For the avid dessert book collector, picking out the right book is such a task! It’s hard enough combing through the tens and hundreds of dessert books stacked on the racks of bookstores, but it’s even harder to tell if the book that looks right gives the recipes that taste right. If you’re looking for a book worthy of a special space in that discerning pastry chef’s bookshelf, here are a few suggestions you might consider taking a look at. Warning, though-you’ll be surprised at the mighty bundle some of these books can fetch.
Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry (4th edition) is an indispensable reference guide for a lot of pastry chefs, especially helpful for the avid hobbyist at home. Friberg is a certified Master Pastry Chef, and in this hefty tome he imparts in such excruciating detail all the ins and outs of pastry like only an expert can tell. He explains pastry terminologies, outlines pastry techniques and explains the principles behind them and gives hundreds of recipes from basic doughs and cakes to more elaborate or regional treats. This is practically the ultimate reference for bakers of all skill levels.
A follow up to his popular tome is the second volume, The Advanced Professional Pastry Chef. It’s also by Friberg, and it’s as lengthy and exhaustive as the first volume. You’d be surprised at how much more information there is to impart in this second book, after having completed the first, and this book surely delivers. It tackles more complicated and intricate techniques in detail, like marzipan decorations, cake decorating and chocolate and sugar craft. While this may not be a practical gift for the average hobbyist, it would certainly appeal to avid home bakers and those interested in the theory behind the craft. It would especially be an interesting present for aspiring pastry chefs.
The second tome in his Grand Livre series, in Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse’s Desserts and Pastries showcases more than 500 pages of the authors’ most cherished recipes and creations, drawing from past experience in the many kitchens he’s trekked through. Written together with master pastry chef Frederic Robert, this tome displays in full majesty some of the finest French desserts from none other that one of the finest modern chefs of France. The English translation has since been made available, and though the instructions may be patchy or redundant in some parts, the blunders are quite minor. This is a beautiful book, and though it costs quite a bit, its encyclopedic function makes up for it. Save up for this book, instead of buying a whole bunch of less functional and less beautiful books.
Dessert Cuisine is the English translation of Oriol Balaguer’s masterful tome La Cocina de los Postres. Balaguer is one of the leaders of the culinary revolution that’s been emerging in Spain, among the ranks of the famous innovator Adria. In this tome, he discusses some of his theories with us readers, and he discusses a lot of the relevant science behind the operating principles of baking ingredients and techniques. He explains the sense perception behind every culinary experience, and he shows us what unbridled creativity really means. Through the pages of the book, he dishes out ultra-modern, ultra-chic dessert creations, and instead of throwing in too much sugar into every dessert masterpiece, he minimizes the sugary feel, opting to make up for it by coming up with the most creative-and radical-dessert combinations. A tasting? Try imagining a sherbet with tomato ravioli and basil jelly for dessert! And Balaguer dishes out some of the popular and eclectic chocolates in the world, too!
On par with Balaguer’s work is fellow Spaniard Paco Torreblanca. While his work is not as radical and cutting edge as Adria’s and Balaguer’s (which are sometimes so outlandish that they turn out to be impractical for the home baker with limited equipment), Torreblanco has some very interesting, non-traditional and eye-catching flavor pairings. He also has some concept desserts up on grab, usually revolving around a single theme. However you read him, his ideas still fall under the “unconventional” class of pastry chefs-new and interesting terrain that few have so far dared to tread. The English translation of this beautiful book has recently been released, and it’s a heavy-and very expensive-tome, simply entitled Paco. It comes with a smaller “work manual”, which you can actually grab with you during one of your kitchen forays, allowing the pricey and heavy tome to rest on your coffee table, where it should.
Called the Picasso of pastry, Pierre Herme has become the equivalent of the ultra-chic Parisian patissier. Over the years, Herme has come up with modern interpretations of classic patisserie fare, and his works embody the richness and sophistication of this tradition. No radical ideas here, just some good old fashioned French baking and decorating-classic ideas and scrumptious recipes. His creations can range from casual elegance to outlandish creativity to the crème de la crème of haute dessert dining. Pierre’s first book, Patisserie of Pierre Herme, has an English edition translated from the original French and here he showcases some of his earlier works. This book is a rarer find, but it is worth it for the exhaustive explanation of technical methods and simply for the elegance of the different desserts. Herme has two other books written by Dorie Greenspan, Desserts by Pierre Herme and Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme. Both benefit greatly from Greenspan’s writing abilities, and French desserts are demystified right out of Herme’s kitchen. Both these latter books can more easily be found in any regular bookstore, and they too are absolute gems! They showcase elaborate dessert ideas, and also give base recipes on which more sophisticated dessert creations can be built. Imagination is the only limit here, and Herme’s work strongly attests to that.
Understanding Baking by Joseph Amendola is the manual that gives you the dibs on the how’s and why’s of baking. Surely, everyone’s heard of the saying that goes “baking is an exact science”. In this book, Amendola briefs us on the various properties of each and every unique ingredient-including the characteristics of the more than ten types of common flour. And if you didn’t know that sugar exists in other forms aside from the regular white sugar, brown sugar and the occasional powdered sugar, then this book is surely an interesting read.
Programma by Iginio Massari is a classic, blown up book by the master Italian pastry chef, a member of the exclusive Relais Desserts circle of master pastry chefs. The recipes here are good, following the more traditional path and are arranged according to festivity-something quite unique but in retrospect could conjure organizational problems for readers. It gives a lot of insightful and creative ideas on presenting food in the contexts of these special occasions The central focus in this book is the celebration behind the meal, and this book is surely a reason to celebrate. He shares a lot of new recipes here, from elaborate cakes to simple petit fours alike. It’ll surely be a treat with the master Italian’s classic touch.
Most of the books I’ve suggested are more tied to plated desserts and European cakes. There are so many other selections of books available on whimsical cake decorating (Colette Peters has some great books) and American baking. I find, though, that none can exude as much sophistication and elegance as European desserts. And they’ll surely add an extra special dimension to your holidays, too.