each other: why Boston cream pie is called a pie even though it's clearly a cake, whether Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker were real people (Duncan yes, Betty no), when animal crackers first came on the scene and why they were sold for years in circus-themed boxes, what two states claim the distinction of having created whoopie pies, how carrot cake and red velvet cake became so popular, why "all-American" apple pie isn't (apple pies were being enjoyed long before America was founded), why "German chocolate" has nothing to do with Germany, and much much more. Then there's the Better Than Sex cake, originating several decades ago and more recently popularized by Paula Deen: yellow cake topped with sweetened pineapple, vanilla pudding and whipped topping as well as coconut and pecans. Whoa--should we really be eating this? Recipes accompany each dessert discussed and most can be easily veganized.
Profile Image for Leigh.
1,302 reviews23 followers
September 11, 2013
This book is perfect for those who read cookbooks like novels. Lots of good backstory about baking and desserts here plus the photographs are wonderful. Additionally, the book is exactly the right size, not too large for the kitchen or the cookbook shelf. The book would also make a great gift. The recipes are interesting, fun and cover all the classics like Boston cream pie, croissants, birthday cake and pineapple upside down cake. The recipes are all completely from scratch, so get out your measuring spoons and flour sifter, folks.

However, I admit I'm lazy and would probably not bother to make the recipes in here, rather I would trot down to the local bakery and get them there. The croissant recipe calls for the use of dry yeast, which is way too scary for my limited skills.
Profile Image for Liz.
137 reviews3 followers
June 26, 2017
This book combines two of my favorite things: history and sweets. It fell a bit short for me. I like a cookbook to be loaded with pictures, but this one had only sporadic photos. And the recipes were a bit complicated...dry yeast. Too scary! It did provide for great car trivia on our recent road trip. When eating animal crackers, kids are most likely to eat what body part first? Back legs. What is America's most popular cookie? Chocolate chip (Interesting that chocolate chips were invented AFTER the cookie became popular). And I will now always add an extra candle on our birthday cakes for "one to grow on." Who knew?
Profile Image for lisa.
1,559 reviews
July 2, 2013
Ok, I haven't actually tried any of the specific recipes of the book, but I have tried lots of other variations of the same recipes. These are the classics of American sweets, many of them old favorites that I love. And there was plenty of new goodies that I have never eaten, or never had a good recipe to try for myself. The history of all these good things to eat was icing on the cake (pardon the pun), and this could be my new go-to dessert cookbook! Excellent read, even if I never tried any of the recipes!
Profile Image for Laura.
2,117 reviews
August 4, 2013
This cute book gives us the back story on popular (and not-so-popular) baked goods. It's mainly history, though she includes recipes. The recipes are a mixed back - many are pretty involved, and they feel less personal because they're not the author's. However, many of the stories - particularly about less popular, historical, commercial and international treats - are interesting. I would have liked more pictures.

I'm not sure if it's a good trend or not, but I feel like every baking book I've read this year is from a blogger.
Profile Image for Laurel.
1,077 reviews21 followers
May 25, 2017
A cookbook-baking-documentary that is delicious... easy to follow recipes with baking history and fun facts sprinkled throughout. Fans of The Great British (or American) Baking Show will recognize some recipes such as the Princess Cake with its green marzipan top.
I enjoyed reading the history behind iconic baked goods from elegant classic of Opera Cake to the comfy Pumpkin Pie to the showstoppers like Baked Alaska...and the guilty pleasures of Oreos and Pop Tarts. This book really does have it all. Just wish there were more pictures...
78 reviews21 followers
June 10, 2013
Interesting background histories and recipes to many traditional desserts. Pop tarts were originally called Country Squares. The first Girl Scout bake sale was held in Philadelphia in 1932 and exploded there after. During WW II, ingredient shortages forced Girl Scouts to switch to selling calendars. And The first batch of gingerbread characters were presented by Queen Elizabeth I to visiting dignitaries baked in their own likeness. Contains more than 40 stories in all.
Profile Image for Mary Havens.
1,400 reviews24 followers
February 24, 2016
The chapters on forgotten desserts and foreign fare were good. One day I hope to work up to making a Princess Torte or even Croissants!
I liked the history of the desserts but her cutesy-joking writing style needed to be tossed.
If you were to buy this book, it would be because you liked baking but had zero cookbooks. Otherwise, borrow from the library like I did and photocopy those recipes you like!
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,414 followers
June 15, 2013
I'm biased, because the author is a friend of mine and a genuinely delightful person. Still, this is a very fun book--it gives the history behind a wide variety of baked goods, and then offers original recipes. The recipes all look extremely tasty, but most are easy enough for bakers at any level of experience. Beautifully illustrated and photographed, too.
Profile Image for Heather Meade.
39 reviews1 follower
August 6, 2014
Really good book and interesting to find out about famous baked goods and how they were invented. I wish there were a few more pictures of the assembled baked goods but that's a minimal complaint. I really like that recipes are included and I want to try to make the traditional birthday cake, urban legend cookies, pink frosted cookies and smith island cake.
2,847 reviews20 followers
July 20, 2013
This book gives the history behind some of our favorite desserts. Along with the stories there is a recipe for said treat. I am only rating the book based on the stories not the recipes. Learned some fun facts such as October 23rd is National Boston Cream Pie Day.
Profile Image for Rachel.
455 reviews
October 8, 2013
Lots of classic recipes as well as some cool, obscure ones. Reading about the origin of the recipes was very interesting. Only negative: wish there were more photos of the food. Would definitely add this to my recipe book collection.
905 reviews
February 6, 2016
I always harp on the format of cookbooks, my pet peeve.
Although the recipes were unnecessarily formatted to fill more than one page, and front and back of the same page, at least all of the parts were together. No shuffling pages to find the matching icing or filling. Nice recipes.
Profile Image for Mary.
813 reviews41 followers
August 13, 2016
The stories were interesting and the pictures looked yummy. The real test of a book like this is to make the recipes. I have 3 picked out to try: Blondies, Hepburn brownies, and ANZAC biscuits.
Profile Image for Bert Stanaland.
80 reviews2 followers
August 20, 2018
If you like to read cookbooks then this one if for you! It is not necessary to make the recipes, because the history and the story behind each one is a feast in itself. Very nice.
Profile Image for Bree White.
36 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2014
Very fun and easy read. Loved learning the background and history of many loved desserts.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews

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