When I’m not writing, teaching, reading, or chasing kids—I love to bake (even in the summer). I was thrilled to discover that Chelsea Kelly, who I know from the Milwaukee Art Museum, is an avid baker and blogger. (Plus, she’s Norwegian—so her blog is filled with all of the amazing Scandinavian delicacies I grew up with.) Today, Chelsea stops by The Write Now! Coach blog to share her favorite cookbooks. Mmm.
Writers Read: Cookbooks! with Chelsea Bakes
Cookbooks aren’t normally thought of as leisure reads, but it’s time they were. Writing about food (not to mention developing a recipe) is a challenging exercise: you have to be concise, but evoke scent, taste, and texture—often even a mood or feeling—so well that it makes the reader want to open up the pantry and switch on the oven. Take it from me—since I started my baking blog, I’ve definitely realized how hard it can be to describe the taste of an amazing chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven in a way that isn’t cliche, but still sounds delicious.
I’ve also developed a deep respect for cooks who write cookbooks. It’s easy to follow a recipe or whip something up in the kitchen, but much harder to create something completely original, test it a billion times before sharing it with the world, and also write beautifully about the entire process.
And reading about food? A bit unconventional, sure, but a well-written cookbook can help you appreciate the little things in life—how great it is to treat yourself to a homemade cookie, how satisfying it is to bake something from scratch, how lovely it is to share the fruits of your labor with friends.
I’ve tested quite a few cookbooks, and the five I’m sharing here are ones I reach for time and time again. Since I’ve tested and posted about all of them, I’m including a few links to my blog (as well as photos!) so you can try the recipe before you buy the book. Thanks for having me on your blog, Rochelle!
Donna Hay, Seasons (2012)
Oh, Donna Hay. She’s the Australian Martha Stewart, but don’t let that scare you. Her recipes aren’t fussy, they use the simplest of ingredients (in fact, they’re things you probably already have in your kitchen), and turn out perfectly delicious. This book is divided into seasons (as you might have guessed, clever readers, from the title), all with beautiful, soft photographs, and each season has a collection of savory dishes as well as desserts. They are all so easy, and I’m still not sure how her recipes have depth of flavor when there are so few ingredients–I’m pretty sure it’s Australian magic. Worth the investment.
Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (2008) and Baked Explorations (2010)
Try before you buy: Malted Blondies (Baked)
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies (Baked Explorations)
I think I’ve baked more treats from these two cookbooks than any other. Their recipes are not for the novice baker–they can get a little complicated—and you definitely have to plan ahead to bake from them since they usually require unique ingredients, but every step is worth it. Baked has a real live bakery in Brooklyn, NY.
Martha Stewart Cookies (2008)
Try before you buy: Chocolate Crackle Cookies
Martha, you frustrate me. Your recipes are fussy, you don’t always give me all the information I need, and overall your food is usually not worth the hassle. But this book? This book is a good one. That might be because, honestly, how complicated can you make a cookie? This is a great resource for all the basic types of cookies, useful for bake sales and cookie fixes, and uniquely organized by texture (crispy, soft, bars, etc.). The writing’s nothing special, but the recipes are solid. If you’re a techie baker like me, they make an iPad app version that’s quite pretty, too.
Joy Wilson, Joy the Baker Cookbook (2012)
Try before you buy: Ultimate Chocolate Cake (for her “Best Buttercream Frosting”)
Joy is hilarious and will make you smile. She’s one of those superstar food bloggers who got herself a book deal. I don’t always have the best luck with her cookie recipes (the dough usually turns out too dry for me), but the book is worth the purchase for the chocolate frosting recipe alone. Also, she has dynamite breakfast recipes if you’re a brunch lover!
On My Bookshelf I’ve become a bit of a cookbook collector and can’t keep up with all the recipes I want to try! Here are a few I’ve yet to bake from, but are at the top of my list.
Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I love bread. (Who doesn’t?) But I don’t love bread when it goes stale. So it’s about time this baker started making her own loaves. I have heard great things about this easy base recipe with its endless adaptations—I’ve even invested in a baking stone and pizza pull, which I hear will make some deliciously crunchy crust—it’s just that the Wisconsin weather has not been cooperating with me. How can I make bread in 95-degree heat!? This is one for the fall.
Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar. I’ve been a huge fan of Momofuku Milk Bar, a tiny hole-in-the-wall wackadoo bakery in the Lower East Side of New York City, for years now. Two words: Crack pie. It’s amazing. Not to mention blueberries and cream cookies, compost cookies, and milk crumbs. But the recipes are super complicated and time consuming, and I’ve yet to set aside a weekend to devote to crack pie. Fear not, it’s on the bucket list.
Shirley O. Corriher, Bakewise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking. I must admit I’ve read this book nearly halfway, like a novel, and although I haven’t baked from it yet, I’m in love. She makes baking science interesting and accessible (quite a feat for this firmly planted humanities lover) and her writing is engaging and personable.
Extra Credit Not keen on picking up a giant cookbook? Not a problem. Nowadays food bloggers are offering some of the best photo-laden reading experiences you can find without lifting anything more than a finger on your mouse. Here are a few of my favorites!
Matchbox Kitchen – Sara is a blogger friend of mine who makes delicious treats, takes beautiful pictures, and is a succinct and evocative writer. A great blog to get lost in!
Shutterbean – I am amazed at how Tracy writes her blog, has a full-time job, and is mom to an adorable toddler. Luckily, she also manages to be totally honest about how juggling the many parts of life are not always easy. Plus, she’s super funny and posts great dinner/lunch recipes (she definitely turned me onto avocado toast).
Sweetapolita – If you want to get into baking beautiful cakes, look no further. Rosie’s recipes have never failed me, her instructions are detailed and clear, and her photographs are girly and pretty.
Always With Butter – I must admit I’ve never tried any of Julie’s recipes, but her photographs are so ridiculously beautiful and have such a dark, moody calmness about them, I often just log on to drool.
Your turn: What are your favorite baking cookbooks and blogs? Leave your recommendations in the comments section below.
About the author. Chelsea Emelie Kelly is a museum educator by day, baker by weekend. She has embraced the cold weather of her new city, Milwaukee, by baking comforting, quirky, pretty treats and sharing them in as many ways as she possibly can—whether by blogging or at the Milwaukee Anthropologie, where you can taste-test her desserts in person every third Tuesday of the month.