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Baking can be a daunting undertaking with precise measuring, chemistry of ingredients, and rigid baking times. That said, a reliable baking cookbook can allay fears with clear directions and good foundational knowledge. Whether you are a novice in the world of baking powder vs. soda or have been popping fluffy cakes and golden-hued pie crusts out of the oven for years, there is something to learn from a good baking cookbook, whether that is a deep knowledge about varied flours, how to bake with minimal ingredients and equipment, or the intricacies of French patisserie.
From detailed volumes about bread to guides for approachable weeknight desserts, these are the best baking cookbooks.
Best for Entertaining: Nadiya Bakes: Over 100 Must-Try Recipes for Breads, Cakes, Biscuits, Pies, and More: A Baking Book
Metric measurements given
Savory and sweet recipes
Some recipes don’t have photographs
Fans of the "The Great British Baking Show" will recognize Nadiya Hussain, winner of the sixth season. "Nadiya Bakes," based on her Netflix show and BBC series, includes more than 100 straightforward recipes for inventive takes on breads, cakes, cookies, and even savory baked items.
Hussain’s cookbook opens with a letter to her great love: baking. The volume moves right into recipes organized by category, like tarts and pies. Each recipe includes a box with yield, prep/cook time, and best served and stored information. Ingredients are listed in order of use, and instructions are conveyed step by step in paragraph form. Though they are not bulleted, the steps feel like a conversation with Hussain.
Sections explaining equipment and basic procedures do not exist in this book, but she details everything necessary with all metric conversions within the ingredient list and instructions. Hussain offers her own lessons learned and stunning photographs alongside most recipes, making it a detailed cookbook appropriate for novices and seasoned bakers alike, as well as an engaging read.
Pages: 256 | Recipes: Over 100 | Date Published: 2021
Best New Release: The Savory Baker: 150 Creative Recipes, from Classic to Modern
Not very useful for preparing desserts
Not many cookbooks take a deep dive into the art of savory baking, which is what makes America Test Kitchen’s latest release such a gem for those interested in learning how to whip up scones, biscuits, and other hearty pastries from scratch. The book also includes recipes inspired by cuisines from other countries, such as bao from China, spanakopita from Greece, and pizza chiena from Italy. Plus, much of the content can be used to prepare main dishes, including flatbreads, stovetop bakes, pot pies, and bread puddings.
Pages: 368 | Recipes: 150 | Date Published: 2022
Best for Beginners: The King Arthur Baking Company's All-Purpose Baker's Companion
Lots of recipes
Detailed, step-by-step instructions
Strong foundational information
Breaks down baking terminology
Very few photos
Foundational would be an understatement when describing "The King Arthur All-Purpose Baking Companion." Revised and updated in 2021, it still contains the illustrated step-by-step guides, recipe explainers, techniques, and reliable recipes cookbook enthusiasts have cherished since it first published. It is not flashy—just thorough.
Each chapter precisely explains the basic elements of a dish, how they work with each other, and why they are necessary. Plus, there is a nod to iterations of baked goods from different regions. For example, the fried doughs chapter includes New England doughnuts and Hawaiian malasadas.
For a just-starting-out baker, the depth of information is enviable. If you wonder about a measurement or ingredient, there is an explanation. This updated version includes revised recipes, modern ingredients, more measurement conversions, and ingredient information based on recent studies. "The Baker’s Companion" will help beginning bakers feel comfortable with the what, why, and how of baking.
Pages: 592 | Recipes: More than 350 | Date Published: Updated in 2021
Best for Bread: The Bread Baker's Apprentice, 15th Anniversary Edition: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread
Metric and temperature conversion charts
Good foundational knowledge
If you are still hungry for bread-baking after the year of sourdough starters, Peter Reinhart’s "The Bread Baker’s Apprentice" is a worthy volume to chew on. It is a James Beard and IACP Award Winner containing 200 easy-to-follow recipes, metric and temperature conversion charts, comprehensive baker’s percentages, and abundant gorgeous photography.
Reinhart shares the 12 stages of bread he learned apprenticing with French master bakers. Recipes have step-by-step photographs, too, making this an accessible volume that will appeal to novice and seasoned bakers. There are directions for basic French loaves, but you will also find challah, sticky buns, bagels, pizza dough, and more. The 50 master recipes are expanded into myriad bread iterations in Reinhart’s distinctive, clear voice.
Pages: 336 | Recipes: 50 master, 200 total | Date Published: 2016
Best for Cake: Zoë Bakes Cakes: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Favorite Layers, Bundts, Loaves, and More
Good foundational overview
Cake is synonymous with special occasions, and "Zoë Bakes Cakes" by Zoë François offers the gamut from decadent coconut candy bar cake to homey vanilla bean pound cake. François shares her journey with the dessert from Twinkies in her lunch box to passionate cake walks across New York City to her popular Magnolia Network show that inspired this book.
Recipes are organized by cake type and include measurements in volume and weight, as well as references to a section called “cake academy,” in which François lays out the food science and precise techniques of cake making. The more than 85 recipes are clearly written and include tips and variations to personalize your cake.
She makes the world of cake accessible through step-by-step photo guides for fundamentals, like the stages of meringue peaks or creaming butter, as well as detailed explanations of ingredients and equipment. She takes readers from raw ingredient to finished product in an approachable, thorough path, explaining the why and how along the way.
Pages: 272 | Recipes: More than 85 | Date Published: 2021
Best for Gluten-Free: Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Flours
Organized by flour type
Detailed explanation of flour types
Recipes range ability levels
Mainly basic recipes
Rather than replicate gluten-included baked goods, Alice Medrich approaches gluten-free baking as a celebration of what is possible with non-wheat flours. She uses flavors and textures inherent in rice, coconut, teff, buckwheat, and sorghum flours, and explores how the chemistry of combining them with other ingredients produces not a substitute product, but a baked good in its own right.
Each chapter is organized by flour type and includes information about flavor profile, how to best use it in recipes, and how to store it. The nearly 125 recipes run the spectrum from chestnut jam tart to blueberry corn flour cobbler to ricotta cheesecake. Furthermore, the included lists of basic ingredients, equipment, and tips for success are approachable for bakers of any level wanting to try alternative flours.
The recipes are clearly written, and ingredients are listed by order of use. Most are accompanied by a beautiful photograph of the finished product. Best of all, "Flavor Flours" has a thorough general index plus an additional flour index that makes cross-referencing recipes easy.
Pages: 368 | Recipes: Nearly 125 | Date Published: 2014
Best for Pie: The Book On Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies
Good foundational knowledge
Wide range of ability levels
Steps explained early must be revisited
It’s always a good time for pie, and Erin McDowell’s "Book on Pie" will get you to the golden-hued crust, bubbly-on-the-inside finish line. McDowell, resident baker for Food52 and host of the brand's “Bake It Up A Notch” Instagram series, offers guidance on equipment and ingredients, and shares her take on the problems and process of pie-making playfully titled, “Whys of Pie” and “Pie Pep Talk.”
In addition to more than 240 recipes, "The Book on Pie" includes practical advice for make-ahead steps and storage options. Bakers will not find as many photographs occupying page real estate as some baking volumes, but that space is filled with recommendations for filling and crust options, how to make a recipe gluten-free, and clear guidance about using dough scraps and leftover bits. The photographic guides demystify the sometimes complicated process of mixing and rolling out pie dough properly, and the chapter “Decor & Toppings” will take your pies to the next level.
Pages: 352 | Recipes: More than 240 | Date Published: 2020
Best for Kids: The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs: 100+ Sweet and Savory Recipes that You'll Love to Bake, Share and Eat!
Good foundational knowledge
Wide variety of baked goods
Some similar recipes
The best way to get kids interested in baking is to involve them in the process. America’s Test Kitchen has been putting out reliable recipes for years, and its "Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs" is no exception. It includes more than 100 kid-tested recipes with clear directions, guiding photos and illustrations, and step-by-step instructions on technique.
The language of the book is approachable, and the foundational knowledge included in the beginning of the book will help any young person feel confident to dive into baking. Bits of trivia and reviews from some of the kid testers aid in making this an engaging read for would-be bakers of all ages. In this 2019 New York Times bestseller, kids will learn the basics of melting butter, how to roll out dough, and tips for tasty empanadas, pizza, and more.
Pages: 224 | Recipes: More than 100 | Date Published: 2019
Best for French Baking: The Art of French Pastry: A Cookbook
Lots of recipes
Good technique instructions
Good foundational knowledge
Recipes scaled by weight
French pastry is not for the faint of heart, but Jacquy Pfeiffer and Martha Rose Shulman deliver an executable path in "The Art of French Pastry." The book opens with Pfeiffer’s childhood in Alsace, France, thorough training and rise through France’s pastry ranks, and eventual move to the U.S. to open a pastry school.
Technique is at the forefront in this detailed cookbook. Readers are guided through scaling ingredients, evaluation of tools, and understanding of essential ingredients. Time-lapse photos, diagrams, and illustrations appear throughout to aid in success. Pfeiffer even goes so far as to show broken meringue, and then guides the reader through how to repair it.
Methodical recipes are accompanied by sidebars detailing “before you begin” procedures and “understanding ingredients” explanations. Additionally, direction is given on how to know something is done and proper storage/shelf life information. This book will take you to the pastry shops of France—making brioche and cream puffs—to your home kitchen without the cost of a plane ticket.
Pages: 432 | Recipes: More than 350 | Date Published: 2013
Best for Easy Weeknight Desserts: Snacking Cakes: Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings: A Baking Book
Very little equipment required
Wide variety of recipes
Ingredient variations offered
Non-standardized weight to volume conversion
Sometimes you just want an easy dessert on a weeknight without the fuss of a lot of prep. If that is the situation, this is the book. "Snacking Cakes" by Yossy Arefi was named the best cookbook of the year by Bon Appetit and The New York Times, and it's an IACP Award Finalist. The 50 recipes require minimal ingredients, one pan, one mixing bowl, and no stress.
"Snacking Cakes" starts with foundational instruction on baking pans, basic ingredient details, and simple substitutions. Each recipe includes pan options to make use of what you already own, flavor variations, and ways to “dress it up,” all in easy-to-read sidebar text. Directions are clear and laid out in step-by-step bullets, and each recipe is accompanied by a stunning photograph of the finished product. The ample white space makes for easy readability, and both the included metric conversion chart at the end and thorough index aid in accessibility.
Pages: 192 | Recipes: 50 | Date Published: 2020
What to Look for in a Baking Cookbook
There is a baking cookbook out there for every ability level. The key is to peruse your options and decide if it meets what you are seeking. If you are just starting on your baking journey, look for a book with approachable, comfortable recipes you won’t be intimidated by. If you are a seasoned baker, you can handle stretch recipes that incorporate multi-step instructions. Or maybe you are looking to grow depth in a particular category, like French pastry. Wherever you are on the baking spectrum, be sure you purchase a book you will love and grow with.
One of the loudest complaints when it comes to cookbooks is complicated, inaccessible ingredient lists. Be sure to check out a couple of recipes to ensure you are getting a baking book you can shop ingredients for. If you live in an area with limited shopping options, you may want to go for a volume that utilizes pantry staples. If you have access to more global markets, don’t be afraid of specialized ingredient lists.
One of the best parts of buying a new baking book is thumbing through the pages and admiring the gorgeous photography. Is there an aesthetic you are going for with your cookbook collection? Maybe you only buy hardcover, maybe spiral-bound is your choice, or maybe you like the dog-eared, page-flagged paperbacks. Whatever your style is, make sure your new addition adds to that—bonus if you are a visual learner and step-by-step photograph instructions are included.
Though some can bake from loose instructions, most people who buy baking books are looking for clear, detailed directions. Some considerations in this category are measurement conversions, step-by-step instructions, and precise baking temperatures and times. Some baking books utilize weight or metric measurements—be sure you are comfortable with how the book breaks this down or whether it has conversion charts that make sense to you.
Every oven is different, and variance in temperature and time is expected. Your best weapon in this is a properly calibrated oven thermometer. Beyond that tool, be sure the recipes in your baking cookbook have a precise call for temperature and bake times to avoid baking disaster. The clearer all aspects of the directions are, the better your odds are for success. It's also great if your cookbook has an index to reference.
What baking ingredients should you always have in your pantry?
“Definitely always have a good organic all-purpose flour,” says Heirloom Bakery and Kitchen owner Mickey Walker. “And if you’re gluten free, I highly recommend Bobs Red Mill 1:1 flour as an alternative option.” Other items she considers to be indispensable are baking powder, baking soda, a milk or milk alternative, vanilla extract or paste, and butter or vegan margarine.
What cookware is essential to baking?
As a professional baker, Walker’s essentials include bowls, measuring cups, spoons, whisks, spatulas, and baking sheets. “I also highly value my KitchenAid stand mixer. I use it for all my cookie doughs and frostings,” she says. “I also use a double-meshed strainer for sifting all my dry ingredients together. Flour, spices, cocoa powder—all of those can be quite clumped, and you never want to bite into a piece of bakery and get a clump of ginger or flour, so it’s always a good idea to take that step and sift it."
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Carrie Honaker is a food writer who believes in eating dessert first and collecting cookbooks—lots of cookbooks. As a restaurateur and avid home cook, she has baked thousands of pastries, pies, and cakes. She knows the importance of reliable recipes when dealing in the chemistry of baking. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Bon Appetit, Allrecipes, and Wine Enthusiast.
Rachel Werner is a culinary writer who has been profiling farmers, chefs, restaurants, and food-based businesses for more than eight years. Her enthusiasm for food photography and recipe development is also evident in content she’s created for a variety of regional and national publications, such as The Gourmet Insider, Fabulous Wisconsin, and Hobby Farms Magazine. See examples of Rachel’s work on Instagram @trulyplanted.