Here is my list of must have baking cookbooks. These five cookbooks make my list because of the focus on technique in all of them.
I have long said that a recipe is just a list of ingredients married to a list of techniques, so if you learn the techniques, you can make almost anything you can think of with nothing but an ingredient list.
Grab copies of these incredibly instructive cookbooks for the bakers in your life.
Disclosure: All links to purchase on Amazon are affiliate links, so I will get a few cents for any purchases made through these links, and it won’t alter your price at all. For more information, see my disclosure policy.
How is This List of Must-Have Baking Books Different from Other Folks’ Lists?
Baking. I love the feel of flour on my hands and how I can tell exactly when I’ve rubbed in enough butter to make a lovely pie crust. I love the thick, luscious, billowy batter that I make for my pound cakes.
I do not, as a rule, so much love recipes, though.
What I’m more interested in is technique. Give me a recipe, and I can cook one thing. Teach me a technique, and I can cook a wide array of things.
I used to buy every cookbook I could get my hands on. I went in phases: sometimes it was “cookbooks that contain a bajillion recipes.” For awhile I was into niche books with titles such as 75 Baked Potatoes or Pudding. Then, I was into Bibles. Cheese bibles, pastry bibles, cake bibles, chocolate bibles. If it had Bible in the title, I was buying it.
Why The Instructions in Recipes Are So Important
Being a lover of words, the instructions section of a recipe called more loudly to me than did the ingredient section.
The instructions are the meat of the recipe. The how to. The technique. And sometimes even the why behind the techniques.
As I read, I began to see similarities across a wide array of recipes.
How many instructions for braises and stews start with cooking aromatics in a pan? Almost all of them.
How many custard recipes tell you to temper hot ingredients into the beaten eggs and then pour the lot back in the pan. Almost all of them.
How many cookie recipes begin by asking you to cream together fat and sugar? A very ton of them.
How I Came Up with My List of Recommendations
In light of my love of technique, I thought I’d share a short list of technique-driven must-own baking books that I think every serious baker–or person who wants to understand how and why baking works–should own.
You will probably see a Bible title or two in here. After all, “bible” implies authoritative information and is generally not lightly bandied about. At the end of my list, you’ll find some recommendations from some of my blogging friends as well.
If it’s on my list I own it, I use it, and I love it because it brings something new to my understanding of the art, craft and science of baking.
Consider picking up a copy of whichever ones strike your fancy, either for yourself or for the baker/s in your life.
The baking cookbooks on my list may not all be in the list of the greatest cookbooks of the century, but they are all on my list for very specific reasons.
Must-Own Baking Cookbooks
Click on any of the title links to check them out on Amazon.
Baking by Hand
This is one great book.
The obvious passion that Andy and Jackie King have for baking and their attention to detail is just inspiring.
The book is all about technique and then getting out of the way so that the bread or pastry is really the star of the show. I am especially impressed with the way that they manipulate the temperature of the ingredients to really get exactly the results they want.
These are folks who truly understand their ingredients and how to work with them, and they are excited to share their “secrets” with the rest of us. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The Cake Bible
Talk about evergreen content. Rose Levy Beranbaum, who I would love to sit down and have coffee with sometime, by the way, wrote this Bible in 1988.
She developed the technique of using the two-stage mixing method with butter cakes rather than with high-ratio shortening cakes. The results are a meltingly tender crumb and a markedly different flavor than you’d achieve with the creaming method.
Aside from that (which is huge), you’ll find perfect “Neo-Classic buttercream” because Rose also figured out how to take the thermometer out of the equation when making European-style buttercream. Huzzah!
Want to know how to scale a recipe and get the amount of leavening correct? Check this book. It truly is a Bible, and mine is covered with splatters and such. I turn to it again and again.
Baking by Flavor
Lisa Yockelson takes a different approach to baking than most other cookbook authors. Her chapters are arranged by flavor: Vanilla, Caramel and Butterscotch, Almond, Chocolate, Ginger, Spice, etc.
Each flavor section contains between 10 and 15 recipes that were developed not only to highlight the specific flavor but to elevate it to the nth degree.
How do you make a lemon cake into an Ultra-Lemon Cake? How do you bring out all the nuances of chocolate in a Cocoa-Sour Cream-Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake? How can you bring added depth and dimension to a Vanilla Sugar Cookie?
Learn the techniques of layering in those flavors in different ways. Your baking will be the better for it. I know that mine is.
Subtitled The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio isn’t strictly a baking book, but he spends a considerable amount of time discussing dough (Bread, Pasta, Pie, Biscuit, Cookie), batter (Pound Cake and Sponge Cake, Angel Food, Quick Cakes, Crepes) and custards (free standing, creme Anglaise and bonus chocolate and caramel sauces.
What I love about this book is that he doesn’t say that using a specific ratio will give you the ultimate pie dough or cookie dough or sponge cake batter.
He does say that it’s a very good place to start. It’s the science behind the art.
Learn the ratios and then experiment from there to make your perfect pie dough or your perfect biscuit.
The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook
This book should really be called a bible, too.
From pancakes and popovers to pasta to pies and pastries and over 150 pages on breads alone (not including sourdough which scores its own chapter), if it contains flour, you’ll learn how to make it.
Written because “...there is nothing as satisfying as the act of creating with one’s own hands and sharing what we’ve created with people we love in a place we love.”
It doesn’t get better than this, friends. Each chapter comes with a “Primer” that gives you a crash course on each type of baked good. Read this like a much-loved, accessible textbook.
I think that five is a good place to end the list. Sometimes these lists can get overwhelming, and I really do want you to consider these books rather than just skim through an exhaustive list.
Recommendations for Great Baking Cookbooks from around the Internet
I asked folks on Google + and facebook what books they’d recommend and why. Here is a listing of those resources as well.
Joy of Cooking, 1946 edition is Jean Layton‘s pick. She appreciates the simple and straightforward way the recipes are written. I think older cookbooks spent less time on the instructions because more people understood the techniques then.
The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook is high on Christina Lane‘s list because of its seasonal ingredients and all-from-scratch approach to baking.
John Rivard recommends Mary Meade’s Country Cookbook. He loves it because the recipes are all very authentic, American heartland recipes, and every recipe that he has tried has worked perfectly the first time. Plus, their gingersnap recipe is the best!
Barclay Blanchard really loves Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker from the America’s Test Kitchen folks. If you know the ATK folks and Cook’s Illustrated, you know that every recipe is tested seven ways from Sunday, so you know that whatever they print is what they consider to be the best iteration of whatever-it-is possible.
Jason Shriner is just starting to bake from Nick Malgieri’s Cookies Unlimited, and he says that every recipe that he has tried has been dead on the money. Besides, Nick Malgieri knows his stuff. I own a couple of his other books. He’s a master, for sure.
Irene Seales turns to Emily Luchetti’s seminal Stars Desserts again and again, especially for the Persimmon Pudding and Lemon Bars. Sadly, Stars is no longer open, but the books and recipe live on.
Khai from Kitchentinker loves Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. Another incredible resource from Rose Levy Beranbaum, Khai saves working from this book for the weekends when she has time to challenge herself.
Liz Posmyk shares Wholefood Baking by Jude Blereau. I’ve not heard of this one before, but it sounds pretty amazing. It advocates using less processed ingredients with some truly magical looking results. You can read Liz’s full review here.
And that wraps it up. I hope you find one or two gems here to add to your collection. Thanks for taking the time to read, and I hope you have a lovely day.