Light the oven and pour the drinks—the holidays are here, and it’s time to get baking!
They say the smell of freshly baked cookies or bread helps to sell a house, and for good reason—nothing screams complete comfort and heartwarming happiness more than delicious baked goods hitting your belly! As winter sets in and temperatures drop, firing up the oven is one of the coziest ways to pass the darker days without resorting to hibernation, and the holidays bring plenty of opportunity for hosting revelers who are surely expecting some cake and cookies. To help you with all of your holiday parties, from hosting to gifting, and to keep you thriving until spring blooms again, we’ve rounded up the best baking cookbooks from both time-tested bakers and exciting newcomers determined to keep your kitchen cranking out the goods all winter long.
'Sheet Pan Sweets'
The holidays can be stressful enough, so we’ll start with a time-saving super-guide, Sheet Pan Sweets, from sheet pan star Molly Gilbert, who revolutionized home cooking with this technique in 2014. The 80 recipes in this colorful guide generally cook faster and more evenly, cool faster, and allow you to whip up bigger batches of your favorite baked goods to entertain more guests with less time spent, often on a single sheet pan. It’s hard to imagine a greater gift you can give yourself, or your favorite host, this time of year than Gilbert’s user-friendly sheet pan guide to sheet cakes, cookies, rolled cakes, pies, and even breads.
'Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking'
Beloved for her charming Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia, Cheryl Day says baking is at the heart of every Southern meal and, in some ways, exemplifies the very tradition of Southern hospitality itself. If this is true, there are few better ways to master these techniques than by poring over the pages of Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking. Before diving into chapters ranging from Grits and Grains to Hot Breads and Crackers, you’ll want to spend some time becoming as intimately acquainted as possible with Day’s ten Southern Baking Rules. We won’t say they’re the new ten commandments of Southern baking, but we won’t say they’re not, either.
'Baking for Breakfast'
Also from Cheryl Day, along with her husband and co-owner of Back in the Day Bakery, Griffith Day, Baking for Breakfast is the perfect hostess gift, stocking stuffer, or little token of thanks to almost anyone. It’s especially ideal if you’re staying with family and friends overnight this season and angling for a beautiful morning spread! Kidding. Kinda. Don’t be fooled by the pint-size packaging of this little hardcover: It’s filled with 33 recipes that will fill your table from your first raspberry corn muffin through your tomato and chive tart, and all the way up to the last cinnamon sticky bun you’ll grab to-go as you get up after gorging.
'Simply Vegan Baking'
If you’re a fan of Netflix’s The Great British Baking Show, you’ll surely remember Freya Cox as not just the show’s youngest contestant, but also the first vegan contestant. In Simply Vegan Baking, Cox answers everything from the simple question of what to use instead of eggs to the more complex concerns of how to work with ingredients like aquafaba, making vegan baking accessible to anyone interested. Less a manifesto and more a friendly, outstretched hand, this cheerful cookbook is all about sharing the possibilities of baking vegan for yourself or anyone you might be hosting this season or beyond. The bonus Extras appendix of vegan jams, buttercreams, and curds is reason enough to dive into this animal-free primer.
Baking instantly conjures notions of irresistible cookies and decadent cakes, but let’s not forget the savory side of this wide spectrum, where quiches, pizzas, and breads reside. In Savory Baking, best-selling cookbook author Erin Jeanne McDowell delivers more than 100 recipes to bake your way through every meal of the day, with plenty of snacking between. While baking is often a by-the-numbers endeavor with strict measurements and precise techniques, Savory Baking opens the door to personalization with plenty of options for variation through substitutions, additions, and creative presentation flexibility. Don’t worry, there are still a handful of sweeter recipes sprinkled throughout for those who can’t navigate a whole day without at least a hint of sugar!
'Everyone Can Bake'
If you love the idea of baking but have been too afraid to give it a go, now’s your chance. In Everyone Can Bake, master of the croissant and 2017 World’s Best Baker award winner, Dominique Ansel (you may know him best as the inventor of the Cronut), offers a comprehensive class on mastering the art of elegant baking. Divided into chapters of Bases, Fillings, and Finishings, Ansel presents his foundational recipes for all the basics that can then be combined into further, more elaborate desserts, all conveniently mapped on a handy chart. A final chapter on Assembly & Techniques will have you preparing Instagram-worthy creations as picture-perfect as the pastries at his newest bakery at Caesars Palace, which just opened in October.
'Middle Eastern Sweets'
European baking may have the classic cookbook market cornered, but modern sensibilities and cravings are opening eyes and mouths to the traditions of other cultures. Middle Eastern Sweets brings the tantalizing scents of rose, hibiscus, and orange blossom to your home kitchen with dozens and dozens of dessert recipes from Lebanese chef Salma Hage who combines recipes from her own heritage with those of the surrounding region, adding some bonus fusions from European influence. From baklavas to bread, it’s not all baking in this one, but you’ll find more than enough recipes to keep your oven warm as you eat and drink your way through the most scrumptiously sweet recipes from the Middle East.
'Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook'
Finding a person more symbolic of the entire realm of hospitality than Martha Stewart is a tall task, so don’t bother. Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook offers the reassuring embrace you need to prepare something soul-warming from among more than 200 recipes in this 2005 classic. Sure, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but sometimes only the classics will do, and that’s what we all want from Martha, isn’t it? Popovers, pies, cakes, and croissants, it’s all here with step-by-step photo guidance from the undisputed queen of the kitchen, complete with the tips and tricks you’ll need for easy prep, perfect presentation, and proper storage. In her hallmark style, Stewart leaves no detail unaddressed within these pages.
'Evolutions in Bread'
Whether or not you ever baked bread before 2020, you’ve certainly encountered sourdough starters at some point since, even if only on social media. You may even still have yours snoozing in the fridge. While you won’t find sourdough recipes listed in Evolutions in Bread, they’re there—they’re just referred to as levains in this one, and they’re an integral part of the package. Designed for both beginners and pros, you’ll find an extensive collection from same-day breads to multi-day loaves, but not before a full 75 pages of background and education that will bring you up to speed on modern bread baking. It sounds like a lot, but don’t be daunted: This is truly a book for every home baker, and is specifically designed to make the process easier for you.
There’s no more systematic culinary tradition than that of the French, but Aleksandra Crapanzano says French cakes are deceptively simple creations and share the fundamentals with all of us in Gâteau, designed to bring some of that French savoir-faire to American tables. While the recipes are serious and many, the mood is every bit as playful and enchanting as the Paris afternoon of your frilliest fantasies, best encapsulated by Crapanzano’s early admission that the key to French cuisine rest in the spirited ethos, “When in doubt, add a splash,” (of booze, if you’re not following along). Working your way from cover to cover, the recipes increase in complexity, but they’re all designed to prove just how intuitive French baking can be once you get started.