Book Reviews: Amazing Baking Books

This week’s reviews from Kristina Gill are all about baking. Not being much of a baker myself I find it easier to flip through gorgeous books about breads and cakes rather than disappoint myself in the kitchen. I should say that I’ve spent more time practicing this year than ever before so I suppose that counts for something, no? In the meantime, let’s take a look at the beautiful titles.

This massive awareness campaign about the quality of our food has made me even more of a stickler for what we eat than usual.  Admittedly, I have been partial to my own baked goods (over purchased ones) for quite some time now.  All the same, because I am able to buy eggs, milk, and butter from the farm down the street, I probably bake more than I should.  My primary excuse (in addition to trying out recipes in cookbooks) is that I’d prefer that my husband know exactly what’s in his breakfast food instead of wasting money on something industrially produced that he’d find in a cafe.  Really, I just find baking enjoyable, especially in the winter when I can try a home baked slice of cake with a hot cup of tea.

This week’s books are all about baking.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson (Chronicle Books 2010; photography by Eric Wolfinger).  This isn’t really about sweets, but you will never hear me complain if I have to take a perfectly toasted crusty warm piece of bread slathered with butter and jam (or just butter) instead of cake.  Tartine Bread is one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen this year.  I know I shouldn’t do this, but for me, it’s the American equivalent of Bourke Street Bakery.  It is too beautiful to put down, so captivating in its writing and photography, how can you not read through it cover to cover, and try at least one of the recipes?  Like BSB, the bulk of this book requires a bit of a commitment on your part.  If you’d like to cheat though, and you have a favorite local bakery, you can try out any of the savory recipes (and a couple of sweet) in the second half of the book which use the types of bread featured in the first half (French Onion Soup, Panade, Savory Bread Pudding…).  I don’t think it’s possible to be disappointed with this book. But in case you still have doubts, have a look at the video and tell me how long it took you to decide you just had to have a copy for yourself, or for someone else!

Baked Explorations:  Classic American Desserts Re-Invented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart, Tabori & Chang 2010; photography  by Tina Rupp). Whenever I need to proselytize in the workplace, I do two things.  I bake a typical American dessert and I place American flag toothpicks in the individual servings.  I arrive in the office, send an email letting everyone know there’s something sweet in the kitchen, and in no time, it’s gone.  Baked Explorations is the newest tool in my arsenal to help me spread the American Desserts Are the Best gospel.  Even though it says that these are American desserts re-invented, I didn’t find them so ‘re-invented’ that I would have known had they not told me!  Ginger molasses cookies, chocolate whoopie pies, double chocolate loaf (with peanut butter cream cheese spread, ok that’s original!!), baked cheese grits (ok, that’s not dessert), Mom’s olive oil orange bundt (ok, Mom never made that), and carrot coconut scones (all right, scones aren’t really classic American).  But the point is that this book is fabulous.  It is beautifully styled in a quirky American classic retro kind of way that exudes fun.  Bake something for the next dinner party you go to and you’ll steal the show!  This book is for anyone who wants American treats with a bit of a twist!

The Sono Baking Company Cookbook:  The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion by John Barricelli (Clarkson Potter 2010; photography by Ben Fink) This is one of quite a few bakery books which have come out this year, and I have to say they are all very good.  When I think of a baking book, if I’m not going monothematic or special interest, and I’m not clutching Baking With Julia, I think a well-rounded book like this one should be on everyone’s shelf.  There are chocolate chunk cookies, pecan squares, spiced apple cake, red velvet cake, focaccia, cobblers, fruit tarts.  It’s not as intensive as Tartine Bread, so for home cooks who want to try something that doesn’t require a lot of rising time, and isn’t intimidating, this is a great selection of recipes even for beginners.  Try the savory tomato cobbler (with a flaky cheesy Pate Brisee!) next time you have great tomatoes.

Flour:  Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cake by Joanne Change with Christine Matheson (Chronicle Books 2010; photography by Keller + Keller). Like the Sono Baking Company book, this is a collection of professional bakery recipes for the home baker, savory and sweet.  The sweets are a bit more European than the Sono book, and quite a bit more technical.  It’s not really a beginner’s book, and not at all a book for someone who is scared by long lists with extensive detail, though there are some accessible recipes, like the chocolate chunk cookies!  (I’m obsessed with chocolate chunk cookies).  Little notes at the bottom of many of the recipes suggest flavor variations to get you thinking out of the box, and the author makes useful tips throughout the recipe to keep you on track.  In fact, the book starts with Joanne’s 12 top baking tips.  I very much appreciate that the recipes have imperial and metric measurements, something that I have grown to appreciate in my baking books since I’ve moved to using a scale almost exclusively.

Tender Volume II:  A Cook’s Guide to the Fruit Garden (Fourth Estate 2010; photography by Jonathan Lovekin). This is, together with Tender Volume I, one of my absolute favorite books.  This picks up where Volume I (Vegetables) left off.  Whereas Volume I was all savory, and I was prematurely disappointed, Volume II is almost exclusively dessert.  Slater begins with the story of how he selected the fruit trees and bushes for his garden.  The book is then arranged by fruit, and runs the gamut of every fruit imaginable, and some I probably will never have the opportunity to eat here unless I import my own specimen!   Nigel Slater has a relaxed cooking style, so this book is for any skill level.  I usually find myself clipping his recipes from his columns, and was happy to find one of my favorites, like this Courgette Cake that Matt and I reproduced with Mr Slater’s permission last year.  There is almost always a half of one of these loaves in our freezer.  In addition to delectable cakes and crumbles, there are also a few no bake desserts, like a fierce cheesecake.  I love this book.


  1. says

    Thank you SO much for posting this. I have been trying to figure out what to get my two foodie bestfriends for x-mas & now I know, the Slater book. Yay!

  2. says

    Hey Matt, there’s a slight typo in Joanne Chang’s name. You’ve compiled a fantastic list. I can personally attest that Nigel Slater’s books are always awesome. He writes with a casual ease and his recipes are very approachable. Happy holidays!

  3. says

    I wish I had each and every one of these books. And then a personal trainer to help me work off all the carbs I would eat :)

  4. says

    Hey Matt, there’s a slight typo in Joanne Chang’s name. You’ve compiled a fantastic list. I can personally attest that Nigel Slater’s books are always awesome. He writes with a casual ease and his recipes are very approachable. Happy holidays!

  5. Row says

    Great post! Thank you so much for introducing me to Nigel Slater’s books! Tender Volume I and II are on my list of books to buy ASAP. 😀

  6. says

    You are so right about the Tartine Bread Video, I saw it and ordered the book without even thinking about it. It arrived on Christmas eve, so it was a gift from me to me. Love this book!

  7. says

    Matt, thanks for such a great list! I have three of the books you mentioned here (“Baked Explorations”, “Flour”, and my favorite, “The SoNo Baking Company”) and now I’m off to add Nigel Slater’s to my wish list.

  8. says

    I love the photos in Tartine Book and Chad is one the best. The video was great and I ordered the book because of this review. Thanks!


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