{Cookbook Review}: 2011 Holiday Baking Cookbooks

It’s that time again for one of my favorite posts of the year – the baking cookbook roundup!

I’m guessing that everyone is in holiday shopping mode, so if you’re still looking for a gift for your favorite baker, or maybe for your own bookshelf, there’s a great selection of baking cookbooks looking for an eager home. Some of my favorites from this year are listed in the sidebars to the right of this post, but let’s take a look at some of the latest releases – there’s truly something for every taste. May you all never run out of bookshelf space!

For the Aspiring Pastry Chef:

If you know chocolate, you know Valrhona. If you know Valrhona, you know their École du Grand Chocolat, a pastry and chocolate school extraordinaire. For those of us not lucky enough to attend, Cooking with Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques is a chocolate course in book form. Written by Frédéric Bau, the founder of the school, it is an extremely well produced collection of essential techniques and recipes.  The chapters cover just about everything: ganaches and other bonbon fillings, classic pastry doughs and batters, mousses, ice creams, cakes, tarts, entremets…the list goes all. The recipes do not call for specialty professional equipment and are scaled for home baker-size yields, so this book is quite accessible for everyone, while providing a wealth of impeccable chocolate techniques to master.

For the Traveler:

Since I just visited this Italy this summer,Dolci: Italy’s Sweets is a lovely reminder of that trip. Francine Segan has written a dreamy survey of Italy’s sweet traditions. If all you know of Italy is tiramisu, this book will be a pleasant surprise. From biscotti to panettone, spumoni to cannoli, Francine explores the country from tip to heel, sharing some gorgeous photos. I like that she notates each recipe with its region of origin, and also provides some great historical tidbits and stories to really give you the full meaning behind these desserts. The next best thing to hopping on Alitalia for a little bit of la dolce vita.

For the Creative:

Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes wins my award for most personal and imaginative baking book of the year. This “baking diary”, as author Lisa Yockelson dubs her book, is a collection of essays about her experiences growing up baking, which also serve as headnotes to some very whimsically titled recipes. Her recipes are grouped by mood, time, flavor, making this book an adventure to read.  An essay titled, “learning to knead”, chronicling her less-than-successful first attempts at yeasted dough, prefaces a recipe named, “a 14-year-old’s rolls still tasty after all these years”. A piece about the importance of salty-sweet contrast in baking leads to two shortbread recipes, one a “hint-of-salt shortbread, restrained version” and a “wildly lush hint-of-salt lavender shortbread, unrestrained version.” A wonderfully extravagant and indulgent cookbook.


For the Health-Conscious:

When I get asked if I ever bake “light” or with substitutes, I respond that it’s not my baking style. But I realize that many other people might like to know about alternative baking methods. So I’m happy that Cooking Light has come out with the Cooking Light Way to Bake, which offers a full range of recipes, from cookies to cakes to breads, designed to be lighter and healthier. All the recipes have nutrition information, and all the ingredients are natural and easily found, which I really appreciate. A bevy of sidebars offering baking tips and tricks also makes this a valuable baking resource; it would be a great gift for beginning bakers!


For the Specialist:

It seems like the macaron craze has calmed down slightly in the blogosphere, but I don’t think they’ll ever fully go away. As Pierre Herme himself said, in France they are not a trend, but an essential cornerstone of French culture. There’s no better bible for these ever-beguiling treats than the master’s book, Pierre Herme’s Macarons – finally translated into English. Take a look at the outrageously lavish photos and you’ll get the macaron itch again.


If you live in San Francisco, you’ve probably heard of gobs. If you don’t, you might be wondering why I’m including a book that sounds like it’s about the Ramones. Steven Gdula is the Gob Guy, and gobs are his version of whoopie pies. Unfortunately, it looks like he is no longer selling them (ever?) but that makes me all the gladder that he’s documented many of his great gob flavors, like orange cardamon ginger and strawberry basil shortcake, in his book Gobba Gobba Hey: A Gob Cookbook. You can also stop by his site for more recipes and gob-making tips.


For the Cakemaker:

I’m a big fan of Chef Karen Krasne’s Extraordinary Desserts shops in San Diego, so I was pleased to find out she’s published her first cookbook. Extraordinary Cakes showcases her wonderful talents in cake making and decorating. Her style is sophisticated and modern; she doesn’t use fondant or gum paste for her decorations, so her cakes have a more natural feel. The cakes, organized by season in the book, have a nice mix of classic and unexpected flavors, from passion fruit ricotta to yuzu almond. There’s also a nice section on cake decorating techniques and selecting fresh flowers for decorating. A nice addition to your library if you like making showpiece cakes.

For the Francophile:

What a wonderful book to have translated into English! The Art of French Baking is a beloved French classic, bringing many of the staples of French patisserie to home bakers. Thanks to the efforts of the one and only Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini, now English speakers can also enjoy this sweetly simple guide to French desserts. Everything from pâte sucrée to pastry cream to sablés to tarte tatin is contained in this book, accompanied by some fabulously vintage-y illustrations and photos. You don’t need a professional certificate to bake French, just this charming book.


For the Food Geek:

I love encyclopedias: they appeal to my inner obsessive desire to catalogue the universe into neat and tidy boxes. The Culinarian: A Kitchen Desk Reference is compact enough to easily hold, but packed with useful basic information, as well as offbeat trivia and helpful tips. I looked up puff pastry, chocolate, and whipping cream, and found some concisely written entries that included advice on how to distinguish between different chocolate designations, store frozen puff pastry, whip cream properly. This is my favorite type of reference: detailed and useful, but also wonderfully readable, when you just feel like feeding your curiosity.

If you are curious at all about where some of your favorite desserts came from, Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert is a must-read. Michael Krondl studies the history of sweets in several areas of the world with deep dessert traditions: India, the Middle East, Italy, France, Vienna, and the United States. Not only does he uncover the stories behind desserts like gingerbread, halvah, and Sachertorte, he also illuminates how the politics, culture, and religion of the times influenced the development of different desserts. As the ancient desserts of the India and the Middle East are not as well known in the US, I found those chapters particularly fascinating. Seeing history through the lens of desserts – exactly my cup of tea.



  1. 1

    Elin says

    I love that you included Steven Gdula’s cookbook! He’s from Cambria County, Pennsylvania, as am I, and gobs, more commonly known as “whoopie pies” rock! I’ve used the book so many times since getting it and hands down, it is one of my best purchases of the year.

  2. 2

    fran says

    I got One Smart Cookie and Incredible Cakes when I saw it on your virtual bookshelf. Both are excellent. The Herme Macaron book is great-was thrilled to see the English translation. Do you have opinions on Foreign written books being translated into English? Was about to get the new Keyser book but reviewers dissed the translation aspects-said it was a “pictures only” book. Thoughts on separating the good-bad?

  3. 3


    Hey Anita! I love you cookbook round up every year. You always seem to include ones that I haven’t heard of yet. I’ve already added several of these to my Christmas list.

  4. 6


    Great list of cookbooks! Pierre Herme’s Macarons is on my must dos for the year. I figure if you’re gonna tackle macarons you should use the master’s recipe! My holiday baking all came from Anna Olson’s newest book; Back to Baking. Great basics book full of helpful tips and tricks for when things go wrong (over whipped cream, overcooked eggs etc.) Happy New Year :)


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