With the holiday baking — and giving — season in mind, Baking Central is forgoing a step-by-step recipe this month in favor of a book-by-book guide to some of the season’s best resources. And there are some doozies.
Over 25 years, Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., has developed a passionate national following through its mail-order options. Now it’s sharing 65 of its best recipes, such as sour-cream coffee cake, Jewish rye bread and pecan sandies with bacon in “Zingerman’s Bakehouse,” by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo (Chronicle, $29.95). If you wince at a lengthy recipe, consider yourself warned. But know that all those words provide an extraordinary level of detail, enabling even a novice baker to tackle the Hunka Burnin’ Love Cake.
While the Zingerman book is full of great bread recipes, the nod has to go to “The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook,” by Jim Lahey (Norton, $35), of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Lahey’s no-knead method changed the baking world. His second book takes a broader view, adding cakes, cookies, pizzas, even roasted foods. His famed pannetone recipe? It’s here; all five pages of it. This is a book directed toward serious bakers. But bolstered by pages of helpful step-by-step photos, these recipes are well within reach of aspirational bakers.
The big names
Fans of “The Great British Baking Show” trust that Paul Hollywood is a great baker. Now we can know for sure with his “A Baker’s Life: 100 Fantastic Recipes, From Childhood Bakes to Five-Star Excellence” (Bloomsbury, $36). The recipes tilt toward Britain, with crumpets, baps, biscuits, a beef and ale pie, and with spellings like “mould.” A Greek vibe reflects a love of that cuisine, but mostly consider this collection an Anglophile’s dream — or a fan favorite.
Yotam Ottolenghi already has five bestselling cookbooks that carry his flavorful, inventive mark. But fans have been waiting for “Sweet” (Ten Speed, $35), with pastry chef Helen Goh. In a word: Wow. Coffee and walnut financiers in mini-popover pans. Pineapple and star anise chiffon cake. Chocolate tart with hazelnut, rosemary and orange. You get the picture — and the highly detailed recipes. There also are simple pound cakes and cookies. But this is showstopper stuff, beautifully photographed. Wow.
The Norse connection
Linda Lomelino may not be all that familiar, but the Swedish food stylist’s blog, Call Me Cupcake, has a strong following. “Lomelino’s Pies: A Sweet Celebration of Pies, Galettes, and Tarts” (Roost, $26) is a tribute to her photography skills, tending toward moody and romantic. But the recipes are straightforward, accessible pies of all types. Nothing too innovative, but she has an inspiring eye for presentation.
There’s less beauty, but much more information in “Meyer’s Bakery: Bread and Baking in the Nordic Kitchen” by Claus Meyer (Octopus, $29.99). This is a bible of whole grains, sourdough and slow fermentation. Its 80 recipes aren’t identifiably Nordic, but such old-country heirloom grains as emmer, spelt and einkorn are highlighted. It’s a history book and science text, all in the name of baking, say, a Swedish Syrup Loaf With Almonds and Prunes. Yum.
The home baker
Erin McDowell is one of Food52’s most popular baking contributers, and the name of her book says it all: “The Fearless Baker: Simple Secrets for Baking Like a Pro” (Houghton Mifflin, $30). She advocates flexibility, showing how you can tweak recipes, add your own touches and gain confidence. The book is full of practical tips: how to perfectly soften butter, frost a cake, avoid air pockets. Plus, she’s fun. Her Any-Fruit or -Nut Scones provide rock-solid instruction with the freedom to follow your own flavors. A great guidebook.
It’s hard to imagine a book more striking and informative than “Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more,” by Todd Masonis, Greg D’Alesandre, Lisa Vega and Molly Gore (Clarkson Potter, $40). Billed as the first-ever complete guide to making chocolate from scratch, this takes readers from the farm to the pastry kitchen. PVC pipes are involved.
“The Artful Baker,” by Cenk Sönmezsoy (Abrams, $50), is a curious book. The recipes aren’t daunting. There are brownies and Bundt cakes, macarons and croissants (plus lots of ice creams and candies). But its heft and price and beauty vault it into aspirational territory. This is a coffee-table book that really should be used. But the first splatter on its pages will make you ache. Bake carefully.
Finally, talk about aspirational: “Modernist Bread: The Art and Science” by Nathan Myhrvold (The Cooking Lab) comprises five volumes, 2,000 pages, 3,000 photographs and 1,200 recipes. Just about bread. It costs $625. We’ve just seen the glossy multi-page press release and it’s a wowser. Sure, roll your eyes at such indulgence, but just knowing such passion exists is kind of fun.