To judge by this season’s cookbooks shelf, attitudes toward breads and carb-forward desserts—products lately spurned by health-conscious eaters—have warmed. The sheer number and variety of forthcoming baking books suggest that baking has become a more complex, and a more meaningful, endeavor. Some titles reflect the relationship between baking and American culture; others advise readers on expert-level techniques; still others focus on the visual aspect of baking, offering guides to creating desserts that are as shareable on screen as they are at table.
Several editors propose that this renewed interest in baking stems from the desire of conscientious consumers to take more control over the bread they eat. But at least one editor attributes the zeal for baking to current politics. “I’ve seen two proposals about comfort baking,” says Sarah Billingsley, executive editor, food and lifestyle, at Chronicle. “People get in these crises, and they turn to their stoves.”
Baked into the National DNA
As befits America’s diverse cultural heritage, several forthcoming titles draw inspiration from other countries while remaining grounded in the states. Sullivan Street Bakery, for instance, the subject of The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook, is a New York City staple that also lays claim to Roman roots, says author and founder Jim Lahey, who trained as a baker in Italy. Similarly, the recipes in Black Girl Baking derive from author Jerrelle Guy’s Southern upbringing, but they also carry other influences, such as her mother’s Guamanian heritage.
And what of American baked goods that have no apparent cross-cultural lineage—our Oreos, our Rice Krispies? Those are the subject of Stella Parks’s BraveTart. “Judge them however you want, but they’re a valid and deeply ingrained part of our culture and our culinary heritage,” Parks says of processed dessert-aisle treats. “They’re so important to all of our memories of growing up. I wanted to reclaim those things.” Such is the intention of several of this season’s baking books.
In Bake America Great Again (Welden Owen, Oct.), lifestyle consultant Amber Gentry and children’s book author Kirsten Hall offer recipes for patriotic and politically themed desserts, such as We the People Cookies and Rights Krispie Treats. A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to the ACLU.
BraveTart by Stella Parks (Norton, Aug.), a James Beard Award–nominated writer for Serious Eats, works with familiar American treats, adding a chef’s touch to childhood mainstays: fudge brownies, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, cherry pie, and more.
The challenge of reinvigorating classic baked goods is also taken up in The Perfect Cookie by America’s Test Kitchen (Aug.). ATK editors bring years of experience to bear on not only cookies but also bars, brownies, and candies, in a 400-plus-page collection.
In Black Girl Baking (Page Street, Feb. 2018), Jerrelle Guy, who hails from Florida, approaches baking from a Southern perspective, giving readers recipes for five-spice baked rice pudding, sticky date sheet cake, and more. Guy, who blogs at Chocolate for Basil, breaks down recipes by sense, letting readers know what they should taste, see, smell, hear, and feel.
Tara Jensen, in A Baker’s Year (St. Martin’s, Feb. 2018), guides readers through the seasons at her Smoke Signals Bakery in Marshall, N.C., where she teaches workshops and bakes bread, deep-dish fruit pies, and pizzas with a wood-fired outdoor oven. Jensen’s Instagram account has attracted nearly 99,000 followers.
That account describes Smoke Signals as “a one-room baking school in the mountains.” By contrast, Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., comprises 10 businesses (a bakery, creamery, delicatessen, and others), employs more than 700 people, and enjoys around $65 million in annual sales, according to a recent article in Vice. The publication of Zingerman’s Bakehouse by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo (Chronicle, Oct.) coincides with the 25th anniversary of the company’s bakery. The book features recipes for Zingerman’s favorites, including sour cream coffee cake and Jewish rye and challah loaves.
Drawing on different baking traditions—those of northeastern and central Italy—Jim Lahey founded Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City in 1994. In The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook (Norton, Nov.), Lahey and his wife, Maya Joseph, guide readers through the Italian process of making sourdough starter (or biga) and baking brioche, Pugliese-style bread, and more.
The Artisan at Work
Lahey, whose My Bread (Norton, 2009) has sold almost 87,000 copies in hardcover, per NPD BookScan, isn’t the only big kitchen name with a baking book this season; he’s joined by Eric Kayser, Claus Meyer, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Modernist Cuisine, among others.
Stephanie Swane, publisher and editorial director at the Cooking Lab, Modernist Cuisine’s publishing arm, spent four years visiting bakeries and attending conferences around the world while laying the groundwork for Modernist Bread. “Bakers are embracing their origins and their communities,” she says, “to bring back that local-baker mentality.” The book, she adds, aims to introduce new baking techniques and make the process less time-consuming.
Pastry chef Helen Goh, coauthor with Ottolenghi of the forthcoming Sweet, says that while technique is crucial to baking, it’s only a starting point. “Baking is essentially chemistry, so small differences, such as in ingredients, temperature and bakeware, can make a big difference,” she says. “But once the cook has the hang of a recipe, she or he will, hopefully, gain the confidence to improvise.” Forthcoming books aim to give readers those necessary skills.
In Meyer’s Bakery (Octopus, Nov.), Claus Meyer, credited with kick-starting new Nordic cuisine, casts a wide cultural net. His 80 recipes cover Danish-style cinnamon loaves, bagels, naan, churros, and more, in a book evenly split between savories and sweets.
Paul Hollywood, a baker’s son and a judge on The Great British Bake Off, tells a personal story in A Baker’s Life (Bloomsbury, Nov.). Each chapter represents a different decade from the author’s childhood and career, with recipes both simple (iced buns) and sophisticated (Armagnac and prune tart).
Yotam Ottolenghi, the British-Israeli chef best known here for books including 2011’s Plenty (Chronicle), worked with longtime collaborator Helen Goh on Sweet (Ten Speed, Oct.). Using ingredients that reflect Ottolenghi’s Middle Eastern heritage—fig, orange blossom, star anise, and more—the 110 recipes cover indulgences including pistachio and rose water semolina cake, and saffron and almond ice cream sandwiches.
In Maison Kayser’s French Pastry Workshop (Black Dog & Leventhal, Sept.), pastry chef Eric Kayser, who launched his global chain of bakeries in 1996, lays out more than 70 signature recipes. The dishes—raspberry macarons, financiers, and chocolate hazelnut tarts among them—do not skimp on elegance.
King Arthur Flour, a homegrown American chain, is at least partially to thank for Breaking Bread (Harper Wave, Nov.). Author Martin Philip left N.Y.C. and a career in finance in the early aughts and headed to rural Vermont for an entry-level job at the company. Now its head bread baker, Philip shares 75 recipes in his book and reflects on how baking forges links with ancestors, families, and communities. He also includes a technical section covering the bread-making process, tools, and ingredients.
Comprising five volumes of recipes, technical instruction, and photography, Modernist Bread by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya (The Cooking Lab, Oct.) is something of a delicacy in its own right, weighing in at 50 pounds and sporting a $625 price tag for the five-volume set. Some, however, may find the information priceless. According to publisher Stephanie Swane, one of the publication’s foremost insights (and one echoed by Sullivan Street’s Lahey) is a major time-saver: when making bread, kneading is unnecessary.
Myhrvold is also a coauthor of 2011’s Modernist Cuisine, which recommended using a piece of steel, rather than a baking stone, for pizza crust. Andris Lagsdin, a chef who had returned to work at his family’s steel manufacturing plant, credits the recommendation with inspiring his Baking Steel tool. The implement is the star of Baking with Steel (Little, Brown, Dec.), by Lagsdin with Jessie Oleson Moore (The Secret Lives of Baked Goods), featuring a foreword by The Food Lab author J. Kenji López-Alt, who wrote of the product, “a simple slab of steel might fundamentally change the way you feed your family.”
As home cooks become more confident about baking, they’re also experimenting with different types of breads. Artisan Sourdough Made Simple (Page Street, Oct.) by Emilie Raffa, who blogs at The Clever Carrot, breaks down a sometimes-intimidating process into manageable steps. In addition to instructing readers on how to build sourdough starters, the book offers recipes for 60 varieties, including rolls, focaccia, and semolina.
(Almost) Too Pretty to Eat
Baking has always been a visual affair, but the pervasiveness of social media has put added pressure on bakers and publishers to create eye-catching books.
“People are coming to most bakers, cookbooks, and bloggers now through Instagram” and other school platforms, says Dervla Kelly, senior editor at Rodale. Books by bakers who got their start online need to match, if not exceed, the look of their digital presence.
In Erin Bakes Cake (Rodale, Sept.), Erin Gardner, a self-taught pastry chef who blogs at Erin Bakes (526,000 Facebook likes), uses a mix of photography, illustration, and color-coded charts to break down the craft of cake baking and decoration. Her “cakequations” (cake plus creamy plus crunch) offer myriad variations and room for guided improvisation. A creamy layer might be buttercream, ganache, citrus curd, or jam, for starters (recipes provided). A crunchy layer of, for instance, candied or dark chocolate–covered Cheez-Its gets the green light, but pairing the crackers with milk chocolate or white chocolate is a no-go.
Erin Jeanne McDowell, who writes a baking column for online hub Food52, draws on her expertise as a food stylist in The Fearless Baker (HMH/Martin, Oct.), offering instruction on decorating challenges including lattice crusts and frosted layer cakes. She categorizes the recipes by difficulty, and not only provides step-by-step instructions but explains why certain steps are necessary.
How to Cake It (Morrow, Oct.) stems from Yolanda Gampp’s YouTube series of the same name, which has more than three million subscribers. Gampp specializes in telegenic, tongue-in-cheek confections shaped like burgers or human hearts. The book includes recipes for similarly fanciful creations, including a toy bulldozer cake with chocolate pebbles.
With 184,000 Instagram followers, Baked by Melissa has grown well beyond the days of slinging bite-size cupcakes from a Soho takeout window. In Cakes by Melissa (Morrow, Oct.), company founder Melissa Ben-Ishay shares recipes for her tie-dyed, sprinkled, matcha-glazed confections, with fill-in-the-blank ingredient sheets that allow home bakers room to customize.
Aimed at a younger kitchen crowd, Baking Class (Storey, Sept., ages 8–12) is highly visual, photographing each step along the way to creating crispy cheese squares and “dig in the dirt” pie (chocolate ice cream topped with cookie crumbs, painted candy ladybugs, and gummy worms, and frozen overnight). Author Deanna F. Cook, an acquisitions editor at Storey, has written several books, including 2015’s Cooking Class, which has sold 85,000 print copies, per BookScan.
These titles, while not sacrificing substance, owe much of their style to the current moment’s focus on visuals, Kelly says. “We’ve become much more about judging a book by its cover.”
Daniel Lefferts is a writer in New York City.
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