by Abby, Bookseller
When I’m in the store, I look at a lot of cookbooks. I help shelve the cooking section, the covers draw me in, and I need to be able to recommend the new ones to customers like you - right? Yes, these are most definitely excuses I tell myself to justify flipping through cookbook after cookbook.
While I enjoy cooking, I am obsessed with baking; partly because I find it therapeutic (I mean, you sometimes actually get to punch dough when you make bread), and partly because I like eating baked goods more than almost anything else in this world. At a certain point, it just makes more sense to bake it yourself than buy something that only kind of fits what you’re craving.
Which brings me to my collection. After looking through so many cookbooks on a daily basis, I have to physically restrain myself from spending my entire paycheck on each one with a recipe that calls to me. I like to first try a recipe from a cookbook via the library, or from the author’s blog if they have one, so I know whether or not a book is going to be a good fit for me.
So, I’m here to share with you the baking cookbooks that I’ve tried recipes from and loved, and a favorite recipe that I’ve made from each. If it helps to have a third party telling you that yes, I’ve made delicious things from this cookbook and think it’s truly worth the buy, then this post is for you.
America’s Test Kitchen will make you feel like a great baker no matter what level you’re at. All of their recipes have explanations about why they work - they don’t just tell you what to do and ask you to trust them. There are tips on some that will help you in your other projects (e.g. espresso powder really helps bring out chocolate flavor), and at the beginning of the book they have a whole section about dealing with chocolate. Working with chocolate can be finicky - knowing I have this book as reference has greatly improved my confidence.
Everything in this book has chocolate, but not all of it is slap-you-in-the-face chocolatey (there is some of that, though, fear not). There are recipes for croissants and babka, churros with dipping sauce and a chocolate eclair cake. I’m flipping through it as I write this blog post, and let me tell you, I might just have to bake my way through this entire book.
Tried and True Recipe: Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes
I made this recipe for my roommate’s birthday, and the two of us ate the entire batch. I’ve been dreaming about them since. These cupcakes are soft without being crumbly, and they have a chocolate ganache filling that is delicious whether you’re eating the cupcakes straight out of the oven or four days later slathered with cream cheese frosting.
BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts
Stella Parks is essentially a one-person test kitchen for baking. If you’re interested in food science, food history, or how to create a classic dessert that you thought you’d only be able to buy in the grocery store or a bakery, I’m begging you - pick up this book. You can learn to make pop tarts as well as cakes, and there’s an entire section on recreating Girl Scout cookies. Stella has done a staggering amount of research, and that shines through in her notes. It never feels like a textbook and you don’t need to read the little background sections, but I am happy knowing the extra two and a half pages of information about the history of chocolate chip cookies than I knew before.
It doesn’t hurt that Stella not only gives you great recipes, but also provides you options to customize them! If you see a recipe that you want to try but it doesn’t look quite like what you wanted, there’s probably a solution. She provides adjustments to make many recipes vegan or gluten-free, plus options for switching up the flavors, as you’ll see in my recipe recommendation.
Tried and True Recipe: Top-Shelf Muffin Mix
I’ve been cursed with dry muffin results for all of my life - until this recipe, that is. I don’t know what I was doing horribly wrong before, but I am now capable of making good, moist muffins! You can make this muffin mix in 10 minutes, and from there you can either store the mix or bake it immediately. This is a perfect example of a recipe that comes with crazy amounts of customization. It shows how to adapt for different types of flour, different flavors, and what texture you’re looking for. Then Stella gives adjustments to transform the original mix into blueberry, coconut, bran, banana, pumpkin, and more. There are more combinations I want to try than I’ll be able to physically bake in a year, especially since my attention is also drawn to other recipes in this book. My brother swears by the combination of zucchini muffins with a snickerstreusel topping.
Joy of Cooking
If you’re not ready to go all-in on a cookbook dedicated to baking only, I would recommend Joy of Cooking. It’s arguably the best basic cookbook you can get (why else would it still be so popular after its original 1975 publication date?), and the edition we’ve linked to is an updated edition from November of last year. There are some true classics in this book that I return to again and again. If there’s a basic recipe you need (baking or cooking), you can probably find it here!
When I know what I’m looking for, I’ll turn to this book instead of digging through the annals of recipes on the internet. Either on their own or combined with the ideas for customization from my other baking cookbooks, recipes from this collection turn out consistently well. When I was planning to move into my first apartment, one of my aunts gifted me this book, and I’m so glad she did - it meant that I didn’t need to abscond with my mom’s copy.
Tried and True Recipe: Scones
Honestly, I would keep this cookbook around just for its scone recipe. I bake scones more than anything else, and it’s my mom’s go-to as well. I rotate between orange-chocolate, ginger, and dried cherry - there are so many variations, they’re easy, and they’re crowd pleasers! Just don’t tell anyone else at the Booksmith where you found this recipe if you care about my job security - I think they secretly only keep me around because of the batches of scones I bring in.