I love to bake. And I approach baking the way I approach most things in life — with at polar spectrums. I love carrot cakes because it’s fuss-free (except for shredding carrots; yes, I’m fully aware that I can buy pre-shredded carrots but where’s the fun in that?) and likelihood of failure is super low. I also love macarons — the French ones mind you — which are beautiful little bites that are notoriously finicky and take a ton of patience.
Even when work was stressful or boring, the smell of freshly baked flour, sugar & eggs always gave me a sense of joy. Now that I’m taking some time off work to find my center and figure stuff out, I find myself gravitating even more to the art of baking. If I had an endless expense account and a waistline that never expanded, I would bake everyday. Since I can’t afford pastry school right now, next best thing? Learn the old school way — Youtube videos! Just kidding. I love my books and there’s nothing like touching, smelling and reading a heavy cookbook around the kitchen. Here are my top picks — I’m on the waitlist for some of these at my local Oakland library and since I’m watching my spending, I have Pierre Hermé Macaron sitting in my Amazon cart.
From top, L-R:
Pierre Hermé Macaron: The Ultimate Recipes from the Master Patissier
I have to confess — when I was in Paris, I preferred Laduree’s macarons to Pierre Hermé. But thinking about it, it wasn’t a fair comparison because I had Laduree’s at the store, immediately after we ordered it; while I had Pierre Hermé after it had been in my bag for a few hours and it was a little squishy. I’m really annoyed that there are no Pierre Hermé boutiques in the U.S. while there are a ton in Asia — 14 in Japan (mind-blowing!), two in Hong Kong, one in Macau and one in Bangkok! What’s interesting is that reading a few blogs about the book, it sounds like it uses the Italian meringue method instead of the French and I’ve only tried the French method. This calls for some experimenting this week! Also, the reason why I didn’t include Ladurée Macarons even though the book looks gorgeous is because the reviews on the book aren’t great.
The Art of French Pastry
I generally try to avoid cookbooks that are text-heavy or ones that focus too much on photos and not much on illustrations of technique. Flipped through this book on Amazon and liked how it gives a home baker like me some good foundational skills and tips but not going overboard into the professional pâtissier realm. The book is by Jacquy Pfeiffer, cofounder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, can’t go wrong there.
Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere
Dorie Greenspan kept coming up in my search for baking and pastry cookbooks and that’s no surprise because she’s co-authored cookbooks with the likes of Pierre Hermé, Daniel Boulud and Julia Child, so it’s no surprise that Dorie’s books on the must-have list of most chefs. I chose this book instead of “Baking: From My Home To Yours” (November 2006) because it was newer (published October 2014) and well, the cake on the cover won me over. Mmm, chocolate.
This one’s on my list because The French Laundry is on my list of restaurants that I have to try, even though some friends have commented that the four to five hour experience is a little overpriced and stuffy.
Baking Illustrated and The Baking Bible
I’ve had success and rave reviews with every recipe that I’ve tried from America’s Test Kitchen’s Cooks Illustrated magazines. While I wasn’t a fan of their “Cooking Fresh” compilation, our copy of “Guide to Grilling and Barbecue” gets thumbed through everytime summer comes around. If you love reading about the science of food and handy tips, this one’s for you.
The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum is another book that appeared on a lot of must-have lists recommended by chefs. And I can’t say no to a book that with that cover! You can almost smell the butter in between each flaky layer.
The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry and Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft
These are my “something to aspire to” books. Not surprising considering one of the books is from The Culinary Institute of America. A ton of theory, a ton of detail and not for the fainthearted home baker. It’s heavy reading for sure and something that I will attempt one day, just not today.