A common origin story on baking blogs and amongst bakers in general is the trope of “baking with Mom”, or Grandma, or other relative. They relate fond memories of licking spoons and learning passed down wisdom in a sun-dappled kitchen, the radio softly playing in the background, probably a horse running around outside somewhere. I have memories of baking with my Mom too, but I mostly fostered my own interest in the hobby. My mom likes to stick to her tried and true recipes, whereas I, especially in high school, was eager to try new things and be as Extra as possible. So I began asking for cookbooks for my birthday and Christmas, reading them for pleasure and pretending that I was going to try every recipe in each one and become a master of my craft. (In reality I’ll flip through all of my cookbooks and then just usually turn to Pinterest anyway, but we have to hold onto our delusions sometimes.) Despite the internet, I still love physical cookbooks. I think that anyone who wants to get better at baking should read them, if only for the tips and tricks that usually come with the recipes. I have way too many cookbooks now, but after thinking about it I narrowed down 5 that were most influential in getting me jazzed about baking. I’ve compiled them in a list here, in no particular order. Some of these books are great for kids or beginners, some of them are a little more advanced, but all of them have great recipes and are easy enough so a dumb dumb like me can follow them. I hope you check one (or all of them) out!
1. Kids’ Cake Mix Fun (And More)
This was the very first cookbook that someone gave me as a gift. Some of our relatives were visiting from out of state and my aunt, who taught home-ec, came across this cookbook while we were out shopping and bought it to use in her classroom. We decided to test out a recipe while she was visiting, and whipped up a Double Chocolate Chip Snack Cake. It turned out really good, even though I burned my finger trying to scoop a blob of icing off of the hot pan. Every recipe in this cookbook uses a cake mix as a base. I think cake mix baking is one of the best ways to learn the basics and start to bake things (kind of) from scratch. This book has some pretty adorable recipes (look at the piggies!) and since it’s aimed at kids the recipes are super easy to follow. Embrace the adorableness.
Favorite recipes from the book:
- Double Chocolate Chip Snack Cake
- Quick Fruit and Lemon Drops
- Garbage Pail Cookies
- Mini Doughnut Cupcakes (These ones were FAMOUS amongst my friends)
2. The Ultimate Cake Mix Cookie Book
Look, I LIKE CAKE MIX COOKIES, OKAY? THEY ARE QUICK, THEY ARE SIMPLE, THEY ARE CHEAP. This was my go to cookie book in high school. I did a lot of what you might call “procrasti-baking” (see that joke in the meme your aunt shared on facebook) and to be perfectly honest, I baked a lot in high school because it got me a lot of positive attention and what 16 year old doesn’t crave that? Like the previous cookbook, these recipes are almost stupidly easy. Like, three ingredient easy. Once you get the formula for cake mix cookies down (cake mix, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup oil) there are almost infinite variations. This book has no pictures, but again there are like three steps per recipe, so really there’s little room for messing up. It’s also fun when people tell you how good the cookies are and you can silently rejoice in the fact that you fooled them into believing you put way more effort into them than you did.
Favorite recipes from the book:
- Lemon-blueberry Cookies
- S’mores Bars (THE BEST. Seriously the best. Make a pan. Eat half of them. Save the other half for people who’s eyes will literally glaze over in joy when they take a bite.)
- Favorite Chocolate Cookies (I like to use a dark chocolate cake mix and then add milk and white chocolate chips to make a triple chocolate cookie.)
3. Willams-Sonoma Cookies Cookbook
Release your inner white mom. This is a cookbook that my mom had when I was a kid, but I don’t know why because she never seemed to make anything out of it. I would beg her to make a recipe from it with me but she would always reply “Mmmmmmmmaybe” and then continue to not make anything out of it. The recipes are pretty much your basic, classic cookies. When you’re ready to move on from cake mix cookies, this is a good starting point. The pictures are gorgeous, and even though some recipes are a little more complicated they are still pretty easy to follow. There are also lessons about cookie basics in the back, which are helpful. When you want to feel BOUGIE this is the book for you. Now go sip on some rose while your tuiles are in the oven.
Favorite Recipes from the book:
- Blondies (one time my friends and my disgusted my mom by eating the entire pan)
- Lemon bars (so you don’t do what me and my best friend did in middle school and try to make lemon bars with lemonade powder because you didn’t have enough flour. They were……edible.)
Pie Pie Pie: Easy Homemade Favorites
I am the Bi making Pie, after all. I had to include a pie book. Technically this book was a gift from me, to my dad, but you know what he doesn’t bake and I do and it’s mine now and there’s nothing he can do about it so there. My very first pie (that wasn’t pre-made crust and canned filling) was the Fresh Strawberry pie from this book. The crust was still pre-made and the filling was a little weird, but it was my pie and I loved it. My own apple pie recipe is based on the apple crisp pie recipe in this book. If you want to get into pie baking, this is a great place to start. There are fruit pies, cream pies, meringues, basically all of the classics with some unique ones thrown in. I owe my love of pie making to this book and you can rip it from my cold dead hands.
Favorite Recipes from this Book:
- Fresh Strawberry Pie
- Apple Pie (The first pie recipe I made using my own homemade crust)
- Apple Crisp Pie (love using a crumble topping so you don’t have to make two crusts)
- Apricot Crumble Pie (y’all apricot pie is severely overrated. This pie is delicious and is a favorite of mine.)
5. Illustrated Step by Step Baking
A couple of years ago my cousin sent me this cookbook for Christmas after I said I wanted to learn more about pastry-making. I read it cover to cover and it’s been one of my “baking bibles” ever since. This is the only cookbook I wouldn’t recommend to people who are just starting out, since a lot of the recipes involve some advanced techniques and can be pretty involved. Now I’ll admit that I haven’t really made many of the recipes in this book (I am a weenie after all) but this is the book I open up when I want to cross-reference a recipe I found elsewhere, or look up how do do a specific technique. Most, but not all, of the recipes have beautiful step-by-step pictures showing you exactly what to do, and the recipes cover everything from bread to cakes to pies. If you’re looking to seriously level up your baking skills and learn more about how baking works in general, this is an amazing book.
Favorite Recipes from this Book
- White Loaf (Just because MY first attempt at it sucked doesn’t mean YOURS will)
- Lemon and Blueberry Muffins
So there you have it. Whether you’re just starting baking or want to expand your skills, I hope you check out these cookbooks! Or just save 500 cookie recipes on Pinterest. We all do it.