Parenting during a pandemic is part pleasure, part pandemonium. When everything seems out of sorts—from our schedule to our mood—my eight-year-old daughter and I bake.
Making cake and pie and cookies has given our days structure, purpose, and joy. In the mornings, we flip through cookbooks for inspiration; in the evenings, once my work day is over, we gather our ingredients and tinker and play in the kitchen. We have made pizza, funfetti biscotti, naan, cocoa brownies, lemon shortbread, chocolate doughnuts, red velvet cake, and so much more. We have left baked goods on our neighbors’ doorsteps—once we were told it was relatively safe to do so—because sharing sweet treats with others, even at a distance, is truly the best.
As families look toward an uncertain fall and winter, a list of beloved baking cookbooks might come in handy. Here are a few favorites that have provided my daughter and I with structure, stimulation, and, most importantly, sweets.
The Social Distancing Era Is the Baking Era
Suddenly, baking an extravagant cake on a Tuesday just feels right.
American Girl Baking: Recipes for Cookies, Cupcakes & More by Williams-Sonoma and American Girl
We’re big fans of this introductory cookbook of easy, crowd-pleasing American and western European bakes, including cookies, madeleines, and cupcakes, as well as a number of slightly more involved recipes for blueberry turnovers, chocolate and raspberry tartlets, and a golden layer cake with chocolate frosting. The book is written for young bakers, with copious safety instructions, including when to ask an adult caregiver for help.
American Girl Baking: Recipes for Cookies, Cupcakes & More
Baking Basics and Beyond: Learn These Simple Techniques and Bake Like a Pro by Pat Sinclair
Written for adult beginners, this collection of 100-plus recipes is equally appropriate for the young novice. It focuses on the rudiments of baking, and provides step-by-step instructions to learn necessary techniques, such as how to dissolve yeast and how to melt chocolate. Sinclair emphasizes the “interconnection among techniques”; once a young baker learns how to cut fat into flour, she can make biscuits, pie dough, streusel topping, and more.
Baking Basics and Beyond: Learn These Simple Techniques and Bake Like a Pro
How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science by Paula Figoni
Baking is as much science as it is art, and I refer to this 500 plus-page reference text whenever my daughter asks me why we use a kitchen scale or questions about the chemistry of sugar or other sweeteners. Although not exactly a cookbook, and certainly not a book a young child could navigate by themselves, How Baking Works is a meticulous, invaluable guide for any science-minded home chef-in-training.
How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science
BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks
During this pandemic, we’ve braved the grocery store only for essential goods, and often fun treats have been left off the shopping list. Stella Parks’ book has helped us recreate some of this missing confectionery magic at home. We’ve made Animal Crackers, Homemade Oreos, and Homemade Pop-Tarts from her inventive and entertaining debut cookbook. It’s possibly the most joyful cookbook on our shelves. We appreciate her explanations of food science and the history of American desserts and brands.
BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts
The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs by America’s Test Kitchen Kids
This cookbook brings ATK’s signature expert guidance to 100-plus sweet and savory recipes written for a young audience. Each recipe has been tested by tween cooks, and their insights accompany each recipe: “Soft, crunchy, salty, 10/10,” says Max, age 11, of Soft Pretzels. The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs has more non-Western-ish recipes than many other cookbooks for children (flatbread with za’atar, empanadas, pão de queijo), and it gets good use in our kitchen.
The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs
Milk & Cardamom: Spectacular Cakes, Custards and More, Inspired by the Flavors of India by Hetal Vasavada
Vasadva, a blogger and former Master Chef contestant, draws on her Indian American upbringing in this paperback volume. She provides not only recipes for South Asian-inspired American-style bakes, like her viral Gulab Jamun Bundt Cake, but also for desserts that highlight Indian dessert-making techniques, like her Peanut Ladoo Buckeye Balls. Vasadva’s recipes are easy and accessible, and my daughter loves that many of them make use of the flours, herbs, and spices in her grandmother’s pantry.
Milk & Cardamom: Spectacular Cakes, Custards and More, Inspired by the Flavors of India
Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts by Maida Heatter
The Queen of Cake’s recipes are detailed and carefully considered. “Read the recipes carefully and follow them exactly,” she exhorts. Her recipes are lengthy and the book has only but a few black and white illustrations, but her conversational and encouraging style makes it feel as if Heatter’s in our kitchen, holding our hands as we recreate her Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies or East 62nd Street Lemon Cake. Her ethos, of cooking as “an act of love” and a “beautiful mountainous escape,” as she writes in the introduction, is deeply resonant.
Maida Heatter’s New Book of Great Desserts
Simple Cake: All You Need to Keep Your Friends and Family in Cake by Odette Williams
This slim cookbook has recipes for only 10 cakes (and 15 toppings), but each one is uncomplicated and unfussy—and suitable for all cake-worthy moments, big and small. In her introduction, Williams writes that her cakes are “simple enough to survive a little household chaos…let’s just agree that pandemonium is one of the ingredients,” and she encourages a little lopsidedness in service of love and sharing and joy. We love mixing-and-matching cakes, toppings, and decorations based on what we have in the pantry and what we are in the mood to celebrate.
Simple Cake: All You Need to Keep Your Friends and Family in Cake
Weeknight Baking: Recipes to Fit Your Schedule by Michelle Lopez
Even pre-pandemic, we baked in small windows of time—on Sunday evenings or after finishing weekday chores. Blogger Lopez’s cookbook includes simple recipes that come together in a few hours (such as Almost No Mess Shortbread), and more involved ones that can be made “over a few nights” (like the White Wedding Cake). The book stresses time-saving tips and making do with ingredients on hand, and is not only helpful for a baking-obsessed, time-strapped executive, like Lopez, but also for any busy parent.
Weeknight Baking: Recipes to Fit Your Schedule
Dorie’s Cookies by Dorie Greenspan
This is the perfect cookbook for the child who wants to push the boundaries of cookie-baking, to experiment with flavors, and to create unexpected and magnificent-sounding creations, from Sweet Potato Pie Bars to White Chocolate and Poppy Seed Cookies to Honey-and-Tea Jammers. Greenspan’s chocolate chocolate chip World Peace Cookies, which we perfume with cardamom and garnish with fleur de sel, are a house favorite.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious