Bake me a cake as fast as you can.
April 20, 2010 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I can't afford Pastry School, but I can afford Pastry Textbook School. What should I buy?

I want/need to get aaaaawesome at baking without dropping $16k on Pastry School. I want to get the most awesome texts possible to help me do this.

I'm not just looking for cookbooks. I want to understand the science behind baking as well, so I can learn to make recipes, not just regurgitate someone else's recipes. If something fails, I want to understand why it failed.

What do you home bakers/professional bakers/pastry chefs suggest?
posted by santojulieta to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely this: On Baking: A Textbook of Baking and Pastry Fundamentals
posted by Perplexity at 6:54 AM on April 20, 2010

Baking and Pastry, from the Culinary Institute of America.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 6:58 AM on April 20, 2010

As a home baker:
The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion has been surprisingly helpful. More for bread than pastry, though also for pastry.

Although I haven't actually READ it, I would also absolutely recommend Baking Illustrated, based on my experience with the magazine.
posted by contrarian at 7:26 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Cake Bible from Rose Levy Beranbaum.
Absolutely priceless, gives detailed explanations as to how different ingredients interact with each other in an easy to understand manner. Brings you through all the different classic cake varieties, and how to adjust/adapt them. Also has a section geared towards professional cake bakers and scaling up recipes.
posted by newpotato at 8:01 AM on April 20, 2010

Baking Illustrated, from the Cook's Illustrated people.

I'm Just Here For More Food by Alton Brown (this is his baking book).

Also, I got the Reinhart book for my girlfriend for Christmas and she loves it.
posted by kindall at 10:19 AM on April 20, 2010

Oh yeah, BakeWise.
posted by kindall at 10:22 AM on April 20, 2010

If you're specifically interested in pastries, I can not recommend enough finding a one day class or someone skilled who is willing to let you tag along. The flaky crusts and the buttery cookies are matters of knowing what the texture of the dough is supposed to be like. A four hour class will likely run less than $100 and will be an amazing investment. The classes here are reasonably priced and there are a few pastry classes. Check out the other cooking schools in your area for one and two day classes. A google search turned up lots of classes in Chicago. Really, truly, a hands on class is the way to become an outstanding pastry chef. There is so much subtlety in the difference between an OK pastry and a transcendent one.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:23 AM on April 20, 2010

Have you looked into community college or adult education classes? Here in San Diego there are some pretty awesome-sounding pastry classes that you can take for the cost of free.

but failing that, I would suggest anything by Shirley Corriher.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:21 AM on April 20, 2010

Are you in a big city? The community colleges in Seattle, for example, offer well-esteemed cooking courses (including baking theory and baking practicums) for way, way, way less than $16K. And you don't have to quit your job.
posted by halogen at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2010

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