Baking for the Holidays

by Alyssa Yenzer

Baking for the Holidays

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian

Cover of "Pastry Love" by Joanne Chang. The title in white cursive font is over a close up of toasted square pastries with figs in the middle, which are being dusted with sugar. The holidays have come around again, and for many people (myself included) that means baking. Due to busy schedules, my family’s holiday celebrations will be happening late this year, which gives me plenty of time to decide what I should bake for them. Should I bake my favorite chocolate cookies? Should I try a new cupcake recipe? Or should I go with a classic pie? Here are some of the cookbooks I’ll be perusing as I determine which desserts to bake for the holidays and into next year.

Sarah Kieffer’s aptly-named “Baking for the Holidays” is the obvious place to start. Bakes are divided up by occasion, starting with breakfast and going through all manner of desserts to make and share. Desserts include the usual winter flavors of mint, hot chocolate, and winter fruits like pears and cranberries. The best part of Kieffer’s book may be shortcuts for making fiddly doughs for croissants and Danishes, which place difficult pastries within the reach of less-experienced home bakers.

Dorie Greenspan quickly became one of my personal favorite bakers after I discovered the glorious tome “Dorie’s Cookies.” Her newest book, “Baking with Dorie,” continues to be a joy, with simple-yet-complex recipes that could be used for many occasions. Better yet, Greenspan frequently offers advice for different situations (like mixing by hand or with a stand mixer) and suggests ways to improvise and make the recipes your own. The hardest thing about baking from this book may be picking one recipe to get started with. I’ll be starting with her World Peace Cookies 2.0, an easier version of her classic chocolate cookies that are so good they could start world peace.

My go-to baking cookbook is “Pastry Love” by Joanne Chang, a book that boasts recipes for two of the best foods I’ve ever baked. As soon as I first made them, Apple Cider Sticky Buns seemed destined for a winter morning shared with family, and Chang’s recipe for Billionaire’s Shortbread is perfect to make in large batches for cookie exchanges. “Pastry Love” also includes recipes for desserts with traditional winter flavors like Eggnog Cheesecake with Gingerbread People, Peppermint Kisses, and Vanilla-Mint Marshmallows. If you’re an intermediate-level baker, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

The King Arthur Baking Company just updated their compendium of cookie recipes, “The Essential Cookie Companion,” which includes over 400 recipes for cookie goodness. Though this book doesn’t include full-color photographs of cookies, it more than makes up for that with the breadth and depth of information included. Not only are there hundreds of cookie recipes, but there’s information about gluten-free flours, high-altitude baking, and even how to package up your treats for sharing.

If pies are more your speed than cookies, Erin Jeanne McDowell’s “The Book on Pie” has you covered. Not only does McDowell love pie, but she has a gift for explaining and simplifying the science behind it. McDowell covers everything from troubleshooting dough problems to picking which kind of fat to use in a crust to determining how much dough you need for various sizes of pies. Truly, this book is a wonder for pie-baking enthusiasts!

            If there’s a young’un in your life, you may be planning on baking with them this holiday season. The Children’s Room has many cookbooks that can facilitate such efforts, but America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs” would be my first choice. Not only does this book have easy recipes that are ideal for kids, but it also walks young bakers through the baking process with straightforward steps and photos of every recipe. Maybe best of all, there’s a pumpkin pie recipe that’s impossible to burn (it’s made with gelatin and chills to set).

Whenever your family celebrates this holiday season, I hope there are books and baked goods aplenty. And as always, we’ll be here for you in the new year, ready with books on all topics of interest to you and yours.