Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A tome.

I used to love to bake, to measure ingredients and mix them slowly or quickly depending on their need. To crack eggs and get a little on my fingers, to cut butter into small squares and sift flour making shapes on the worktops where it drifted quietly over the edges of the bowl.  And then I started using a new cookbook and that was the end of that. Ms Lawson drove me mad. Brownies that wouldn't cook, cakes that wouldn't rise, biscuits that spread over the baking sheet, everything too damn sweet. Joy was replaced with frustration, baking became a source of irritation and stress, so I stopped. Until I needed to or desperately wanted to bake and again I would get out The Book, hopefully convincing myself that as everyone else loves her and her buttery goods my failures had been flukes, my next effort would be perfect . No dice.  

I haven't quite been able to bring myself to throw out the damn thing but I will no longer use it.  Smitten Kitchen has become my go-to but I need a book. Something to dust in sugar and flour (Nye gets pissy if I do that to the laptop) with pages to peel apart at the edges where they have become bonded with butter and jam. A book for cakes. (And biscuits and breads and muffins and buns) One that won't fail me. One that will be there, a tome on my bookshelf, filled with deliciousnesses. Fancy deliciousnesses and basic deliciousnesses and comforting deliciousnesses and impressive deliciousnesses. Savoury deliciousnesses and sweet deliciousnesses and yeasty deliciousnesses and chocolatey deliciousnesses.  A book that will show me how to make perfect chocolate chip cookies when that is what I want but will also inspire me to try new cakes I have never heard of (I loved that about Nigella Lawson, when first we met, her cakes sound and look beautiful and interesting; autumn cake, nutella cake, Guinness cake... they just don't bloody work.) A baking bible if you will.  

Do you know of one?  


  1. I'll be interested to hear what others suggest, since i'm in the same boat! I rely on Deb at Smitten Kitchen as well, as her recipes have always served me well. I think i'm holding out until she publishes her own cookbook next year!

    Deb got a lot of her base recipes from Gourmet magazine, which has kind of stopped publishing, but does have a Cookie Book http://www.amazon.com/Gourmet-Cookie-Book-Single-1941-2009/dp/0547328168

  2. I have the perfect chocolate book and I know of a baking bible that might just do the trick. Send me your address and I will post you some treats :)

  3. Um.. The Cake Bible.


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  5. I am sorry, I disagree with you world and am there with Peonies. Lawson is not a goddess. Her recipes are not heavenly, despite how she lulls you into believing so...

    Donna Hay. Her recipes are heavenly and have not failed yet. She is Australian. This book is dedicated to chocolate, a chocolate bible it makes:

    Her classics books also deliciousnous make. If it stunning photography and baking of all kinds, a cook book from Bourke Street Bakery in Sydney is heavenly and will have you motivated again:

    To finish off the Australian trio (are you getting my bias yet...) you may have heard of Katie:
    She is releasing a book soon. I think.

  6. Hey, hi!

    For my recent wedding I was given this book by some family friends:

    Ladies, a Plate: Traditional Home Baking

    It is a beautiful collection of traditional NZ and Australian baking recipes. We used it to bake a bunch of sweet things for the wedding and I have used it since - really simple easy recipes that just work... It hasn't failed me yet!

  7. For cakes, I like the Hummingbird Bakery book. I have never made something from it that I don't like - and the carrot cupcakes I made for my birthday at work were voted the nicest cupcakes anyone had ever tasted by several people.

    I guess it depends what style of baking you want. The Hummingbird Bakery book is most definitely American in style.

  8. I love "Bake" by Rachel Allen. The recipes are simple to follow and so far, everything I've made from there is delicious. I know what you mean about Nigella. I want to like the books but then it all just seems that little bit too complicated...

  9. I wholeheartedly agree with the Donna Hay suggestion, though I must confess to harbouring a similar Australian bias.

    In a more British bent is Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery. All sorts of deliciousness and not just cupcakes, totally worth finding.

  10. Aussie, aussie, aussie!
    I can second Donna Hay.
    But also for a more general bible Stephanie Alexander's "The Cooks Companion" is the only book we ever really use in the house, everything in it I have ever cooked has worked and been delicious. To the point where we now "ask" Stephanie if (for example) we don't know what to cook for dinner.

  11. I'm a reader from NZ and highly recommend Ladies a Plate too. Pretty easy stuff and yum. Also try its 'sequel' (can cook books have sequels?) "A Second Helping"



  12. Hmm. Well I do love Nigella. But horses for courses. I've just done a post on favourite recipes, but they're online. I totally get the need for a book. Cook books are so comforting to me.

    I love David Liebovitz and use his website mostly, but this book is on my wishlist: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ready-Dessert-My-Best-Recipes/dp/158008138X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1308047211&sr=8-1
    I like a chef to have some personality and humour, he does.

    I also love Nigel Slater. Whilst he doesn't really have a dessert/sweet things only book, the cake and dessert recipes in The Kitchen Diaries are wonderful and turn out well every time. The marmalade cake is YUM.

    There's also Sophie Dahl? If you found Nigella too sweet I don't think you'd find that here, no sugar over load (except for the fudge). Again, not just a dessert book though..

    I'm also waiting to buy a Tessa Kiros book on Cate's recommendation.

    Look forward to what others love!

  13. I'm sorry, I know you are looking for a book, but I love this internet source too much not to share: http://www.joythebaker.com/. Agreed that cooking with a laptop is a pain. I have a trusty little notebook with lots of scribbles. My favorite cookbook of all time- which has a fair baking section- is How to Cook Evertything by Mark Bittman. Good luck!

  14. Hello! Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery (here in Boston) put out a cookbook which I bought as a gift for someone and am now hankering after myself: http://www.amazon.com/Flour-Spectacular-Recipes-Bostons-Bakery/dp/081186944X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308052641&sr=8-1

    Everything I've ever tasted at the bakery is delicious, and the book's recipe for nutmeg-spiced cake with rum buttercream - that's an incredible cake.

  15. My favorite baking book is one created by Sur la Table, called The Art and Soul of Baking ($16 on Amazon). Everything I've made from it has turned out beautifully.

    My other go-tos are Smitten Kitchen, Orangette, and Bon Appetite.

  16. I've been baking through Baking from my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan - it's got the full range of easy to impressive, including breakfast-y things as well. Very reliable.

  17. I do a lot of baking and can highly recommend The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, for more American style baking. And also The Great British Book of Baking by Linda Collister for more British recipes. Both are fantastic and the recipes always work well.

  18. YES. Everyone else loves her? WHY are her recipes so awful? They are always terrible and I've never managed a single thing I like from those books. I'm so glad I'm not the lone voice of dissent.

  19. donna hay. simply fantastic. not too sweet or over done. Her carrot cake with lemon cream cheese frosting is to die for!

  20. Hmm. Not a huge fan of Australian cookbooks as they have a tendency to put gelatine IN EVERYTHING.

    I like Delia Smith. Simple and it works.
    Her carrot cake is the best I've ever had. Anywhere.

    And I do make it a point to sample a wide range of carrot cake.

    Best of luck.

    P.s. For the laptop/cooking conundrum; I've used a giant ziplock-type bag before ormtwo sheets of clear plastic (normally used as the front cover of bound documents) filched from the work stationery cupboards before. Both work quite well.

  21. This isn't exactly what you asked, but my solution to the online thing is to copy recipes that I like down onto cards. I love flipping through my recipe box then--each card has a memory and the box is a sort of custom-made recipe book.

  22. I have not found gelatine to be in any Australian recipes that I have come across, except maybe Women's Weekly and I would not be using that as my bible. Certainly no gelatine in Donna Hay that I have used, nor Stephanie Alexander.

  23. I usually get on pretty well with Nigella but have definitely had a few cake fails from Domestic Goddess.

    I can second the Dorie Greenspan recommendation. Everything I've made has worked well and it's got a great range of recipes.

  24. i feel the same way about having a book and pages, so awhile ago i took a massive collection of recipes from Smitten Kitchen, Tartelette, and 101 Cookbooks and printed them into my own little go to book - i can dirty it as much as i want without breaking yet another keyboard!

  25. I'm in anticipation overload for Smitten's book.

    This may be too obvious to suggest, but currently when I bake out of a book I a bake out of the "Joy of Cooking". It's traditional, but sometimes the truly traditional can be just as exotic as the more modern books to those of us baking in a modern kitchen.

  26. I wish I was at my house so I could go through my recently-packed box of cookbooks. I have a few baking books that are quite good. I'll dig through and see which I'd recommend and send you the titles.

    I'm with you on Smitten Kitchen. The Dobos cake from yesterday is calling my name.

  27. I haven't cooked out of this personally (baking just doesn't seem to be my thing), but I know that the team at Cook's tests recipes EXHAUSTIVELY, ingredient by ingredient, to make sure that each recipe works. I highly recommend it! http://www.cooksillustrated.com/bookstore/detail.asp?PID=247

  28. I swear all of the recipes in the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook work everytime. I used my mom's growing up & I just bought one for myself to use now that I'm all grown up. Although buying that one would mean you'd have to learn to cook with cup measures rather than by weight... & some of the ingredients are named differently on this side of the world (like molasses is the same thing as black treacle).


  29. definitely Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. Amazing! There is a reason that hundreds of bloggers all over the world swear by her cookbook and are baking through it for Tuesdays with Dorie! Her recipes have never failed me. And she gives very precise descriptions of what each step should look like and also ideas on how to adapt the recipe. You have to have it!

  30. My favorite standard cookbook is The Settlement Cookbook.

    My mother had an old classic from her mother and it is great! It has basic recipes for everything, which you can then use your cooking/baking genius to adapt as you see fit.

  31. I love Nigella but agree that her recipes leave much to be desired. My favorite go to cookbook for cooking/baking is:
    1000 Vegeterian Recipdes by Carol Gelles.

    I am by no means vegeterian but this book has tons of fantastic recipes that I go back to time and time again. And the baking section is great.

    As for your dusty computer problem. My solution is to keep my recipes (my own and from the internet) on my iPod's notepad and I keep that with me in the kitchen along with good music.

  32. Sorry, but Nigella has always worked really well for me! Her recipes are simple and open to alteration. She writes with humour and intelligence and is always a pleasure to read.

  33. I cannot disagree with everyone's but I would say some of these are lovely cookbooks but not for beginners or when you really need to know what that ingredient does. I would say Joy of Cooking, pre-1976 if you can get it. For bread, Laural's Kitchen Bread Book and Tassajara Bread Book. Both have more then just bread (my shortbread recipe comes from the second) and do not let me down.

    Have fun!

  34. The Cake Bible and the Pie & Pastry Bible, both by Rose Levy Berenbaum have been my go-tos for years. Absolutely perfect recipes every time.

  35. Hello!

    My husband gave me this as a gift and it is indeed just that. It has basics and more sophisticated recipes. I do love Rose Levy Beranbaum, but this book has all sorts or baked goods and has incredible instructions.


  36. My dear grandmom gave me this book as a wedding present, and I have had oodles of wonderful sweet treats from here. Bread, cookies, cakes (even wedding cakes!), etc., all with wonderful illustrations, pictures, and recommended brands. Every recipe from here works like a charm and is explained well enough even for inept chefs like myself ;) The book is associated with Cooks Illustrated, a wonderful cooking magazine here in the States :)


  37. I have to agree with babypicturethis - Nigel Slater's cakes, puddings, tarts etc never fail and they tend to be pretty straightforward, no random ingredients. His pistachio & lemon cake is a dream to make (and eat!) and I always get requests for it. It's in Kitchen Diaries (Sad I may be, but I love to read this in my bed at night. It's a diary of the food he cooked throughout the course of a year). Tender (veg) and Tender (fruit) are both brilliant cook books and the fruit one in particular is filled with cake recipes. He writes so beautifully and really, really makes me aspire to move on from my feeble window boxes and dig myself a real garden!


    Happy baking...

  38. Try All Cakes Considered. It has over 50 cake recipes with great directions and gorgeous pictures. http://www.amazon.com/All-Cakes-Considered-Melissa-Gray/dp/0811867811

  39. I cover my laptop with glad wrap (cling?). Also my phone.

    Donna Hay is my favourite. I'm a baker, and she inspired me to become one. She's an aussie like me, she has a fabulous website and her mags and cook books are all available online (cheap on eBay!).

  40. Do you have the Bero cookbook? If not you need to get it - there is nothing better for the basics. http://www.be-ro.com/f_about.htm plus it's only 1.50. Bargainous.

  41. I am Australian and find Donna a bit beige. Lately, I've been thoroughly enjoying Nigel Slater's Tender II, although it does have an exclusive fruit and nut focus. There are, however, some divine looking chocolate recipes in there, including a walnut, chocolate and honey tart.

  42. I see someone already suggested David Lebovitz, and I actually read that his desserts book just came out in the UK! I cannot recommend him enough, he is probably one of the very best pastry chefs writing usable and foolproof cookbooks today. I also LOVE his blog and his ice cream cookbook. His dessert opus is: http://www.amazon.com/Ready-Dessert-My-Best-Recipes/dp/158008138X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308145689&sr=8-1

    I have also been meaning to try one of the books by the "Baked" boys--if you want creative Brooklyn hipster baking, they are apparently awesome:

    People absolutely rave about the Baked cookbooks, and I think they focus on reinventions of comforting classics which is hard not to love.

    Please do tell us what you end up getting and what you make out of it!

    PS: Fuck Nigella.

  43. I have the Hummingbird cookbook and have tried like 6 different things from there and each one has turned out weird for one reason or another. NOT recommended (and I'm usually a pretty brave/good baker).

    I tend to go back to the good old Silver Palate and Silver Palate Entertains for some basics (choc chip cookies, 'yellow' cake) but I'm excited to try some of these suggestions...

  44. Nigel Slater is my favourite.

    I also have a few cake recipes that I've collected from family and friends which I tend to make whenever it's vital that nothing goes wrong. I've made these so often that I know them off by heart. (Boring but predictable.)

  45. I've made several recipes from the Baked cookbook and every single one has been excellent as is - no tweaking needed.

  46. I have so enjoyed reading your blog over the past couple of years, thank you. I'm not even sure why I've not commented before but, as I love to cook, I thought now was a good time to break my weird silence.

    My recommendations go to:

    Bero Home Recipes for all the basics, just as my Granny made and Tessa Kiros Apples for Jam for simple, familial recipes which inspire you to cook something tasty, quickly and can be adapted with ease.

    I wonder what you'll choose.

  47. Yes.

    Leiths baking bible.

  48. The Bourke Street Bakery cookbook! Absolutely! Never-fail recipes, and CERTAINLY fulfils the "oooo, that cake sounds interesting, I wants it..." criterion.

    Plus, any place that - in a city as cafe-heavy as Sydney - still manages to have a lengthy line waiting to get in the door every single Saturday must be doing something right in the kitchen.

    Re Donna Hay - she's a bit vanilla for my tastes (I always think she's more famous for her food photos and distinctive food styling than her recipes, which are always a bit too fiddly). That being said, that's a criticism more of her savouries than her cakes, of which I have made a few FABULOUS ones (a lime yoghurt cake comes to mind?)

    Finally, gelatine? Really? I've been cooking from books here since I was about 3, and I don't recall even using gelatine until I discovered pannacotta in the mid-nineties. (Oh, pannacotta. So delicious, and so overdone.) Don't think I've ever seen it in a cake recipe, I can't even really imagine how it would figure...in the icing? Surely not...

    Perhaps it's one of those cross-cultural things where we all accuse eachother of Over Gelatining. Certainly, when I first discovered that you could access recipes via *gasp* the intertubes, I remember gagging at a whole lot of US ones that seemed to invariably include "1 packet Jello". In a salad? WTF?

  49. Food to live By-Myra Goodman, also for all Italian, The North End Italian Cookbook-Marguerite DiMino Buonopane (Ricotta cookies = amazing also the best Biscotti recipe I have ever used). I also have a fail-safe chocolate chip cookie recipe (modified from "Great Good Foods) and a super easy, quick, buttermilk cake with an oatmeal crumble topping (as in minimal bowls, mixed and baked in less than an hour)...can email last two recipes if needed...

  50. You're doing something wrong. Baking is all about following the instructions really specifically. Nigella's recipes have never failed me!

  51. @Anon 01.46 - if this post has illustrated anything that for every one person who swears by a baking book, there's another that says nothing works.

    It depends on a lot more than just following recipes, even precisely. Ingredients, your oven, your bakeware and even how damp the air is will all affect the end product.

    It even depends who does the baking even with the same ingredients etc. When my sister and I were baking for our other sister's hen party, my sister made some cupcakes which came out flat. I remade them, same recipe, same ingredients, same pans etc and they came out just fine.

  52. Mary Berry's Baking Bible. My dad, who was the best baker, used to swear by her recipes and I haven't had one failure using her book. Well,not so far.

  53. On this side of the ocean, I can recommend with great admiration, Joanne Chang's book, Flour. It is the book I go to when I ask, "I want to make something new, what shall I make?" And that something new becomes a regular favourite.


  54. Chiming in to say Donna Hay, again. I have about 5 of her books and have never had to use gelatin in a recipe. If you're wondering whether you'll like her and don't want to shell out for a book just yet, heaps of her recipes are online so you can see if you like them or not before you buy a book - she's at www.donnahay.com.au. I particularly like her habit in the books of including "quick and simple" type pages between the chapters with very short, simple recipes to whip up - makes it so easy!

  55. If you want easy (and I'm guessing with twins you might) this book is great

    and I'd second Mary Berry for easy and fool proof recipes.

    Also for general cooking including baking Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Bible is really brilliant.

    The cakes and especially the muffins in the Ottolenghi Cookbook are wonderful.

    And I also LOVE anything Donna Hay.

  56. Hi! Not sure if anyone else has mentioned it but in New Zealand we have the Edmonds Cookbook. It is absolutely fool proof and there is probably one in almost every NZ home. It's been around for decades.


    I will totally send you a copy if you like!?


  57. Two excellent books I can think of-one is probably out of print (1963's "The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook"), and "The Cake Mix Doctor" by Anne Byrn. My mom, sister, and myself use these quite often.


play nice.