HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


December 2006 Cookbook of the Month: Your Suggestions Needed (Baking)

Hello, hounds! For December, we're planning to select a baking cookbook, and we need your help in narrowing down all the wonderful baking books out there to 2-3 titles for the voting thread. Do you have a favorite baking book, one that you reach for around the holidays? If so, make a suggestions below!

Please keep in mind the following criteria as you make suggestions:
-- a book that can accommodate beginner to more advanced cooks
-- a book reasonably well-known which folks might be able to find in their libraries
-- a book on general baking would be preferable to a single-subject baking book (such as only cakes or pies), at least for this month

Please post your suggestions here, along with your comments. Then I'll narrow down our choices to two or three titles and post the thread for votes on November 10th. I look forward to reading your suggestions! Thanks for participating.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Well, here's a suggestion to get this thread started: "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book", by Marion Cunningham. I think it meets the criteria redwood2bay has listed. I happened to see it touted somewhere here in Chowhound's pages. I just *barely* bake, and would love to learn something new from this tome!

    1. I have a couple ideas:
      Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
      Rose Levy Baranbaum Pie & Pastry Bible or Cake Bible
      CIA Baking at Home
      a Maida Heatter dessert cookbook -- chocolate desserts, desserts, cookies, or cakes
      Nigella Lawson -- How to be a domestic goddess: baking and the art of comfort cooking
      The Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker

      5 Replies
      1. re: NYchowcook

        ooh yes, nigella's "how to be a domestic goddess" would be fun.

        1. re: NYchowcook

          I want to rescind my recommendation of Flo Braker since it's old and may not be widely available (my library doesn't have a copy)

          I want to echo a recommendation for Dorie Greenspan's Baking from my home to yours -- it's new and received rave reviews including a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "covers all the baking bases, from muffins, cookies and brownies to spoon desserts, pies and cobblers. Instructions are clear and easy to follow, and Greenspan uses everyday ingredients readily available to the home chef."

          1. re: NYchowcook

            The problem is, if it's new, I think it's just as (even more, perhaps) unlikely to be in libraries.

            1. re: Smokey

              Actually, the library closest to me generally really sucks, but they already have this on order, so it may not be too hard to find.

              1. re: Katie Nell

                I sit corrected! Your post made me decide to look into it in my library system and they do have copies. I hadn't expected they would because when Sherry Yard's book came out a few years ago (to many good reviews), my library system never bought it. So, I wasn't very optimistic.

        2. I'm not a big dessert person, so I'm looking forward to having fun with a whole new category of cookbooks! I bought "The All-American Dessert Book" by Nancy Baggett (great reviews) this year and it looks good, though I haven't made anything from it.


          Open to anything, though would especially like it if the book had a nice section on gift-giving treats for the holidays.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Rubee

            Funny, I tend to find my dessert sources from a variety of places, but never a "dessert" only cookbook. I'm flexible and fairly indifferent as to which book. I love making cookies and brownies because a cake is too much for two people to eat. Ok, maybe it isn't, but the two of us don't need to finish a whole cake by ourselves...

            But, I agree with Rubee, it would be great to have a book that has a section on holiday gift treats.

            1. re: beetlebug

              Also agree on holiday gift treats, though I don't know what the contenders have in that category.

              1. re: beetlebug

                It's weird. I have a million cookbooks and not one is dessert only. I find that all the cakes, cookies, puds, etc. I need are in the general cookbooks.

            2. Baking From My Home To Yours / Dorie Greenspan

              Baking HandBook / Martha Stewart

              Pie / Ken Haedrich

              Bittersweet / Alice Medrich

              Pie and Pastry Bible / RLB

              1. David Lebovitz, Room For Dessert
                there's an awesome ginger cake recipe, much reproduced online
                it's got everything but bread -- compotes, cakes, tarts, cookies, syrups, chocolate and fruit (but mostly fruit)

                2 Replies
                1. re: pitu

                  Where can I find it online? My searches have been fruitless.

                2. I love these 2:

                  Dorie Greenspan: Baking From My Home To Yours
                  Alice Medrich: Bittersweet

                  Also recommend "Baking Illustrated" by Cook's, especially for less-experienced bakers.

                  1. Fannie Farmer Baking Book
                    Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts
                    Richard Sax - Classic Home Desserts

                    1. Woo hoo! I'm excited! I'm going to let everyone else pick, because I would be happy with anything!

                      1. I would probably go along with the new Greenspan book or a RLB. I've been burned too many times by Martha Stewart recipes just being bad that I will never make any of her recipes again.

                        RLB has a nice cookie book, Rose's Christmas Cookies
                        Malgeri's How To Bake is great
                        Bernard Clayton's books are all great

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Candy

                          I haven't participated in the previous month's cook-alongs, but I would like to in Dec.

                          I second Malgieri's How to Bake - (recipes for all levels and covers different categories of baking)
                          and also add for consideration:
                          King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion

                          1. re: Candy

                            I think Rose's Christmas Cookies is better than "nice." ;-)Everything I've made from it has been wonderful. And it has good info on storing, wrapping, and shipping and packaging for gift giving. Although about four or five of the recipes are X-mas themed (snow flake, stained glass, what the author calls “mantelpiece cookies”) the rest of the recipes are just really, really good cookies (including the best recipe for Rugelach I’ve ever tried). It’s only cookies, but man! What cookies!

                            1. re: JoanN

                              Long time lurker, just starting to post a little now. I will 3rd Rose's Christmas Cookies. I LOVE the book year round. It seems like it would be a fun one for December with everybody baking cookies anyway.

                              My other vote is for Baking with Julia. I have liked the things I have made, although it isn't many. Plus, I already own it!

                              1. re: sam21479

                                That sounds great. Even if we don't do this book this month, I'm going to have to check this out. Cookies are good for gift-giving year round, aren't they? ;)

                          2. I've said it before and I will say it again, MS Baking Handbook has a perfect record with me. I have tried at least 1/3 of the book and everything has turned out not just perfect but stellar. It has had completely accurate portions as well, which is something most books fail at.

                            If I need something amazing and foolproof I turn to this book.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Becca Porter

                              I have this book and would love it if we use this for our December cookbook of the month. Let's see of Martha Stewart's book delivers.

                            2. I don't much care for RLB, so would prefer we NOT choose one of her books.

                              I know you stated that it might be better not to do a single topic book. However, I like the KA Flour Cookie Companion (I think that's what it's called). I would also be interested in the Flo Braker book, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Smokey

                                I like the idea of the Flo Braker book -- mainly because I already own it :)

                                1. re: Rubee

                                  I vote for one of the books I have and one geared to desserts or holiday baking, not bread
                                  that would be Malgieri,
                                  Maida Heatter
                                  Richard Sax

                                  1. re: Rubee

                                    The Braker is a wonderful book. I’ve made maybe 15 recipes from it and they were all very good to great. (The Crystal Almond Pound Cake is to die for.) But it’s only cakes and pies. No cookies, no muffins, no savories. Perhaps too limited for this particular project this particular month?

                                2. Nick Malgieri's "How to Bake" is my favorite. Very good instructions for beginners and non-. I just got a copy of Dorie Greenspan's new one, "Home Baking -- From My House to Yours." It looks promising, too.

                                  1. The Baker's Dozen Cookbook by: Rick Rodgers and Flo Braker

                                    In The Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker's Companion by Regan Daley

                                    1. A lot of the books mentioned so far are more single-subjects rather than general baking titles. Certainly RLB, Bernard Clayton, and Alice Medrich have produced masterpiece cookbooks, but they are limited to single subjects.

                                      There are also many good choices in the more "general" category, which makes it hard for me to decide.

                                      My sentimental favorite is Maida Heatter, as I used her books as a teenager learning to bake. I would choose one of her newer books though, as I find the "Book of Great Desserts"
                                      somewhat dated and less interesting.

                                      If enough people have access to it, the Greenspan cookbook could be very interesting.

                                      Has anyone considere Baking with Julia? There is a great range of recipes in there.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: btnfood

                                        I thought about Baking with Julia because I own it (one of my very first real cookbooks) and haven't baked much from it in a long time. You're right that it offers a nice range of savory to sweet baking and is really a compilation of recipes from "masters" in their field. This is on my list.

                                        Others I'm interested in mainly because I own them and haven't made good use of them:

                                        Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker
                                        Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts
                                        Modern Classics Book 2 by Donna Hay (all sweets but I'm afraid this book won't be accessible by many)

                                        Others that I get excited about but don't own:
                                        Room for Dessert by David Lebowitz
                                        Nick Malgieri's book mentioned above
                                        Claudia Fleming's Gramercy Tavern book

                                        Sorry that I'm all over the place...I guess there's alot I want to try!

                                        1. re: Carb Lover

                                          Oh, Claudia Fleming's book, The Last Course, would be good. I wonder, do you think it's sufficiently accessible to beginners and more advanced bakers?

                                          1. re: Smokey

                                            I've never actually even seen the book, but I've heard good things about it and like her style of desserts. I don't even know if my library carries it (I should check).

                                            I have a feeling that it's not really a beginner-friendly book though. Of course, I don't think that every book we choose needs to be universally accessible. If I felt it was above my skill level, I would either enjoy the challenge to stretch or just not participate too much if I didn't have the time or energy. I just want good, interesting books to be chosen, but I know how subjective that is...

                                            1. re: Carb Lover

                                              The one cake I've made from Claudia Fleming, Oatmeal Stout Gingerbread, was wonderful. I became an instant fan and would like to try more.

                                              Baking with Julia would also be fun.

                                              1. re: Carb Lover

                                                The Last Course is NOT beginner friendly. I read through it on a library loan and found it just too much.

                                        2. Absolutely Dorie Greenspan's latest!

                                          1. My top 3 are Flemming's The Last Course, Malgieri's How to Bake and the new Greenspan book which I may just go buy tomorrow.

                                            If it is a Martha Stewart book there in no way I will participate.

                                            1. First choice: King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking (though it may be too new to be in public libraries)
                                              KA BAker's Companion
                                              Fannie Farmer Baking Book

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: doctor_mama

                                                I would love to do the whole grain baking book, but I think it's too new to be in public libraries. And if I don't already own the book, there's no way I'm going to buy it.

                                              2. I have the MS Baking Book and I love looking at the pics :) I plan to try some of the recipes there this holiday season...
                                                I also do like the Once Upon a Tart Cafe book.. The book is not intimidating which is a good thing for a beginner like me..

                                                1. My preferences echo some already mentioned:

                                                  Claudia Fleming's The Last Course - just skimmed this and found many recipes which look interesting. Not just baking IIRC.

                                                  Maida Heatter's Great Desserts and Great American Desserts - have used both a lot. I do most of my Christmas cookies from her Great Desserts book which spans the gamut from dead easy to fussy.

                                                  David Lebovitz' Ripe for Dessert and Room for Dessert - both are wonderfully written, very clear instructions. Lots of variety - fruit, nuts, chocolate desserts. So far everything I've made from these has been exactly as expected.

                                                  Alice Medrich's Cocolat, Bittersweet - I've only paged through these. I'm not a great chocolate fan but her recipes sound very seductive.

                                                  Julia's Baking with Julia - I've only used the sections on breads with Steve Sullivan and Joe Ortiz. The book has recipes I just have no patience for, but I can probably find something that will interest me.

                                                  1. Wow! Looks like we have many many suggestions for this one. Glad to see such a lively discussion, though the variety of different titles does pose a problem...

                                                    My own experience here has been limited to Marion Cunningham, Maida Heatter, and Regan Daly. It's interesting for me to see so many different titles. I'll try to go to the library and bookstore here in the next week and take a closer look at some of these titles.

                                                    Keep the conversation going! And thanks--

                                                    1. Despite my great fondness for books by Dorie Greenspan, Maida heatter, Nick Malgieri et al., I would vote for Marion Cunningham's Fanny Farmer Baking Book because of the encyclopedic content (all kinds of baking, savory and sweet, yeasted and not).
                                                      Instructions are detailed, complete, and straightforward.
                                                      It has a nice section on Christmas cookies as well, most of which I've made successfully.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: buttertart

                                                        I think the advantage or goal of cookbook of the month is to have many folks focusing on the work of one cookbook author. So I think we got an appreciation for Marcella's technique, and then Molly's approach to braising. Picking an encyclopedia-type baking book would not offer this advantage. So for that reason I would speak up against a Joy of Cooking, King Arthur baking or Fanny Farmer type of book.

                                                      2. I recommend the Esalen Cookbook of the Esalen Institute fame.

                                                        great breads and desserts - among other things - very well put together -

                                                        The food there is amazing ( I will admit I am biased as I was a cook there for a while) but - check it out and make yuor own decision. Good luck!

                                                        1. Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery in LA. Good stuff!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: ScarletB

                                                            Although I haven't looked at this, word on the street is that Nancy Silverton's recipes are not very newbie-friendly.

                                                          2. 1. King Arthur Whole Grain Baking
                                                            2. David Lebovitz - Room for Dessert
                                                            3. Jacques Torres - Dessert Circus at Home
                                                            4. Martha Stewart - Baking (have it, have made 1 recipe from it so far)

                                                            1. My suggestion is for the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. As Dommy! will tell you it is well used in the house. It was the first baking book I bought at the recommendation of the lady who runs the East Burke VT Country Store. In the book was the recipe used for their killer Sour Cream Coffee Cake. But the book is wide ranging from Breads to Dog bones, Pasta to pretzels, puddings to pizza, cakes to cookies and fun things like making your own play doh or Christmas ornaments. Anything you might want to do with flour. Plus I find most of the time to prefer the recipes in that book to the ones found on their website.

                                                              Take Care

                                                              - P.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                                                                I don't do a lot of baking, but the King Arthur Flour 200th book sounds like it would be something I'd not only enjoy reading but would be fun to cook from. A book that is that varied seems like it would have something for everyone to try.

                                                              2. Yikes, this is getting to be quite a list, with some strong feelings! How is it handled when someone flat out refuses to participate if a certain book is used?

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: blue room

                                                                  Umm, I think that person is allowed not to participate! You can't please all of the people all of the time. I didn't find anything I wanted to cook in the November book and am sitting that one out. It would never occur to me that my decision not to cook from a particular book should sway the broader decision on what book is chosen! I don't think anybody here has an ego that big.

                                                                  1. re: Smokey

                                                                    Agreed, the beauty of an online forum with so many participants, and changing the cookbook every month, is that the project doesn't depend on any one person. I'm sure lots of things will get in the way of people participating along the way. I personally have little access to Mexican ingredients so I won't be doing much in November. I doubt anyone will miss me ;)

                                                                    1. re: julesrules

                                                                      Of course you'll be missed!:) A hint about finding the ingredients: ask your Latin American connections-friends/acquaintances (or make some new ones!); they'll point you in the direction of the ingredients.

                                                                      1. re: morebubbles

                                                                        Well thank you :) But I live in Toronto and we are just starting to see more Mexican immigration and wider availability of some basic ingredients (it's exciting to me that I can now get Hernandez chipotle in adobo and salsa verde at my local store). I do know where I would go to *look* for more exotic ingredients, but it's out of my way, not a good month etc.
                                                                        I do love Mexican food but it would be a bit of a project to get serious about cooking it. Not up for that project right now but I will read along happily and see if anything simple appeals.

                                                                2. Be great if it was Baking with Julia or How to be a domestic goddess by Nigella. Both were gifts, neither have ever been used. Looking for an excuse!

                                                                  1. I vote for (something I own):

                                                                    Baking with Julia (have only tried a few things)
                                                                    Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking (haven't tried any recipes yet)
                                                                    Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (the few recipes I tried were good)
                                                                    Nick Maglieri's Cookies Unlimited (haven't made anything)

                                                                    I have made too many RLB recipes already and would rather try something new.

                                                                    I am surprised no one has mentioned Emily Luchetti's books, although they are dessert books and not strictly baking. But they are wonderful!

                                                                    1. Which Donna Hay book is the best?

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: pan cakes

                                                                        pan cakes: I hope you get some feedback here, but this is actually the thread for choosing the December 2006 cookbook of the month. I think Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My House to Yours won.

                                                                        Maybe you should start a new thread to ask your question about Donna Hay.

                                                                        Good luck!