James Peterson

Books: Cookbooks | Baking

Baking (2009)

BakingI love baking books, and I especially love baking books that focus on technique as well as recipes. I love to bake, and I want to become a better baker.

Cooking may be an art and a science, but baking is far more science than art, and knowing the science makes baking much easier.

For example, knowing that the layers of cold butter create flaky pie crust, because when the butter melts when it bakes creates layers, helps one understand why your ingredients need to be kept cold, and why resting the dough in the refrigerator between steps makes sense.

I can't say that I learned a lot of baking science here–after all, I have a LOT of baking books I've read cover to cover–but what this book has that many of the others lack is gorgeous full color photos showing the various steps. Seeing the progression in making bread dough is very useful, especially when paired with an explanation as to why these things work.

And something else about these photographs: they aren't perfect–not even close. In fact, in a couple places I found myself thinking, "why is that so messy?" before I realized that's the POINT. I love the Julia Child baking book, and love looking at the pictures, but am positive I could never replicate the gorgeous masterpieces found between these covers.

These pictures, however, look like something you'd find in any home kitchen. They're not beautiful baked goods–they're accessible and look easy to replicate.

That, to me, makes the difference in a book I like to read and a book from which I want to try to make recipes.

And many of the recipes look very delicious.

I'll admit that I skipped most of the Cakes section, because I don't like cake. But I skimmed it and there were parts I read thoroughly, since some techniques and ingredients carry over between different types of baked goods.

One thing I did learn, and really appreciated, was the difference between things that are on the surface similar–the difference between a biga, poolish, and sponge. How pastry cream differs from Italian meringue and mousseline. The difference between puff pastry and croissants. Fascinating and useful information.

Also, for the first time I feel tempted to make pastries and tarts. The pictures made a huge difference here, as did the explanations. I mean, what's not to love about "Gently pound the dough with the rolling pin…"

If you're interested in learning the science and techniques of baking, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. And I can't wait to build up the nerve to try some of these pastries.

Published by Ten Speed Press

Rating: 10/10