The 5 Books You Turn to for a Perfect Cake

From “what is a crumb coat?” to mixing-and-matching a recipe to your specific vision, these books have you more than covered.

July 13, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

This post is part of our new community-driven book tournament, The Big Community Book-Off. With your help, we're finding the best books across categories (from bread to pasta, one-bowl to weeknight-friendly, cake to cookies, to name a few), and putting them through a series of rigorous reviews—considered, tested, and written by none other than you.

Last month, F52ers Alison, Melissa, and Theresa cooked through five massive tomes on basics. You can find which one was deemed the most educational, relevant, accessible, organized, and tasty here.

The month before that, community members Sara, Amie, and Emmie shared their definitive feelings on books on bread.

This month, we’re talking cake. These are the books that taught you not only what a crumb coat does, but the science behind reverse-creaming and when to wield an Ateco #849. Below, meet our three brave(tart) community members who will be baking, frosting, layering their way through our cakebook finalists. But first—your five best books on cake are:

Your 5 Most-Loved Books on Cake

Photo by Amazon

1. Christina Tosi’s All About Cake

Christina Tosi is chef-owner of Milk Bar, a TV personality, and author of 4 books. All About Cake is a self-proclaimed guide to cakes of all kinds. In it, you’ll find recipes for bundt and pound cakes, Crock-Pot and mug cakes, and Tosi’s signature truffles and layer cakes. Community member Sarah Bartol wrote, “I love, love, love, Tosi’s incredibly creative cake flavors. Not only do they create flavor parties in my mouth, but they're visually pretty impressive when completed. While they do call for some more-difficult-to-find ingredients at times and have multiple steps, they are so worth the effort.“

Photo by Amazon

2. Maida Heatter’s Cakes

Born in 1916, Maida Heatter (aka the “Queen of Desserts”) was a celebrated American pastry chef and cookbook author who died just last year (at 102!). Heatter’s written books on pies and tarts, cookies, great cookies; chocolate, cakes, great desserts, and best desserts (ever!). Of Heatter’s great, storied influence, a community member wrote, “The dessert spread shown on the cover of Book of Great Desserts—from 1974—still inspires me. Maida Heatter is the Queen.”

Photo by Amazon

3. Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Cake Bible

Author of 11 books (currently working on a 12th), TV personality, and prolific blogger, Rose Levy Berenbaum is as revered and oft-referenced as a title like The Cake Bible might suggest. Berenbaum’s tome contains over 200 recipes for butter, fruit, vegetable, custard, breakfast, sponge, and celebratory cakes, to name just a few categories. Community member Ruth Katcher wrote of Berenbaum: “Is any author a more gifted explainer or more precise and compassionate scientist in the kitchen? I don't think so!"

Photo by Amazon

4. Stella Parks’ Bravetart

Self-proclaimed CIA-trained baking nerd and pastry wizard Parks’ (aka BraveTart) first (and very well-received) book offers up not only 400 pages of classic, nostalgic dessert recipes (from pineapple upside-down cake to yellow birthday cake) but the lesser-known stories behind them (cheesecake’s Grecian—or Gotham?—origins). Community member Emme Hine (remember Emmie?), wrote of the book: “Bravetart’s both a well-researched deep dive into the history of American desserts, and a meticulously tested cookbook. Everything I've made is delicious, and she explains the science behind some unconventional steps that put her recipes head and shoulders above others.”

Photo by Penguin Random House

5. Odette Williams’ Simple Cake

A children’s apron designer turned bestselling cookbook author, Odette Williams believes cakes can and should be enjoyed even—especially—when there’s no occasion. Williams, in the introduction to Simple Cake*: “Bake...for a friend who’s having a rough time, for yourself as a bribe, for someone who has captured your heart, for a family treat, or because it’s rainy and you’re stuck inside with sick kids.” Williams provides base recipes for various cakes and toppings, empowering the reader to devise just the right cake for the craving.

Meet Our Reviewers:

As a reminder, here’s how the review process will work: Jen, Margaret, and Reba are planning to prepare seven recipes from each book. They’ll then collectively write a review for each book, along with a final review selecting one book as most exemplary of these guiding questions:

  • Reliability and Accuracy: Do the recipes work as written?
  • Stand-Out Factor/Appeal: Why this book?
  • Accessibility: Are the equipment and ingredients required accessible to the average home baker?**
  • Decorative Technique: Does the book effectively show how to make cakes look delectable and/or like the photo?

Jen Rose

“I nominated Simple Cake because I love the mix-and-match style of the recipes in the book. The possibilities seem endless and the suggested combinations are inspired and delicious. And the photography is stunning—one look at this book and I immediately ordered it as a gift for my mom.”

Margaret Winchell

“I nominated Odette Williams' Simple Cake because it represents so much of how I like to bake—taking this cake recipe, and that filling, and that frosting, because they just sound so good together. Williams sets the book up that way, acknowledging that these are just a handful of base recipes that so many others are based on, and then provides several ideas for variations on each of them. It makes cake baking feel more straightforward and very reliable, while still allowing for individual creativity.”

Reba Toloday

“I think Stella Parks’ Bravetart is an incredible baking book. Parks’ analytical and relentless approach to testing allows both novice and experienced bakers the ability to try a recipe and not only expect but also experience success. I love Stella's approach and enthusiasm towards all American desserts, and also her commitment to a project. No shortcuts here! “

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I'm very curious to see how this turns out! I've baked two wedding cakes out of The Cake Bible - a tiered cheesecake (which I never would have been bold enough to attempt without Rose's guidance!) and golden butter cake (which made up 2 of the 3 tiers of my own wedding cake). It's since been borrowed and not returned so I haven't had the chance to try much else! And I love Stella's recipes on Serious Eats, so I've been extremely curious about her cookbook. Looking forward to seeing the reviews and the final result!”
— samanthaalison

Stay tuned for Jen, Margaret, and Reba’s reviews—and judgment as to which of these five is the ultimate book on cake!

Which of these has your vote? Tell us about it in the comments.

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.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • pgchomes
  • HalfPint
  • samanthaalison
  • Grant Moss
    Grant Moss
  • Coral Lee
    Coral Lee
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pgchomes July 25, 2020
I love making cakes when I am not busy creating house plans for
HalfPint July 17, 2020
Oh, that's a hard one. These are all great books. It's between Cake Bible and BraveTart because they give weight measurements. I love the sound of all Maida Heatter's cakes but her books don't seem to have any weight measurement and that makes me wary about trying the recipe. Am I just looking at the older editions?
Coral L. July 23, 2020
Hi HalfPint! No, I think you're right! All volumetric measurements.
ChefJune September 22, 2020
You don't have to worry about Maida's recipes. All of her recipes I've ever made (over more than 50 years) have worked. Her books were written in a time when American cookbooks didn't include weights in books designed for home cooks. I hope you won't discount her on that condition. You'll be missing out on some delicious eats. Personally, I've been addicted to her cookie book for decades. Some of the best cookies ever in my mouth have come from that book!
samanthaalison July 13, 2020
I'm very curious to see how this turns out! I've baked two wedding cakes out of The Cake Bible - a tiered cheesecake (which I never would have been bold enough to attempt without Rose's guidance!) and golden butter cake (which made up 2 of the 3 tiers of my own wedding cake). It's since been borrowed and not returned so I haven't had the chance to try much else!

And I love Stella's recipes on Serious Eats, so I've been extremely curious about her cookbook. Looking forward to seeing the reviews and the final result!
529hh July 14, 2020
Parks’ book is incredible. Everything I’ve made from it is spectacular. I highly recommend trying the red wine red velvet cake and accompanying frosting. Also her marshmallow buttercream frosting is out of this world!
Grant M. July 13, 2020
Great article—this introduced me to several books that I want to read ASAP. A bit odd, though, to give Beranbaum’s pie recipe in a piece specifically about cakes.
Coral L. July 23, 2020
Hi Grant! Great eye. I included the pie recipe because... we do not yet have a cake recipe from Berenbaum on the site! But we'll be sure to include one when the winner is announced.
Stephanie G. July 23, 2020
Hi Cora, yes, you do have a cake recipe from Rose Levy Berenbaum on the site. I make it often, the recipe and an article are linked below:
Coral L. July 23, 2020
Hi Stephanie! Yum, thanks for sharing!