Baked Explorations is a cookbook by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This is a review of the book, and a dessert recipe from the pages of the book for oatmeal chocolate chip cake with cream cheese frosting.
Baked Explorations Cookbook Review {with Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe}

I have an addiction. OK, I have a few addictions.

Shoes. Books. Kitchen stuff. Clearance plates at TJ Maxx.  All justifiable as I am never going to sell my soul for any of the above and I know when to draw the line, but really, can you ever have enough cookie cutters or good boots?

So as part of my 2011 resolutions for myself and blog, I am going to bust into that mountain of books I own more often and try to write some reviews for you. At least then I have a justifiable excuse to give Handsome, right? Ha.

This is my first official cookbook review so bear with me as I am trying to iron out this process.

Baked Explorations Cookbook Review

Baked Explorations Cookbook (cover)

Technical Level: Baked Explorations is a book for anyone of any level who likes to bake. It has recipes for every type of baker of all skill levels which is great because that means there is something for everyone to learn and enjoy. OK, so if you are already a master pastry chef, then you probably have these skills covered – ignore my previous comment. But for those of us book buyers – Baked Explorations has a great selection of quick and simple (one, maybe two, bowl oatmeal cake) to timely and patient.

Graphic Design: Oh am I a sucker for great graphic design. I do not believe a cookbook should ever be judged by its cover, but instead, by the creases in its pages and the stains from years of constant use. But if there ever was a time and place to judge a book by its cover, Baked Explorations is where it’s at.

How could anyone not love the beautiful pictures, sassy layout, gorgeous colors, smart fonts, sharp call outs and great use of negative space? Really, I could go on. The photography is to die for. Simple and rustic. The pages are all clean and crisp. Never muddled with too much text or reading. The columns on the outer sides of the pages with the ingredients list – genius. My only negative point to this (and really, its hard to do because it is such a pretty book) is that I feel you lose quality recipe space to great graphic design. For $29.95 I could read a lot of recipes in a tiny font with no pretty pictures – but even as I type this I sigh because it is truly hard to fault them for lack of recipes.

Recipe Quality: Every recipe I have made in Baked and Baked Explorations has been perfect. Period. I am not a professional chef, nor do I play one on TV, but I can master every recipe in Baked Explorations. The careful explanations of tools, ingredients and technique really lend themselves to a great finished product that anyone could achieve.

Personality: I love the personality this book exudes. This ties into the graphic design section, but the comments from the chefs/authors are perfect. The little notes on how to improve your recipes and the descriptions at the forefront of ever recipe are awesome. You really feel like you are getting to know the recipe before you even get to the ingredient list. It really makes you believe that authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito love what they do and the creations they make on a day to day basis. I hope I can search out the adventure of finding a recipe’s secret ingredient and love my day to day job as much as they do some day.

Why’d I Buy: Sometimes you gotta have faith. The follow up book to the beautiful and awesome Baked had to be as great as the original, right? I picked this out without previewing just on the anticipation alone from its big brother. Normally, I’d read reviews or debate over books before settling on one. Not with this. Lucky for me I didn’t have to actually purchase it as my boss gave it to me as a gift (because I told him I would cry if I didn’t get if for Christmas from anyone). If I hadn’t gotten it though, you’d better believe I’d throw down the change for this one.

Baked Explorations Cookbook Review {with Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe}


Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

From Baked Explorations


For the Cake:

  • 8 ounces chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teas bourbon, Scotch, or favorite liquor
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1  up rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teas salt
  • 1 teas baking soda
  • 1 teas baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teas cinnamon

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 5 tbs unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 teas pure vanilla extract

Baked Note: Unlike most of my favorite cakes, this one does not require a standing mixer. You do not have to cream any butter or whip any egg whites. You just dump in the ingredients, stir, and fold. It is quick, easy and satisfying. The cake tastes great right out the oven, but most of my tasters and testers think it’s best after resting for a day.


Make the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and position the rack in the center. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13 inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan. Heat 1 1/4  cups water to boiling.

Place the chocolate chips in a small bowl and toss them with the bourbon until covered. Sprinkle 2 tbs of the flour over the chips and toss until coated. This will keep them from settling at the bottom during baking. Set aside.

Place the oats and cubes butter in a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over the oat mixture, wait 30 second, and stir to moisten all the oats and melt the butter. Set the mixture aside for 25 to 30 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, both sugars, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon until combined. Fold in the cooled oatmeal and stir until well combined. Gently fold in the remaining flour and then chocolate chops. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the vake or 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.


Baked Explorations Cookbook Review {with Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe}

Make the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is completely smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.

Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. ( The frosting can be made 1 day ahead. Let it soften at room temperature before using. )

Baked Explorations Cookbook Review {with Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe}Assemble the Cake:

Spread a thin, even layer of frosting over the cooled cake. Chill it for 15 minutes so that it can set. Slice and serve. The frosted cake can be kept, refrigerated and tightly covered, for up to 3 days. Bring the cake back to room temperature before serving. ( An unfrosted one will keep for 3 days, tightly covered, at room temperature. )

Baked Explorations Cookbook Review {with Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe}

** My cake was completely baked (no pun intended!) at 30 minutes.

What do you look for in a new cookbook review? What should I include in my reviews?

Baked Explorations Cookbook Review {with Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake Recipe}


  1. your pictures are always so crisp and good. Oatmeal cake is a good one. Have you ever tried Pampered Chef stoneware? Love it for baking, stoneware makes cakes and cookies bake so evenly. Just another thing to add to your kitchen wants!

  2. Christina says:

    You’re right! You can never have enough good boots! Cookbooks too for that matter!

  3. I just put this on my Amazon wish list….now I have to restrain myself from ordering it today. Thanks for the review, Kita!

    1. Buy baked first if you haven’t read it yet. Its awesome.

  4. Oh wow, I’m not the only TJ Maxx Home Store addict – YES!
    That oatmeal cake looks sooo good – moist, fluffy, sweet, YUMMY! I need that book – I’m like an intermediate in that department so I need some help. 🙂

  5. I love when cakes are baked in a pan like this. It looks phenomenal! I got this book for my dad, and I made the Dark Chocolate Loaf. It was good, but better the second day.

  6. No, there is no such thing as too many good boots or cookie cutters! I agree. You totally sold me this book…and the cake 🙂

  7. The book sounds good to me, I like the cake recipe from it. I like good pictures and not too much writing. My eyes aren’t what they used to be and books that are almost all text, I immediately pass on. Have a great weekend.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    What a terrific blog. Thanks so much for the informative review of the cookbook! I am curious about two things. Could this make cupcakes, in your opinion? And what is the texture of the cake like? Does the oatmeal make it dense? Is on the moister or drier side? Thank you!

    1. I am not sure these would translate well to cupcakes, though I can’t say I wouldn’t try it. The texture, honestly, was different the first bite I took. Almost like I didn’t know what to expect. I’d kind of describe it between a cake and a bread. I didn’t really find it dense though. I thought the oatmeal would make it heavy, but really it wasn’t.

  9. Great review!! This cake sounds delicious…I’m all for anything with cream cheese frosting!

  10. yum! love your pictures. I’ve been wanting to buy their book for some time now!

  11. Great job on this review. Your photos are terrific and the cake it self looks awesome. I am impressed by your thoroughness and wonderful way with words. I enjoyed reading the review even though I know I wont be buying the cookbook (I have been clearing out mine) I was tempted get it! Good job-give yourself a pat on the back!

  12. I love books that give the why and not just the how. I can find plenty of recipes of my own online on people’s blogs or from my family. I love knowing why you let dough rise until it’s doubled, how adding milk might affect a baked good, or what it means to dry-fry versus deep-fry. If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.

  13. I don’t have any Scotch or bourbon. Do you think I could use Kahlua instead? It’s all I have on hand and have all the other ingredients at home!

    1. I used brandy, so Im sure Kahlua would work too!

  14. A little bit of everything says:

    i love TJ Maxx stores, and i’m addicted to buying cookbooks :))

    your cake sounds delicious. love the cream cheese frosting.
    thanks for sharing

  15. HI Kita,

    You have such a nice blog. I found you on Dishfolio.

    I think I need to join Cookbooksaholic Anonymous myself.
    I was so bad last year and bought more than 50 cookbooks alone and yet I still want Baked & it’s sister book. I’m also addicted to cookie cutters and cake pans. I would give up shopping for clothes and shoes for kitchen stuff. Is there a support group for this kind of thing?

    I have all of Maida Heatter and almost all of Rose Levy Beranbaum and Dorie Greenspan and recently added Susan Gold Purdy, Joanne Chang and to my collection but you’ve completely sold me on the idea that I need these Baked books now.

    I’m going to make a wish for a KitchenAid now so I can plough my way through my library. This baking thing sure is an expensive past time.

    1. Holy wow that is a cook book collection by the sounds of it! I’ve moved a lot in the past few years so really I have no idea what books I do or don’t own. There are really only a few that I have dug out and put on my shelves. The Baked books were a great addition just for pretty pictures and graphic design alone.

  16. Most baking books I’ve encountered do not have pictures for every recipe. So, I always want a description for each recipe in a cookbook, explaining what to expect and selling me on the reason to make it. Also, I love it when the recipe has a little section dedicated to making variations of that recipe.

    For your book review, I would like to know what recipes you tried out that made you like the book and why you chose the chocolate chip oatmeal cake to represent the book. Was the cake exceptionally fantastic? Was it for the ease of making it? What was the taste and texture like? Maybe, for the beginning of the review, give a background on the book, who wrote it and stuff like that (I notice it was at the end of the review). Overall, you sold me on the book because the cake looks killer! I love chocolate and oatmeal together.

  17. I love this cookbook! I made this cake the morning. It’s so delicious! It’s being devoured pretty quickly! Not sure it will last three days, haha.
    Can’t wait to make more things from this book!

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