I’ve been getting some good traction on these book roundups, and maybe if I can make the case that the book collection can be routed into a productive outlet, I’ll be allowed to continue to purchase more. In that spirit, let me take you on a tour of five books that I think are great for anyone who is interested in pastry or baking.
As a chef who has mainly studied and executed savory cooking, my foray into pastry has been largely as a home cook. I’ve run restaurant bread programs, and thrown together a few dessert menus in my time, but I have no formal training in pastry and have never been a professional pastry chef. For these reasons, I consider myself to be roughly at the enthusiast level of baking. I know enough to cringe and applaud at the right times while watching The Great British Baking Show (and to fool myself into thinking I could out-bake most of the contestants), but I am still awestruck watching Amaury Guichon or Cedric Grolet videos on Tik Tok. I may be a bit more advanced than the average home baker, but I still definitely consider myself a beginner when it comes to true patisserie level baking. With this context, let me take you on a short tour of five books that I bake from frequently and have taught me basically everything I know about pastry.
- Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel
This book is great because it offers recipes for things that the typical American baker wants to bake. Things like brownies, fancy Oreos, and chocolate chip cookies make for great entry points for beginners, but the book also covers more involved pastries like croissants and complicated tarts. The main thing I will say about this book is that, after having baked out of it quite a bit, I have come to the conclusion that every recipe in this book is bulletproof. Not to mention, it has the best cookie recipe I’ve ever used. Yes they are insane, and probably 1500 calories each, but you can’t argue with results. If you want to knock somebody’s socks off with a chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookie, this is the book for you.
- On Baking: A Textbook of Baking and Pastry Fundamentals by Sarah R. Labenskey et al.
A textbook this surely is. It might not be as flashy, or have as much name recognition as the other entries on this list, but if you want to learn the right way to approach just about any baking project you can imagine, this is the place to start. It covers everything from product identification, how to read recipes, professional bakery tools, and professionalism to quick breads, pies and tarts, ice cream, laminated doughs, and much more. This book is designed to give you the best possible foundation to further explore the world of, and advance your skills in pastry whether your goal is to become a professional baker, or an avid hobbyist.
- French Patisserie by The Ferrandi Paris pastry school
Another textbook, though this one focuses specifically on French patisserie techniques so while they do have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, the focus is more on things like eclairs, entremets, macarons, and dozens of other French classics. The book is very nice to look at, and each section is accompanied by thorough step-by-step photographs. Another fun thing about this book is that instead of having just a single recipe for, say, an apricot tart, they will have three recipes for it, each one at a different level of complexity or difficulty. Many of the level three recipes come directly from well established and highly regarded pastry chefs. I have probably learned more about pastry from this book than just about any other. If there’s a new technique I’m trying to learn, I look to this book first. If you like French baking, then I would struggle to recommend any book more highly than this one.
- Tartine: A Classic Revisited by Elisabeth Prueitt
Tartine is a legendary bakery for good reason. So many of their pastries have become iconic, and so widely replicated that they have become standard in the minds of most avid bakery-goers. This book is beautifully photographed, and although there aren’t step-by-step photos like in some of the other entries on this list, the recipes are detailed and easy to follow. The brioche recipe in this book is a showstopper, and the lemon tart recipe is so good it's worth the purchase price for that alone.
- Elements of Dessert by Francisco Migoya
While it could be argued that this book is not exactly for beginners, I think that if you have a basic grasp of the fundamentals of pastry, and are good at following instructions, you could tackle most recipes in this book with a reasonable likelihood of success. And I would emphatically encourage anyone interested in high level pastry to try some of these recipes. They are creative, beautiful, and inspiring. It will really bring your baking to another level. Francisco Migoya is probably one of the best pastry chefs in the world at the moment, and this is probably the most inspiring book on dessert I’ve ever read.
If one of these books gets your penchant for baking up, and you want to practice with some hands-on techniques, why not check out our upcoming Pie and Tart Boot Camp in March?
We also have some other fun baking classes coming up both in-person at Lincoln Square and virtually:
- Virtual Cake Donuts Sunday, February 5 11am CST
- Hands-On Chocolate Lover’s Paradise Friday, February 10 11am
- Hands-On Cake Decorating Saturday, February 18 10am (just 1 spot left!)
- Hands-On Paczki Party Tuesday, February 21 6pm
- Hands-On Gluten Free Baking Friday, March 10 11am