Best cookbook for amateur baker?
I really enjoying baking whenever I have the time. For a Christmas wish list I'd like to put a pastry cookbook on it but I am torn as to what is the best cookbook for my level of baking. At first I was interested in the La Brea Bakery cookbook, but when I read reviews on Amazon.com, I was steered to The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Berenbaum. But those reviews were saying that she uses really professional techniques and the recipes are very time consuming.
I am just interested in a fairly comprehensive baking cookbook with colorful photos and techniques that won't require an entire day of work.
Pillsburys Complete Book of Baking by (I believe) Carolyn Mitchell has worked well for me over the years. Basic stuff, good results, lots of pictures. There is a sour cream lemon pie in there that people rave about and some really good quick breads.
There's a new Nigella Lawson book - how to be a domestic goddess - that looks beautiful -- comprehensive, full color pictures, etc. I haven't bought it, but I have another cookbook of hers and the recipes are great, every one I've tried has come out beautifully and the cookbook's a fun read.
Not sure what you intend on baking... Nancy Silverton's book on bread is EXTREMELY labor-intensive, but well-worth it.
Berenbaum's book on Pies & Tarts is simply brilliant and I find myself referring to it constantly because it has so much information on those two subjects. She also wrote one on Cakes but I prefer the Pies & Tarts book now that I've dived into it.
You wanna bake to-die-for Chocolate Cakes? Than look at Marcel Desaulniers' books.
Generic Baking Book with a bit of everything? I'd buy Baking With Julia where Julia Child hooks up with masters in each field, each providing a different chapter: Nancy Silverton bakes bread, Martha Stewart does a Wedding Cake, Marcel Desaulniers does chocolate, etc...
I very much enjoy Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts -It doesnt aim to teach professional techniques, but it has many, many excellent easy-to-execute recipes and one can learn a lot cooking from it. Maida Heatter's baking books are also a good source for the home cook looking for detailed how to instructions. I have found Rose Levy Berenbaum's cake recipes tilt to the european types and taste for less sweet cakes. If you want to specialize in traditional american style cakes, you wont find a better source than the facsimile 1950s Betty Crocker Baking Book which sets forth the best available techniques for these cakes from the era immediatly before the mass marketing of cake mixes. I learned to bake from this book and havent seen the recipes bettered since.
I was at the bookstore tonight and flipped through a few baking/pastry books.
"The Pie and Pastry Bible" by Berenbaum looked very well organized, very thorough, but not horrendously complicated. It has a few pages of photos at the center of the book and didn't seem to be written to entertain the reader. Looks like a no nonsense, highly useful book to me. The link is to a recipe from the book. The ingredients list in the actual book are in the form of a table, so it's a little easier to read than the link.
"How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking" by Nigella Lawson has lots of photos throughout the book. The recipes aren't fancy, but they all looked good.
Another book that caught my eye is "The Essential Baking Cookbook", part of the Essential Series by Whitecap Books. Large paperback with a plastic cover, lots of photos throughout. Seemed to cover the field pretty well. May be more basic than what you're looking for though.
re: Nancy Berry
I agree with the suggestion for How to Bake. The recipes are clear, consise, very do-able, and I have gotten consistenly good results. I also have The Cake Bible, which I like, but I only find myself turning to that book when I am in a "serious" cake baking mood. For everyday, How to Bake is more approachable.