There are few things I enjoy more than poring over new cookbooks, peeking into the minds of fellow dessert lovers and creators and seeing what they come up with. I am thrilled to bring you this collection of unusual, smart, gorgeous and inspirational books. This was a good year for innovative takes on the sweet kitchen, and I promise you that each and every one of these is different from the ones on your shelves. Without further ado, the Best Baking Books of 2013:
- The Secret Lives of Baked Goods (Sasquatch Books) by Jessie Oleson Moore – This author/blogger has recipes for many of your favorite desserts, including Red Velvet Cake, Tunnel of Fudge Cake, Princess Cake, Toaster-Style Pastries – 40 in all – then she goes further and brings you a bit of history as well. The fact that she discusses the classic boiled-milk frosting that many believe to be the true Red Velvet accompaniment made me love her immediately. Did you know that Pennsylvania and Maine both lay claim to the origins of the Whoopie Pie? Or that Lemon Meringue Pie might owe its origin to a woman named Elizabeth Coane Goodfellow who had a cooking school in Philadelphia in the early 1800s? Tons of entertaining reading here; this book will be found equally at my bedside and in the kitchen. Try her Animal Crackers. Yes, you can make them at home!
- Sweet Cravings (Ten Speed Press) by Kyra Bussanich – This gluten-free cookbook really stood out from the crowd this year. You might know Bussanich as the first gluten-free winner of Cupcake Wars. Her Hamantaschen are a revelation; the S’Mores Tartlets are decadent; and she has included some of her legendary cupcake flavors like Eggnog, Boston Cream Pie and Orange-Vanilla Dreamsicle. The book is small with 50 recipes, but is well curated. Bussanich also gives a great overview of alternative flours and thickeners like tapioca starch, quinoa and teff flours, psyllium seed husk flour, sorghum flour and more. Her Chef’s Tips and Baking Secrets are sound, helpful and, at times, unusual, such as her suggestion to try baking gluten-free cakes 25° hotter than those using all-purpose flour. The hot temperature makes the butter quickly release its water as steam, giving the product a better rise. Every gluten-free baker should have this book.
- The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook (Rodale) by Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell – This baking book could also be considered a coffee-table book because the photography is simply stunning; the images are dark really set a mood. Bravo to the design team and photographer Paulette Tavormina. In it, you’ll find recipes like Winter Kabocha Squash Pie dosed with Scotch, Chocolate-Espresso Soup with Marshmallows, Gingerbread Ice Cream Sandwiches and the Malted Milk Chocolate Cake that went faster than anything else at a recent bake sale that I attended. The recipes creatively bounce all over the place, you’ll also find a Stained Glass Gelatin “Cake” and their cover dessert, Pancake Cake with Maple Cream Frosting. I also love the lined pages for adding your own heirloom recipes. This book looks, feels and is substantial. A great gift for a baker dear to you.
- One Bowl Baking (Running Press) by Yvonne Ruperti – I love my stand mixer, but the concept of this book is hard to resist. Ruperti has simplified many recipes, such as Buttermilk Donut Muffins, Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies, Tres Leches Cake and Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Brownie Cupcakes, and indeed they are all made in one bowl. Well, except for the irresistible microwave Warm Mix-in-a-Mug Chocolate Chip Cookie, which is made right in a cup! I love her take on Cinnamon Sugar Scones that have a swirl of flavor in the middle. She also brilliantly offers several diminutive 6-inch layer cakes that are perfect for small families and parties. This is a great gift for a novice baker or anyone who prefers to be unplugged in the kitchen.
- Wintersweet (Running Press) by Tammy Donroe Inman – This book is dedicated to baking in winter, celebrating the cold months with chapters like Pears & Quince; Roots, Tubers & Gourds; Persimmon, Pomegranates & Cranberries and others, each providing great background information on the seasonal and often underused ingredients. The cover recipe is gorgeous and a fresh take on a classic – a Chocolate Pomegranate Pavolva – and the Warm Baked Persimmons with Honeyed Mascarpone, Salted Dark Chocolate Tart with Pistachios, Gingerbread Cake with Brandied Pears and Quark Coffee Cake recipes all entice.
- Baking By Hand (Page Street Publishing) by Amy and Jackie King – If you love nothing more than getting your hands into some yeasty, pillowy dough, then this book by the owners of A&J Artisan Bakers is for you. An entire chapter – Your Hands, The Most Important Tool in Your Kitchen – introduces their approach, which allows you to actually feel your dough, giving you a better connection to your baked good and the best results. While a good portion of the book is yeast-focused – there are great sourdough starter recipes, as well as in-depth discussions about croissant dough, Danish, baguettes, multigrains and more – they include sweet baking as well. The Cinnamon Swirl Bread smells incredible and tastes even better slathered with butter, and don’t miss the Chocolate Cinnamon Tarts (which are an ode to one of our favorite ingredients, Taza’s cinnamon chocolate), Strawberry Almond Cream Tarts, Maple Walnut Sweet Potato Pie and their famous Sticky Buns. This is a perfect book for bakers who already know their way around yeast and want to challenge themselves.
- Bakeless Sweets (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Faith Durand – Jam-packed with puddings, custards, panna cottas, icebox cakes and other no-bake treats, Bakeless Sweets features over 100 gluten-free recipes. There is also a helpful front section that gives you desserts by categories, such as the 10 Quickest Recipes, 10 Puddings to Eat Warm, 10 Egg-Free Recipes, 10 Recipes for a Big Crowd and so on. The book includes familiar recipes like Stovetop Rice Pudding, Deepest Chocolate Mousse and Simple Vanilla Pudding, but also branches out to include Holiday Cranberry Gelatin Mold, Nutella Fluff, Lemon and Sour Cream Custard, and Coffee and Cream Jelly Cups. We have included her recipe for Homemade Instant Pudding Mix because we are all for leaving those boxes of powdered pudding on the shelf.
Image: Peter Muka