Over the past four or five years I have accumulated enough baking books and cookbooks to earn my own shelf in the kitchen amongst my parents overflowing bookshelf (my father has countless Spanish, Indian, Southern-with-a-spin and America’s Test Kitchen books; my mother’s of the family recipe books, Southern Living and decadent dessert variety). I have a cookbook entirely made of egg recipes (astounded? Well get this – there are 250+ pages… It is an art my friends) and a few of the Vegetarian persuasion for when I leaned that way (aka, the better part of three years until I got mono and pneumonia last spring and my parents decided rounding out my diet might be a wise course of action) but for the most part I have a deep, unconditional love for baking books.
I’m picky about them though… Reeeeeal picky and not even a little objective.
I like pictures, first off. Who doesn’t? Obviously I won’t be turning out picture-perfect drool-worthy cupcakes right off the bat like the author has painstakingly done for their book – but if there aren’t any pictures I don’t even know what level of awesomeness I should be aspiring to! And then there’s the whole helpful aspect of them – are they supposed to be raised, or did the cake sink on purpose? Are these cookies flat or tall and fluffy? Some food is hard to capture, but you don’t need everything photography… You just need photographs.
Aside from nice pictures I get really into layouts as well. Does it make sense? Is there a little intro/description of each baked goodie? Does this author have a voice or identifiable style? Are the pages neat or will it be hard to find instructions and follow the recipe while I’m knee-deep in gluten-free flour? (Yes, I am that messy of a baker!)
Ease of recipes is something I like too. I don’t mean four-ingredients-no-bake easy (though that can be nice too….) I just mean do I need to fly to Madagascar and stock up on vanilla beans or visit the weird health foods store and science museum to make all the recipes in this book? Because if so, you can count me out. Experimental baking is cool and very 21st century and whatnot, but let’s keep it realistic (until I fulfill my lifelong dreams and study pastry making in France… le sigh)
The last – and most crucial (to me) – thing I look for in a cookbook is are the recipes unique? (Without needing those 2 vanilla bean pods and 10 meyer lemons but the hair of a Himalayan yak, that is.) I don’t just want a chocolate chip cookie – I want it with a twist, a unique personality, a new flavor. Who needs chocolate cake when you can have cocoa deep dark chocolate accidental vegan chocolate cake? I want some excitement in my life and since I can’t eat gluten by golly I will have to bake up some exciting treats myself!
Okay, That was very lengthy but all that said I will now list some cookbooks I own and love – starting with the “for regular people” ones, then moving onto the gluten-free books.
The first cookbook I received was Baking Illustrated by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine from my parents and I love it. Very few pictures but in a lot of ways this gorgeous tome with its breadth of recipes makes me feel like a professional baker. There is a chapter before almost every thing you bake explaining how they put together this recipe and troubleshooting ideas should it go wrong – along with some invaluable tricks of the trade! And their pumpkin cheesecake recipe? You’ll wonder how you went your whole life without it.
Joy the Baker Cookbook by blogger and baking heroine Joy Wilson is simply wonderful. Her recipes make me ridiculously happy – because who doesn’t want grilled nutella with orange cream cheese or chocolate granola? Her cookies and cakes are beautiful and tasty as well (I’ve experimented with quite a few!) but her magic lies in her perfectly devised recipes – comfort baking every female wants to sink their teeth into.
Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes by the Martha Stewart Living Magazine is another personal favorite and old standby of mine. There are toooons of recipes and cute ideas to choose from and inspire your cupcake baking self. Yes, some of them require the vanilla beans (I can’t afford) and extensive preparation but this book is still a gold mine and worth every penny. I’m also rediscovering Martha Stewart’s Cookies which I forgot I owned until I unpacked my bookshelf and it rocks too.
Baked Elements by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito and Tina Rupp Photos Inc. may I just say – hoooomyyygooood this stuff is incredible. They organized this book into ten chapters – each representing one of their favorite ingredients and I think it is sheer genius. I too share all the same favorite ingredients – who would’ve thought?! Booze, Citrus, Pumpkin and MORE! I love all of it. And the banana, peanut butter, chocolate cake on the front cover? Every bit as good as it looks and then some… trust me.
trEATs: Delicious Food Gifts to Make at Home by April Carter is one I actually just purchased but have been eying up at the bookstore for a while. It’s a gem of a little baking book and because its British there are some lovely, authentic tea time snacks and cakes in here. I also just love the premise – she is making gorgeous little baked goods to give as gifts… if you can stop eating them all yourself! Some examples are coconut madelines, cake pops, salted caramel, and flavored salts. It’s beautifully done and I am eager to take this baby for a spin!
So those are my top five right now! I have more, of course, but these are the ones I love enough to take the time to adapt and make gluten-free recipes from. And the gluten-free cookbooks will be in the following post coming to a blog near you soon….
PS – ALL photos in this post are from amazon.com