{Cookbook Review}: Best Baking Books of 2014

It was tough narrowing my list of favorite cookbooks for this post – every year I say it’s a banner year for cookbooks, but I guess every year I keep finding more books that need a spot on my shelf! What made me really happy this year was that quite a few of my favorite authors have new works out, ones that are very worthy contributions to the baking cookbook canon and definitely worth me doing some serious reorganization to fit these new gems in. If you haven’t finished your list to Santa, I have quite a few last addition for you to consider!

Disclosure: the following links in the post are Amazon affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you purchase anything through the links. Thanks for your support of Dessert First!


I’m going to lead off with one of my most eagerly anticipated cookbooks, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere. I’ve been a fan of Dorie’s for a long, long time – my first book of hers was Paris Sweets, which jumpstarted my passion for pastry and led to constant daydreams of finally making it to Paris. Many more cookbooks later, Dorie now explores the flip side of professional French patisserie: the more rustic, lesser-known regional specialties and home baking favorites (think the French equivalent of chocolate sheet cake or peanut butter cookies). The delightfully big, fat book covers the whole range of sweet things from simple loaf cakes for le weekend to summery fruit-and-streusel galettes, salted butter caramels to mousses and cookies – simple, yet all possessed of that perfectly French panache. Dorie’s inimitable voice brings you right into her cozy world, helping you realize that you don’t need to be a pastry chef to do some French baking in your home. Although French patisserie was what sent me to pastry school, after having a baby I’ve found myself with less time to make and assemble those elaborate confections with multiple components. It’s like Dorie’s book came at just the right time, to let me know there’s still plenty of simple yet stylish and satisfying ways to bake up a bit of France in my home.

I’ve already reviewed Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Baking Bible in my previous post, but of course it deserves a spot on my list here. The name is apt, the book a trove of baking basics and delicious originals. I also love the collection of Rose’s Golden Rules, simple tips to help even the most nervous of bakers find their confidence in the kitchen. Check out her recipe for Ischler Cookies in my previous post.

Of all the baking books that have come out this year, Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours has excited me the most. In fact, I’ll have a separate post on this book coming up, so I won’t get into too much detail, but suffice to say that Alice never fails to open new, unexplored doors in the world of baking. Although it’s a gluten-free baking book, she approaches the challenge of baking without wheat from an entirely new angle, treating non-wheat flours as unique ingredients to be explored, instead of substitutes for all purpose wheat flour. It’s a positive approach that speaks more to the baker in me, instead of making me feel like a dietitian trying to cobble together an approximation of wheat-flour recipe. A fascinating book that will definitely expand your baking horizons – can’t wait to write more about it! A must have whether you’re gluten free or not: that’s really the point of this book, that it’s meant for all bakers interested in experimenting with new ingredients.

So I don’t get to New York as often as I’d like, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to keep up with the pastry scene there. I love Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of Baked, and I love their new book Baked Occasions: Desserts for Leisure Activities, Holidays, and Informal Celebrations. It’s amazing to realize that a bakery that started around a brownie has now led to four cookbooks, proving the Matt and Renato are much more than a one-brownie show. Their cookbooks have been consistently cool yet approachable, with modern takes on American classics like layer cakes, cookies, and puddings that give off the sheen of New York sophistication. I’ve enjoyed the theming of their other cookbooks, from favorite flavors to American regional specialities, so I also love that their newest cookbooks is themed around desserts for every month of the year. All the typical holidays are covered along with desserts for more unorthodox occasions, like a Blood Orange Tiramisu for the Ides of March or a Salted Caramel Souffle for Julia Child’s birthday. Clever, entertaining, and delicious – and did I mention they’re awfully nice guys, as well?

Whenever I regard my straining cookbook shelves, I always think about what type of cookbooks I don’t need more of. At one point I thought, maybe ice cream, since surely I have enough iterations of vanilla ice cream? However, with the rise of premium craft ice cream shops everywhere, ice cream cookbooks have followed suit. I could not turn down the  Ample Hills Creamery cookbook, featuring recipes from the uber-popular ice cream shop in Brooklyn. Not only is the design adorable, with line drawings of their animal mascots and ingredients, but the flavors strike every nostalgic chord in me: Black Cow Float, Daddy’s Sundae, Chocolate Milk and Cookies, Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. The ice creams are very rich and creamy, and often filled with mix ins – an Ample Hills trademark. I’m looking forward to visiting their shop in the future!

Rounding out my trio of cookbooks from New York, is Johnny Iuzzini’s Sugar Rush. I remember his first book Dessert FourPlay, a much more technical book that focused on recreating the plated desserts he made for his restaurants. It was an awesome look into the creative mind of a chef, and still one of my favorites to peruse. With his newest book, he’s gone back to basics and produced a great primer on pastry. He covers all the categories, from custards to cakes to yeast doughs to tarts, offering lots of photo tutorials and troubleshooting tips. The styling of the book is appealing: it’s bold and enthusiastic, the photos are big and glossy, and it makes you want to dive into each recipe. There is also a lot of very useful technical information in this book, from explanations of the different styles of meringue to the importance of ingredient temperatures. For beginning bakers who might have found his first book a little intimidating, this book is perfect for showing all the first steps you need to reach that level.

When you ask food bloggers about their inspirations, Donna Hay will likely come up, whether they do savory or sweet, fancy or homespun. Donna Hay’s clean, bright, simple aesthetic in her cooking and imagery has become a benchmark for cooks, bloggers, and photographers. Her cookbooks are gorgeous showcases for her photos and recipes, and I was thrilled to see Donna come out with a new cookbook this year,  The New Classics, a collection of recipes from her magazine. Although I save all her issues, it’s lovely to have a bunch of them collected in one beautiful, coffee-table worthy tome. The book is divided into savory and sweet, and further subdivided into sections like eggs+cheese, chicken+duck, cakes, and pies+tarts. As pleasurable to leaf through as it is to actually cook from, I’ll be turning back to this book again and again whenever I need a boost of inspiration.

I remember my first trip to Paris. Armed only with my high school French, I was determined to eat my way through the city. Although I fared all right at the patisseries, restaurants were a surprise to me. I thought knowing the words for “chicken” and “fish” and “beef” would allow me to at least pick out a dish from a menu. Of course, not true at all. More than once I stared at a menu in total incomprehension, unable to find any word that resembled “poulet” or “poisson” or any sort of meat. I somehow neglected to learn that the French have one of most food-specific vocabularies around, and they are very precise in their terminology. The Farm to Table French Phrasebook would have been useful for me to have: this charming guide offers an overview of French culinary culture, from useful phrases like “I’d like more butter for my bread (J’aimerais un peu plus de beurre pour mes tartines”), to the names for many common cheeses and wines, to descriptions of the local market, butcher shop, and fishmonger and how to navigate them. A very useful guide with tons of fascinating information, it will definitely help you take full gastronomic advantage of your trip to Paris, or just let you armchair travel at home!

And finally, my pick for absolute cutest baking book of the year is The Hello Kitty Baking Book. As a lifelong fan of Hello Kitty, this is the book I wish I could have written! I’m so pleased that it was created by my friend Michelle of I Heart BakingI’m so in awe of her creativity and flawless technique in coming up with a Hello Kitty ombre cake, or Hello Kitty macarons, or Hello Kitty cake pops. A must-have for any Hello Kitty fan for sure, or for anyone who wants some inspiration for cute party treats – and wouldn’t that be all of us?

Hope you enjoyed my yearly roundup. What new cookbooks are gracing your shelves?

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    Great book selection and I don’t own any of them… I don’t own a lot of cookbooks.. need to give these a looksie ;o)

  2. 2

    Angelic Sinova says

    I have Sugar Rush and I really like it! I definielty want to start cooking and baking more so I need to stoke up on more cookbooks <3

  3. 6

    says

    Flavor Flours sounds really interesting! I would love to see a gluten-free cookbook written from a different angle. I’ll have to check it out!

  4. 7

    Alyssa says

    Baked Occasions is absolutely on my baking book wish list! It’s so wonderful.

  5. 9

    says

    I’m a terrible baker, maybe I need to check some of these out! I’ve heard great things about that farm to table book!

  6. 12

    says

    Funny that you say Paris Sweets was your catalyst to start baking/go to culinary school; that was also the first baking book that got me excited as well!

    Thanks for all the interesting posts. I love perusing your blog.

  7. 16

    says

    I’ve been wanting to pick up the French Phrasebook. I’m always intrigued by cookbooks with really pretty covers :)

  8. 17

    says

    thanks for the awesome roundup, and thanks even more for the awesome review of my book!!! :) i’m definitely picking a few of the books on your list to gift myself for christmas this year 😉 heehee (dorie greenspan and donna hay for sure!)

  9. 22

    says

    omg that hello kitty baking book! I think I gained weight just looking at the covers of all these… mmmmm baking.

  10. 25

    says

    Ohmygoodness! If my boyfriend weren’t allergic to flour, I would buy several of these books. I miss baking with real flour. lol.

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