reading lists

The Best Baking Cookbooks, According to Pastry Chefs and Professional Bakers

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Welcome to Reading Lists, comprehensive book guides from the Strategist designed to make you an expert (or at least a fascinating dinner-party companion) in hyperspecific or newsworthy topics, like North Korea or wine. Here, we’ve found the best baking cookbooks, according to pastry chefs and bakers.

For our primer on baking cookbooks, we consulted a group of ten pastry chefs and bakers from across the country. This informal panel was comprised of Natasha Pickowicz, head pastry chef and baker at Café Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar; Umber Ahmad, founder and head chef at Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery; Miro Uskokovic, pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern; Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga, co-founders and co-owners of Ovenly; Dianna Daoheung, executive chef for Black Seed Bagels; Zachary Golper, chef and owner of Bien Cuit; Jessica Weiss, pastry chef at Maialino at the Gramercy Park Hotel and Marta, among other Danny Meyer properties; Margarita Manzke, pastry chef and co-owner of République and Sari Sari Store in Los Angeles; and Alison Pray, co-owner at Standard Baking Co. in Portland, Maine.

We asked each of these pastry chefs and bakers (several of whom are cookbook authors themselves) to put together a list of their favorite baking cookbooks, and they came back with dozens of recommendations for their most dog-eared reference books, easy-to-follow recipe books for every type of baked good and pastry, and the cookbooks that inspired them to bake in the first place. After combing through their lists, we only included books that were recommended by two or more of the bakers and chefs. Below, nine of the best baking cookbooks for home bakers of every skill level and interest, according to our experts.

Before he became the executive pastry chef at Del Posto and won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2013, Brooks Headley had a career as a drummer in a bunch of hard-core and punk bands, so his cookbook is as much memoir as it is recipe book. But the recipes aren’t an afterthought. They’re “fun, experimental but not inaccessible, and full of flavor, including some unexpectedly delicious sweet and savory combinations,” says Agatha Kulaga, of Ovenly. She adds, “This book is for bakers that like to break the rules a little.”

Gramercy Tavern’s Miro Uskokovic calls it “funny and edgy,” a book that could be read cover-to-cover, while also enjoying his recipes for sweet-pea cake and fried artichoke with ricotta gelato. Natasha Pickowicz, from Café Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar, puts the appeal of this cookbook most simply: “Brooks is the wittiest and most hilarious food writer alive, so I dive into his book over and over again not just for the superlative recipes (perfect carrot cake and perfect yogurt sorbet, hello!), but for his insane anecdotes and wry sense of humor.”

Several of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s books were named by the members of our panel as favorites. Erin Patinkin of Ovenly likes The Pie and Pastry Bible, calling it “a cookbook that one can actually use; it is extremely informative, well-organized, and straightforward.” Uskokovic owns and loves all of Beranbaum’s works, admitting that “it was hard to pick one, as all are fantastic.” But he recommends The Baking Bible for a more general overview of baking and pastry craft, with its incredibly specific recipes. “You know she tested these recipes time and time again, and it’s written in such detail that anyone will be able to execute them.” Dianna Daoheung of Black Seed Bagels also likes The Baking Bible, calling it, “a great book to reference, particularly for the classics.”

Daoheung likes Tartine Bread because it’s “a really beautiful book in general, with lots of bread science,” but she cops to being a fan of any book from the team at San Francisco’s Tartine. For a more general baking cookbook, Margarita Manzke of République recommends their first title Tartine, which includes their now-classic recipes for banana-cream pie, brioche bread pudding, and any number of cakes — along with more complicated recipes like croissants, which is why it’s better suited for those who already have a basic understanding of baking. But Manzke admits, “I will never get tired of reading this book. Such a classic. Great photography and recipes.”

The Cake Bible
$21

If your goal is to become a “master cake maker,” says Kulaga, then you have to get Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. “Not only is it an encyclopedia for all types of cakes, but Beranbaum provides techniques and recipes that will turn any novice into a cake artist. For those on a quest to find the perfect vanilla cake, I have three words for you: white velvet cake.” Alison Pray of Standard Baking Co. discovered this book in the late 1980s, when it first came out, “and I still rely on it today to check ingredient ratios or explore new recipes.”

Jessica Weiss of Marta calls this book, “my favorite bread book of all time,” calling author Jeffrey Hamelman “one of the most talented bread bakers around. He takes the very deep world of bread-baking (which is a beast) and distills it down into an amazingly approachable volume.” Pray gives this book as a gift to new bakers, but still references it in her own bakery.