The Best Cookbooks to Gift Bakers This Holiday Season

published Dec 21, 2019
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Fact: Cookbooks make great holiday gifts. They nudge family and friends to take a break from their busy lives, put on an apron, pull out the flour, and slow down long enough to enjoy the process of making something from scratch. For bakers in particular, a new cookbook comes as a serious treat. Bakers tend to live by the book, relying on trusted authors who get the measurements, timing, and details just right. So whether they’re into nostalgic cakes and pies, kneading modern sourdough, or spinning fresh ice cream flavors, the right cookbook is going to enrich their lives throughout the entire year. 

As a former cookbook editor with a cookie dough obsession, allow me to share my key shopping tip: The best baking books are those that have been seriously vetted. I couldn’t care less if the author is a pro pastry chef or dedicated home cook — as long as the recipes have been tested again and again and reliably work. Unlike other categories, where you might focus on convenience, I forgive slightly longer cook times! This is project cooking, and I’m not baking a cake because it’s quick and easy. That said, it always depends on the recipient — whether she’s more relaxed or technical in the kitchen, and what she wakes up craving on a Saturday morning. 

Fortunately, there have been some sweet cookbooks for bakers to hit shelves in recent years. From retro-fabulous classics by the queens of cakes and pies to hot takes on pizza and ice cream, here are the best cookbooks for bakers this season. 

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1. Happiness Is Baking by Maida Heatter 

Maida Heatter, beloved cookbook author and “queen of cake,” sadly passed away at the age of 102 this year. Fortunately, she lives on through her final cookbook, a new collection of existing recipes filled with home-baked comforts, including the cookies she was known for handing out of her purse, as well as her legendary Palm Beach Brownies and East 62nd Street Lemon Cake. 

Buy: Happiness Is Baking, $28

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2. BraveTart by Stella Parks 

Published in 2017 and winner of a James Beard Award in 2018, of all the cookbooks from the past few years, I can’t stop baking the brownies from this one. Stella Parks is a pastry pro and the authority over at Serious Eats, so her recipes are seriously dialed in. She’s into classic Americana, which means homemade versions of chocolate wafer cookies, glossy fudge brownies, and yellow birthday cake — all steeped in nostalgia. 

Buy: BraveTart, $35

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3. Simple Cake by Odette Williams 

Odette Williams, an Australian expat turned Brooklyn mom, is bringing back the simple pleasure of homemade cake. More relaxed than most, this is a rare and wonderful baking book, offering 10 basic cakes and 15 toppings, with lots of ideas for how to mix and match. Consider it the antidote to all of the outrageous decorating videos your friend watches (and never attempts) on Instagram, and a much more inspiring way to share something sweet and simple with family and friends. 

Buy: Simple Cake, $23

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4. Sister Pie by Lisa Ludwinski 

Sister Pie is a Detroit bakery run by women, known for all-butter pies filled with seasonal produce (as well as impromptu dance parties). Owner and baker Lisa Ludwinski baked at Milk Bar and Four and Twenty Black Birds in New York before returning to her hometown, Motor City; restoring an old beauty shop; and serving pie to the community. Her book technically came out last year, but it’s still one of the sweetest options this season. (It was the November pick for Kitchn’s Cookbook Club!)

Buy: Sister Pie, $25

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5. Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek & JJ Goode 

I might be biased as a Portland kid, but as someone who has stood in line in the relentless drizzle in order to get the cinnamon snickerdoodle, freckled woodblock chocolate, and roasted strawberry with white chocolate, I’m officially excited that the wildly popular Salt & Straw has come out with its first cookbook. If you know a pastry wizard who’s tackled cookies and cakes, custards are the logical next step, and if they’ve been extra nice this year, throw in the ice cream maker.  

Buy: Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook, $25

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6. Bread on the Table by David Norman 

David Norman was a pro bread baker and instructor before opening Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden in Austin, Texas. Unlike a lot of sourdough obsessives, his highly anticipated first book also explores different traditions and types of European bread, from French levain and Italian ciabatta to German pretzels and Scandinavian rye. For avid home bakers, this one breaks new bread. 

Buy: Bread on the Table, $35

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7. Perfect Pan Pizza by Peter Reinhart 

Detroit-style pizza (so much Detroit!) hit the road this past year, with square pies trending in restaurants around the country. Bread expert and longtime cookbook author Peter Reinhart is digging into the category, with not just Detroit-style, but also Roman- and Sicilian-inspired pies. Pressing dough into a sheet pan might feel easier than stretching and shimmying, and who doesn’t love homemade pizza?

Buy: Perfect Pan Pizza, $23

It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time to do some gift shopping! We’re sharing our favorite picks for anyone on your list — check out all of our gift guides here!