Now we know why last year was a so-so year for baking books: Authors were busy creating, testing and styling baked goods for a sweet (and sometimes savory) treasure trove of cookbooks for 2018.
Here are some of the gems.
The folks behind the Food52 empire brought us “Genius Desserts: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Bake” (Penguin Random House, $35). Kristen Miglore collected recipes from some of today’s best dessert experts, then sent them out for testing among Food52’s community of home bakers. The resulting recipes are a bit friendlier for nonprofessionals, but still inspire and teach. Pan-fry those apple peels? Who’d have thought? Ingredients are measured both by volume and weight. Instructive headnotes and abundant photos make this a keeper. (Miglore is teaching a class Saturday at Cooks of Crocus Hill.)
Among baking trends, slab pies may top this year’s list. “Pie Squared” by Cathy Barrow (Grand Central, $28) is an inventive collection of sweet and savory pies baked in rimmed sheet pans. Unlike round pies, slabs have twice as much crust and half as much filling. So pastry lovers can check out the 14 different crust recipes, including one built around caramelized onions and another using hash browns. Ingredients are measured both by volume and weight. Lots of creativity here.
Speaking of crusts, there’s “Crusts: The Ultimate Baker’s Book” by Barbara Elisi Caracciolo (Cider Mill Press, $35). An Italian blogger and baker who lives in Sweden, Caracciolo gathered more than 300 recipes from pizza to croissants with the goal of seeking “the perfect crunch.” The book’s 841 pages burst with information, interviews with bakers, and recipes that are remarkably accessible. The six distinct bagel recipes are intriguing. Measurements are by volume.
When it comes to imparting information, look no further than “The Nordic Baking Book,” by famed Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson (Phaidon $49.95). This 575-page cookbook doubles as a historical document, telling the story of Nordic cultures through food. Call it a niche subject, but for Scandinavian bakers, this is the bible. Ingredients are measured both by volume and weight. Vær så god!
For those seeking baked goods that sing of America, consider the “Red Truck Bakery Cookbook,” by Brian Noyes (Clarkson Potter, $25). From the bakery in rural Virginia known for its mail order service come 85 recipes such as Skillet Cornbread With Pimento Cheese Frosting, Double Peach Milkshake Cake, and Virginia Peanut Brittle with Sorghum. Measurements are by volume.
Among those cookbooks with a celebrity vibe, Rose Levy Beranbaum has “Rose’s Baking Basics” (HMH, $35). Those familiar with her down-to-the-last-gram perfectionism may find “basics” an unexpected word. But it’s true: She’s gathered 100 recipes “that everyone should know” and made them accessible, instructive and reliably delicious. Ingredients are measured both by volume and weight.
Baking gets a bit wackier — or more fun — when Christina Tosi is in the kitchen. From the woman who put cereal milk into cake comes “Milk Bar: All About Cake” (Clarkson Potter, $35). These cakes break with convention. Here are cakes baked in Crock-Pots, cake truffles and “naked” layer cakes. And oh, does she love a Bundt. But Tosi also presumes ambition; lots of recipes-within-recipes here, but she’s a sure guide. Measurements are by weight and volume.
Anything from America’s Test Kitchen always bears mentioning, so we will mention “The Perfect Cake” (ATK, $35), if only for its patented “why this recipe works” explanations. You always learn something from these Type A testers. Measurements are by weight and volume.
Minneapolis’ own Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg continue the “fresh bread tonight” juggernaut with a seventh book, “Holiday and Celebration Breads in Five Minutes A Day” (St. Martin’s, $35). Now the chilled dough you keep on hand becomes soft pretzels, kouign-amann, stollen and bread swirled with tahini. Measurements are by weight and volume.
Also local: the many bakers featured in “The Great Minnesota Cookie Book” (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95). Here are dozens of winning recipes from 15 years of the Star Tribune’s Holiday Cookie Contest, as compiled by Lee Svitak Dean and Rick Nelson. Might as well stick with proven winners, right?
Finally, for those who gain as great (or greater) a joy in looking at photos of food as by baking it, there’s “Modern Baking,” by Donna Hay (Harper, $40). The recipes look good (although so much small white type on dark blue and black pages, sigh). But the artistry is stunning.