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Jul 20, 2008 09:13 PM

The 5 best EVER dessert cookbooks?


I'm trying to put together a list of the 5 absolute best dessert cookbooks of all time. Ok, it's doesn't have to be limited to just 5 -- but it does have to be somewhat limited so I'll pretend that 5's the limit.

While I'm a SERIOUS dessert eater, I'm not much of a dessert cookbook expert -- or even especially knowledgeable, but for me, two very recent cookbooks come to mind. One, I think, really should be on the list and the other I'm curious as to what you think:

1. The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.

Let's face it, there are a few fundamental formats of dessert. One of them (my personal favorite) is ice cream. And as someone who's made ice cream for a good while -- and tried all formats of recipes from all sorts of sources -- I I find this book to be a new go-to ice cream bible. Straightforward and still sophisticated and incredibly informative. I've been waiting for this book my whole life.

2. The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman

This one is nowhere near as focused as the one above (it's about a wide variety of desserts -- the author was/is the pastry chef at a high-end NYC restaurant for a decade) but for me, seems to be foolproof. I've made a dozen desserts form it -- many far more complex than things I typically try -- and they all work flawlessly.

Even more important, the book is full of great "why it works this way" type of information that speaks to my preference for "Cooks Illustrated/Best Recipe" type cookbook reading. I like to know why things work so I can improvise and experiment with some sense of impending results.

... so, what do you think of the two books above? What else should join them? I assume there's some sort of "bible" when it comes to cookies. And when it comes to cakes. Is there a pie bible? (there should be!)

Again, I'm looking for a list of 5 books in the end. Ah heck, if it's 7 or 10 that's ok. Of course this is ENTIRELY subjective but that's ok. That's what makes this fun. :)


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  1. Fabulous thread you have started! Sorry, to be a little vague in "precise" cookbooks to add to your list. Just in from a Margarita laden Sunday evening here in the San Fernando valley area of Los Angeles. I will tell you that in my life of cooking/baking, there is a dessert maven whom I have relied on for years. Her name is Maida Heatter, and her dessert books have been ummmazing. She gives exceptionally explicit details in her recipes---some might think that the directions are too extreme---but by me, these directions are exquisite foundation----if you follow them, you will be creating desserts that would make Ms. Heatter proud. More currently I have been enjoying the book called "Sweet Stuff" by Karen Barker---a modern day dessert maven, if ever there was.

    Cheers and thanx for your post,

    5 Replies
    1. re: JeffW


      Thanks for the feedback -- I don't know why I didn't think of Maida Heatter already.

      Does anyone know if there's one book of hers that stands above the rest?


      1. re: Peter

        She has a compilation cookie book (I believe it's a combination of at least 3 previously published books), and a chocolate one. Maida's the best ...

        1. re: foiegras

          I expressed an interest in baking at a pretty early age and a long time friend of the family gave me a copy of her book "Great Desserts" for christmas that year. I still have the book over 30 years later and I recently bought a hardcover copy of the same title. It's a terrific book.

      2. re: JeffW

        Yes yes yes to all of Maida Heatter's books. I have them all, some have had to have their bindings taped because of all the years and all the use. I have never had but one failure from her books, Mildred Knopf's Orange Puff cake and weirdly I had made it at least 6 times in earlier years with beautiful success but the last 3 or 4 efforts were dreadful - more like an awful failed souffle. So I have given up on that particular cake. OW all her recipes are fantastic and fail proof.

        1. re: ElsieB

          Curious, did you by any chance acquire a new oven in the time in between success and failure with that particular recipe? Because I had that happen to me as well, with different recipes. Some of the recipes that came out flawlessly in my old oven, I have nothing but trouble with in my new one. It's very frustrating. The thing I'm having the most trouble with, of all things, is crumb cake. I have two recipes that used to come out perfect every time I baked then in my old el-cheapo gas Maytag but in my newer GE Cafe Gas oven, the crumbs melt into the cake every single time. The oven temp is correct (I'm always checking it) and I STILL can;t figure out what is going wrong. It's driving me crazy because these were 2 family favorites. :(

      3. There is a "Cake Bible" as well as a "Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levey Beranbaum, but my favorite cookbook of hers is "Rose's Christmas Cookies". A beautiful book, especially the photography, but some of the recipes are "nice to look at but will never ever make them".

        4 Replies
        1. re: coney with everything

          I haven't read "Cake Bible" but I have and refer often to "Pie and Pastry Bible". The beauty of the Pie and Pastry Bible is that Beranbaum's recipes run the gamut from the classics of American, French, German, Austrian, etc. to what seem like her own riffs on classic recipes. Full of good recipes, gives you a grounding in classic preparations and prepares you to invent your own creations through her thorough explanations, recipes and foundation recipes. I love this book; it will make anyone a better pastry cook.

          1. re: coney with everything

            Wow -- when I said "bible" I didn't mean it so literally... but I suppose I should have known that with enough time, there'd be a cookbook with every title. :)

            Has anyone used these two cookbooks? Do they live up to their titles? (Man, it's gotta take some serious guts to name your book the Bible!)



            1. re: Peter

              I can vouch for the Beranbaum books. They're very useful, although quite technical in places - she has a background in food science, so it isn't altogether unexpected.

              1. re: Peter

                I have both of these books and just started using the pie and pastry bible more often. I made cherry turnovers from it the other day that came out really good. But I find her technique super fussy at times. I followed her directions to prepare the filiing and the dough but not to actually put it all together. My way was MUCH easier and they looked very pretty when I was finished.

                But as for the 5 (or whatever), best dessert books ever? That's a tough one. I have tons of cookbooks, and many of them are dessert/baking books. I don't know if I could 5 or even 10 that I would say were just so much better than the rest. I love many of them for

            2. My personal list:
              -Baking With Julia (Dorie Greenspan)
              -Baking: From My Home to Yours (also DG)
              -Great Cookies (Carole Walter)
              -Death by Chocolate (Marcel Desaulniers)

              I can't decide on a fifth one. I have tons of cookbooks, and many dessert-only ones, but often I combine parts of recipes from various books. I like Maida Heatter's cookie cookbook, but I haven't tried her other recipes. I have Berenbaum's Pie & Pastry Bible, but I don't use it too often for some reason.

              11 Replies
              1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                "Death by Chocolate" Doh!

                Of COURSE one of the books on the list has to be a chocolate-oriented book. I don't know why I didn't think of that.

                Ok, the way I see it, what I'm looking for is:

                -- 1 book on ice cream
                -- 1 book on cakes
                -- 1 book on cookies
                -- 1 book on pies, etc.
                -- 1 book on chocolate
                -- 1 book on desserts in general
                -- 1 book on "fancy" desserts

                So I guess I'm looking for at LEAST seven books. Probably it'll end up being 10 because there will be a few ties.

                So... any great chocolate-oriented books out there?


                1. re: Peter

                  This ain't gonna work. You wanna see "fancy," look at "Demolition Desserts." But them aren't classic desserts, you see. Or maybe you could accept not classic "Demolition Desserts" and find a classic "chocolate" or "cakes" cookbook. For "pies," you could just include something like "Farm Journal's Complete Pie Cookbook" by Nell B. Nichols. That would give you the best of the standards, but not pies for the chandeliered ballroom. Those might be under "tarts." Then where are you going to put the fusion "Sweet Spot?" No, this ain't gonna work. I'd help if I could.

                  1. re: yayadave

                    I guess I'd have to agree since I think most cookbooks present have a wide variety of deserts. Personally I love Lebovizt's "Room for Desert" ( Harper Collins, 1999) which offers a full array of recipes for pies, cakes, tarts, sorbets, cobblers, sherbets and much more.

                  2. re: Peter

                    For cookies I'd definitely pick The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle. I'm a pastry chef & every single recipe I've made works. It's my go to cookie book if I need a recipe in a hurry. I know that no matter what recipe it will work & taste great.

                    Rose Levy's Cake Bible has some good cake recipes..& her Mousseline Buttercream is the only one I use but some of the other recipes aren't that great.
                    Ditto for the Pie & Pastry Bible..a few great recipes ..but
                    Stars Desserts cookbook by Emily Luchetti..out of print but you can find some in Ebay. Her ice cream book..A Passion fro Ice Cream is good as well.

                    1. re: sugarbuzz

                      I also love The Good Cookie... many of the favorites for my Cookie of the Month Club came from this book.

                      1. re: sugarbuzz

                        Sugarbuzz - I just bought Emily Luchetti's "Stars Cafe" cookbook. I'm new to baking but I wanted to try her Cinnamon Rolls Recipe (which probably isn't for a beginner). I had a hard time with the dry yeast dissolving in the milk. Is there a secret to this? I had to whisk the clumps out and it didn't bubble up so I'm sure I did something wrong.

                          1. re: roxlet

                            Yes, I used a thermometer so I made sure it was at 110F. I think it might have been bad yeast even though it was new and not expired b/c I let it dissolve for 15 minutes so that should have been enough time.

                        1. re: sugarbuzz

                          Classic Stars Desserts has been failproof and superb for me, though it does not have much of the "why things work" etc. Just recipes.

                          1. re: sugarbuzz

                            sugarbuzz and Katie -- Could you suggest some of your favorite recipes from The Good Cookie? I just acquired the book after reading your recommendations, and I'm not sure where to start baking with the abundance of temptations!

                          2. re: Peter

                            I cooked from "Death by Chocolate" and I'd advise against it. The results were so rich that neither I nor my guests could eat them.

                            I am passionate about chocolate, but that much fat becomes repulsive.

                        2. I also find Rose B's "Bible" books too technical. Pies don't need to be that fussy. I've made some of her cakes and they were great, but for a fancy cake book I prefer The Art of the Cake by Healy and Bugat.

                          I've had a lot of luck with Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts.

                          Everything I've made so far from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert has been wonderful. (But most especially the sour cream ice cream.)

                          And I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the late Bill Neal's Biscuits, Spoonbread & Sweet Potato Pie which is full of Southern homestyle desserts, many of them old-fashioned, like the Osgood pie. His apple dumplings are AMAZING.

                          1. The dessert cookbooks put out by King Arthur Flour are ones I often turn to.