Pastry chefs choose the best baking cookbooks

 Best baking books

I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for lists - especially lists about cookbooks. That's why I honed in on The Strategist's article about the best baking books as selected by pastry chefs. Nine top U.S. pastry chefs and professional bakers were asked to give their opinions on which books were the best in several categories. Some of the selections were expected, but there were a few surprises as well. 

Several of the bakers weighing in have written cookbooks, including Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin of Ovenly; Zachary Golper, chef and owner of Bien Cuit; and Alison Pray, co-owner at Standard Baking Co. in Portland, Maine. The first category, best book for non-bakers, left me scratching my head: the chefs selected Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts: The Recipes of Del Posto's James Beard Award-Winning Pastry Chef. If I hadn't done any baking, I think I would have found the recipes intimidating, although it is a great read and a wonderful resource. I just don't think that I would give it to someone who wasn't already a baker. 

Other choices made more sense. The best book for beginners was The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. All of Beranbaum's books garnered high praise from the chefs, including Miro Uskokovic, pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern in New York. Although it is difficult for him to choose just one, he recommends The Baking Bible for a more general overview of baking and pastry. "You know she tested these recipes time and time again, and it's written in such detail that anyone will be able to execute them," he says.  

Beranbaum's The Cake Bible was chosen as the best book of cake recipes. Strangely, there was no best pie book, an unfortunate oversight, because pie deserves its own category. According to the numbers on EYB Members' Bookshelves, that honor would go to The Pie and Pastry Bible, with the more recent Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life running second.

But I digress. The volume chosen as the best baking book for intermediate bakers was Tartine: Sweet and Savory Pastries, Tarts, Pies, Cakes, Croissants, Cookies and Confections by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. Again, this was a solid choice, although I am also fond of Bouchon Bakery.

Turning to bread, the best for beginners honor went to Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman, while the nod for best book for advanced bakers was Michel Suas's Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach. Looks like another book just went into my Amazon cart.

One category name was a bit unorthodox: best desserts cookbook with simple, seasonal recipes. However, the selection was anything but unorthodox, as Claudia Fleming's The Last Course rightly earned the praise here. As Agatha Kulaga says, "These perfect desserts will make you feel like you are the most accomplished pastry chef in the world without ever having to go to culinary school." The Last Course has been out of print for some time and increasingly difficult to find for a reasonable price, but that is about to change as the book is being reissued soon. 

Since these lists always leave room for dissent, I'm going to add a couple of books and authors that I think deserve to be mentioned when talking about best baking books. The first of my favorites is Sweet Miniatures: The Art of Making Bite-Size Desserts by the late Flo Braker. Although not every recipe is a winner, there are plenty of keepers here, along with good advice on how to make small treats that are perfect for parties. For bread basics, my go-to has been The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart. It provides a solid foundation for understanding the many variables that go into making a loaf, from lean artisan breads to buttery, enriched ones like brioche. 

Dorie Greenspan also merits inclusion in at least one of the categories - or perhaps they could have added one for best cookie book. Greenspan's books are favorites of EYB Members, and with good reason. Greenspan's directions are clear and concise, and she guides bakers gently but firmly into achieving good results. She also allows you room to play and grow, suggesting adaptations to her recipes to achieve different effects. You can't go wrong with Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home AnywhereBaking: From My Home to Yours, and of course Dorie's Cookies.

I think that Stella Parks is poised to become the muse of a new generation of bakers. BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts has been a revelation, and I'm sure it's just the beginning for the talented Parks, who combines her scientific approach with a quick wit that makes her recipes come alive. 

Given the judges, this list is slanted to U.S. books and authors, but I would be remiss not to mention Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Food (UK), and of course the book that many of us immediately fell in love with, Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. There are other worthy contenders too, but only so much time to write in one day. 

Now that I've got you yearning for more baking books to add to your library, I'll quickly mention that we have upcoming promotions for two great baking cookbooks: The Pastry Chefs Little Black Book by Michael Zebrowski and Michael Mignano and French Patisserie: Master Recipes and Techniques from the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts by Ecole Ferrandi.

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