Are you a home baker who’s ready to advance to the next level? Perhaps you dream of baking professionally, or perhaps you’re just fascinated by the details of hardcore baking. Yes? Great, because I have a library list for you!
The Pastry Chef’s Companion
by Glenn Rinsky and Laura Halpin Rinsky
Have you ever caught yourself reading the dictionary? ...Okay, maybe that’s just me. Still, this little guy would be handy for any baker have on hand for a quick reference when planning or creating a fascinating new concoction. It’s mostly a glossary, containing every term you’re likely to come across in your baking journey, from abaissage to zymurgy. It’s a fascinating read...ahem, I mean reference.
Interesting as it was to flip through the definitions, if it were only a glossary, I wouldn’t be telling you about it right now. What’s great about this book is the series of charts appended to its end. They contain, for instance: temperatures every baker should know, weight/volume equivalents for most ingredients, and (my favorite) “classic and contemporary flavor combinations”
The latter is a series of graphs containing major fruits or nuts in the columns, pairing with a variety of flavors listed in rows, with an X in each box where the meeting pair could be delicious. Example: in the “strawberry” column, there are balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, and pink peppercorns, along with a few dozen other flavors (not all at once, please). Absolutely brilliant for springboarding new ideas.
Oh, there’s a little FAQ “what went wrong” troubleshooting bit at the back, too. Ever wondered why your pie crust wasn’t flaky? Why did your cookies come out crispy instead of chewy? Why does your beautiful cake have a big crack down the middle? Answers here.
I had a question before reading these next two books. With all the detailed food-science books on the market that are geared toward the home baker, why would I want to read a book specifically about professional baking? Would anything be covered that I didn’t already know from years and years of reading about and practicing baking?
Both of these are intended to be textbooks. They offer a thorough course, from the ground up, in How to Become a Baker. Either one would be good for a beginner looking to walk themselves through to a more advanced level.
About Professional Baking
by Gail Sokol
Sokol's book didn’t interest me personally; it’s just a course in how to bake everything, and, well, I already can. If I were going to teach a course in home baking, I would probably use a book like this; it’s concise and well organized with good pictures, and there’s nothing in it that applies exclusively to professionals.
The main advantage to the Sokol book is that it’s modern. There’s a chapter at the end on healthy baking, which is something that I consider to be an essential skill of any baker who wants to stay current. Some of the subtitles of that chapter: “How to Modify a Recipe’s Ingredients with Healthier Alternatives”, “Fats--Why They Are Necessary”, and “Replacing Sugar with Sugar Substitutes”. It’s a decent starting place for a baker who’s new to the world of healthy baking.
Now, let me tell you about the most fascinating baking book I’ve read since Alton Brown came back for more food. If I were going to emulate Julie Powell and cook my way through one cookbook in a year, blogging all the way, this would be my text:
by Wayne Gisslen
This book, unlike any I’ve ever read, is actually intended for a professional baker. It teaches you not just how to bake, but how to bake in a bakery. The methods are different, did you know? Practices are different, food storage, handling, measurement, so many things are approached from a different angle because the goal of a bakery is different from the goal of a home baker. It has formulas (not recipes) for many, many classic bakery goods, along with explanations of why you make one bread THIS way and another bread THAT way and cake an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT way. Also: variations on formulas are included. I love this, as it’s much more efficient than having a whole new recipe for each variation.
If you’re intending to bake professionally or start your own bakery, you really need to read something like this--or sign up for a class if you’ve never taken one. Apparently there’s more to running a bakery, to baking in a bakery, than breaking out the Joy of Cooking and making Yellow Cake Cockaigne. (Who knew?)
If you’re a food science nerd AT ALL, you should pick up a book like this just for kicks. Talk about in depth detail! It’s pretty technical in areas, but that’s what I love; it’s going in-depth to explain what’s happening, why it’s happening that way, and how the baker can exploit food science to achieve desired results.
Two textbooks and a dictionary? That should keep you busy for awhile. Go ye forth and bake! (Then come ye back and post pictures!)