Books

21 Baking Books Our Staff & Community Swear By

February 27, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

Cookbooks solve practical problems, like what to make on a Thursday when you have 30-ish minutes to spare, what to bring to a newly vegan friend’s potluck, what to prep on the weekends. But baking books are all about pleasure. Distracting yourself from what you’re actually supposed to be doing, celebrating a 91st birthday, making a midnight snack. Below are 21 of our favorite baking books, cherry-picked by our staff and community alike. Organized alphabetically by title, the list is by no means exhaustive—we hope you’ll weigh in with your favorites in the comments, too.


1. BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher

“If you love baking, reading BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher is a joy, and will help you understand the science of it so much better (and give you a lot of good cake recipes, too).” —Kristen Miglore, Creative Director of Genius

Fun fact: Kristen highlighted Shirley’s moist-as-can-be biscuits in the very first year of the Genius column.

2. BraveTart by Stella Parks

I could tell you about how BraveTart won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Baking & Desserts, or how it was a New York Times best-seller. But it’s really hard to do this book justice. It goes without saying that it includes obsessively tested recipes, as Stella regularly publishes on Serious Eats, like homemade snack-aisle favorites (Twinkies! Nilla wafers! Animal crackers!). It also includes deep dives into the history of American desserts, from chocolate chip cookies to brownies to McDonald’s-style apple turnovers. All of which to say, learning from it is just as sweet as baking from it.

3. Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman

First published in 2004, this book is a must for anyone who wants to understand (and bake and eat) bread. You’ll cover the basics, then learn how to play around with them, like ciabatta with olive oil and wheat germ, and sourdough rye with raisins and walnuts. “It is informative, well-written, and has all my favorite bread formulas in it. I wish all my text books had been written at least half as well. It reset my career course from engineering to baking.” BakerBren, community member

4. Dorie’s Cookies & 5. Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

“In Dorie's Cookies, you've got all your classics (sablés, linzers, chocolate chip, brownies, World Peace), but also some real surprise hits (strawberry shortcake cookies, spicy togarashi meringues). And beyond that, Dorie's sage advice and meticulous instructions can make a baker out of the most hapless of us (i.e., me).” —Brinda Ayer, managing editor.

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“I just really feel like this book solidified my knowledge of bread baking, and I'd recommend it to anyone!”
— Lisr
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Another honorable mention, also by Dorie: Baking: from my home to yours, which has 300 recipes—like the corniest corn muffins, raisin-swirl bread, and caramel peanut–covered brownie cake—plus lots of spin-offs and encouraging words along the way.

6. The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser

“I’m only recommending this one because they aren’t my recipes—but I most often turn to my Essential New York Times Cookbook for the pre-2000s baking recipes, because there are so many incredible ones that The Times covered over the years.” —Amanda Hesser, co-founder.

Look forward to: Teddie’s apple cake, no-knead bread, flourless chocolate cake, cashew butterscotch bars, lemon cheese pie, Pierre Herme’s chocolate sablés, and more.

7. Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore

“Our Genius Creative Director Kristen Miglore unearthed more than 100 of the smartest and most iconic dessert recipes of our time, drawing from the biggest names in desserts and the wisdom of the Food52 community—plus the genius tips, mini-recipes, and riffs to make them your own.” —Lindsey-Jean Hard, contributor

8. Fancy Desserts by Brooks Headley

“It’s easy to explain away the style and makeup of Fancy Desserts as the result of a punk rock drummer becoming a pastry chef. But what makes all the weird, fascinating, beautiful parts of this book come together into a shockingly cohesive and valuable whole are Headley’s reverence for Italian cooking (and those who have passed it down), his focus on simplicity and flavor over presentation or pretense, and his desire to make the book a collaboration rather than a self-congratulatory Chef Manifesto.

"Headley’s recipes are more Italian than fancy. While he does write a recipe for fennel cake garnished with pickled green strawberries (the latter he borrowed from René Redzepi), and he does ask you to use a dehydrator a few times, Headley’s recipes share more DNA with those of an Italian nonna than the sorts of chefs who turn fruit into foam.” —Marian Bull, contributor

9. The Fearless Baker by Erin McDowell

Over 100 pounds of butter went into The Fearless Baker photo shoots, which gives you some idea of how much goodness is in this sprawling collection. Erin, who has been contributing to Food52 since 2009, shares countless pro tips for upgrading your baked goods, from peachy coconut macaroons to black-bottom crème brûlée, and all in her you-got-this voice, which is as inspiring as it gets.

10. Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich

“We have come to rely on Alice Medrich for superlative desserts: the chewiest cookies, the darkest chocolate, the purest flavors. She is an obsessive baker and a diligent student, whose recipes are smartly written and quick to become classics. In Flavor Flours, Medrich has taken on eight ‘alternative’ flours, from teff to oat to rice, and found the ways to get the best out of each one—the best texture, the best taste, the most complementary spices and sidekicks. Medrich has tested and toiled and mastered eight types of flavor flours, turning them into crackers and cookies and cakes and pies that feel like new discoveries rather than an exercise in substitution. It is a quietly gluten-free book, more focused on flavor and innovation than on diet.” —Marian Bull, contributor

11. Happiness Is Baking by Maida Heatter

Our co-founder Amanda Hesser loves Maida Heatter’s Best Dessert Book Ever “for tried and true home baking.” First published in 1990, this cookbook solidified the Heatter’s status as “Queen of Desserts.” Most recently, Happiness Is Baking is “a modern-classic collection” of the late author’s most-loved recipes, like Budapest Coffee Cake, her minty Palm Beach Brownies, and East 62nd Street Lemon Cake. Lots of colorful, cheerful illustrations included.

12. Hot Bread Kitchen by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez

This book won The Piglet in 2016 (psst: Have you heard the word about our new cookbook extravaganza? Here’s the scoop) and we haven’t stopped turning to it since. Hot Bread Kitchen is a N.Y.C.-based nonprofit, which serves as a small-business incubator and culinary training program for women facing economic insecurity. Its menu (and cookbook) are inspired by its bakers, who hail from all over the world—yielding a diverse collection of recipes like m’smen, challah, lavash, tortillas, paratha, and so much more.

13. How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson

“Anyone who’s watched Nigella Lawson bake on TV knows how relaxing she makes it seem, and I have really leaned into that whenever I decide to break out the measuring cups and throw myself into the flour and sugar. Most of all: There’s a royal icing cupcake in there (the title image) that’s made me very popular at birthday parties.” —Eric Kim, senior editor

14. In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley

This book won the IACP Cookbook of the Year when it was first published in 2001, and, almost two decades later, it’s just as beloved: “I have many baking cookbooks, but find myself using In The Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley frequently.” Wendy, community member.

Expect thoughtful, reliable recipes like toasted hazelnut pound cake, pumpkin breakfast cake with fresh orange syrup, and The World’s Sexiest Sundae. Yes.

15. The Joys of Baking by Samantha Seneviratne

"This book destroyed me. I've never held on so tightly to a cookbook as if it were a novel. Samantha's words are weighty, considered, and full of grace. In The Joys of Baking, the premise is clear: Baking is a salve for the traumas of life. With each cake, cookie, pie, and other baked confection (like Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls With Browned Butter Cream Cheese Glaze, Dark Chocolate Malt Celebration Cake, and Danish Butter Cookies), and through deeply personal essays, she threads together a narrative that tells the story of what happens when we find ourselves suddenly broken. As she writes in the introduction, 'No one needs a chocolaty cake or a delectable sweet to survive. That is, until that moment when a chocolate cake is exactly what you need to survive.'” —Eric Kim, senior editor

16. The Last Course by Claudia Fleming

Authored by iconic pastry chef Claudia Fleming, The Last Course was first published in 2001, only to go out of print in 2008, as many cookbooks do. But what happened after that was different: As Daniela Galarza reported for Taste, The Last Course became legendary among professionals and home bakers alike, to the point where it started selling for hundreds of dollars on Ebay. This past year, to all our luck, it came back in print. Stout gingerbreads and chocolate-caramel tarts for everyone!

17. Pastry Love by Joanne Chang

“Hailed as chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Joanne Chang's ‘most personal and comprehensive book yet,’ this collection of 125 recipes more than anything demonstrates Chang's inspiring passion for ‘baking and sharing with others.’ Among the book's eight chapters is an entire section on gifting with sweets, aptly titled ‘I Made This for You.’ The recipes themselves, many of them gluten-free and made with moderate amounts of sugar, are as appealing and unique as you'd expect: Tahini Black Sesame Spiral Shortbreads, Garlicky Cheesy Monkey Bread, Vietnamese Espresso Profiteroles, and many more.” —Brinda Ayer, managing editor

P.S. If you’re a Joanne Chang fan thanks to her bakeries in Boston, you can get their recipes in Flour and Flour, Too.

18. Rose’s Baking Basics by Rose Levy Beranbaum

“Best-selling author Rose Levy Beranbaum's latest cookbook arrived in September 2018. It's packed full of 100 essential recipes, from breads to cakes to pies and more, and has more than 600 step-by-step photos to help everyone achieve flawless results, every time.” —Lindsey-Jean Hard, contributor.

Note: If you’re looking for something a little more advanced, try Rose’s Pie and Pastry Bible, which our co-founder Amanda Hesser recommends “for its maniacal precision.”

19. Simple Cake by Odette Williams

“This book shows that if you can master a very small, very delicious set of ‘formulas’ for cakes and frostings/toppings—no fancy ingredients or head-spinning techniques here—you can riff your way to pretty much any cake imaginable.” —Brinda Ayer, managing editor

Bonus: To get started, try Odette’s chocolate tres leches.

20. The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman

“One of the most thoughtful and trustworthy pastry cookbooks I've ever come across. It features delicious recipes as well as ‘technique tips’ explaining in greater detail certain processes (like browning butter or baking French meringue), as well as ‘beyond the basics’ sidebars that explain some of the science behind the recipes (why room-temp eggs are different than eggs straight from the fridge, how the alkalinity of baking soda has a positive effect on cookies and cakes, etc.).” —Josh Cohen, host & food writer/recipe developer

21. Tartine: a Classic Revisited by Elisabeth Prueitt & Chad Robertson

The first edition of Tartine published in 2006, four years after Prueitt and Robertson opened their bakery of the same name in San Francisco. In the relatively short time since, Tartine has become one of the most iconic bakeries in the country, famous for its croissants, morning buns, and wide-crumbed, extra-crusty bread. This new edition includes more than 50 new recipes—with plenty of whole-grain and gluten-free variations.

Check out more community responses on the Hotline here, or weigh in with your own picks below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lisr
    Lisr
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    Melody Kerr Gardner
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    AntoniaJames
  • Lazyretirementgirl
    Lazyretirementgirl
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

6 Comments

Lisr March 8, 2020
This is a great list! I learned how to bake in a retail artisan bread bakery, and I'd love to add the book that the woman who taught me how to bake recommended to me - The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. It's got so many basic recipes that can be adapted and refined endlessly, with tips on how to do so. Also included are some really interesting (and delicious) methods that really blew my mind. I just really feel like this book solidified my knowledge of bread baking, and I'd recommend it to anyone!
 
Melody K. March 8, 2020
Bread Baker's Apprentice is the absolute bomb!!! I love Peter!! I just baked four lovely loaves today from his book, but since I have been making these loaves for so long, I am not sure which recipe. That and I vary the recipe depending on my mood.
 
Melody K. March 8, 2020
I just bought Hot Bread Kitchen and absolutely love it!!! What a great story of women baking, learning, and the joy of breads. The recipes are fantastic, and I enjoy just reading it!!!
 
pmporter March 8, 2020
You omitted Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz. His recipes never fail and are simply the best out there that I have tried. I've made his pistachio cake at least 30 times. His brownies, his ice creams, all stellar. All of his books are worth having and working from.
(former pastry chef here)

Also The Italian Baker by Carol Field. An oldie but goodie. A classic.
 
AntoniaJames February 28, 2020
For those of at higher altitudes - which makes baking so exciting!! -- I highly recommend

* "Pie in the Sky," by Susan Purdy. As noted in the publisher's summary, "Every recipe was tested at sea level (Connecticut), 3,000 feet (North Carolina and Virginia), 5,000 feet (Idaho and Colorado), 7,000 feet (New Mexico), and 10,000 feet (Colorado) and can be used at these elevations or any points in between." This is great for those of us who live at 5,000 feet but take weekends away for skiing, etc. at 7,000 - 10,000 feet. (Have you ever played ping pong at 9,000 ft? But I digress.)

* "High Altitude Baking: 200 Delicious Recipes and Tips for Great High Altitude Cookies, Cakes, Breads and More" 2nd Edition, Revised, by Patricia Kendall PH D and Colorado State University Extension

I especially like the baking mix recipes Kendall provides, which allow you to combine base ingredients -- one called all-purpose (cookies, pancakes, quick breads, etc., like homemade Bisquick) and another for cakes, etc. -- along with recipes for using those mixes. I'm always looking for ways to save time / improve efficiency. Having this resource for the special conditions here at the higher elevations is wonderful. Plus, if any resource involving technical expertise includes the words "State University Extension" anywhere on the cover, you know what's inside has been well tested and can be relied upon.

Just an aside: I realize that there are tricks -- conversion charts showing how to adjust leavening agents, baking time, moisture, temperature, etc. -- but they are not foolproof. I have more consistent success using recipes that have been meticulously tested at the higher elevations.

And one other aside: Longtime (as in 10+ year veteran) Food52'er Susan Pridmore has the best cornbread recipe for altitude baking I've found anywhere, which you can find on her blog, The Wimpy Vegetarian https://thewimpyvegetarian.com/2017/02/easy-buttermilk-cornbread-sundaysupper-high-altitude-baking/ I bake it in an 8" square glass pan until there are only a few crumbs clinging to a toothpick / cake tester . ;o)

 
Lazyretirementgirl March 8, 2020
Thank you AJ!