More so than any other year (maybe even ever!), 2020 is the year that I have baked my heart out. And this isn’t because of the pandemic or lockdown either. At the end of 2019, I found myself with cookbooks that I had yet to try or review so I shifted these books — Duchess at Home (review), Simple Cake (review), Pastry Love (review), and Poilâne (review) — into the beginning of 2020. So, while technically, these books were not published in 2020, they are just a few baking titles I wholeheartedly enjoyed this year (I also managed to bake from many of the non-baking cookbooks I received this year too, but I’ll leave these for another roundup). And, if you’re looking for a gift for someone special, any of these books would put a smile on any baker’s face!
Baking isn’t something people need to do (at least not the sweet/treat kind). We bake because it is a meditative act filled with love. Baking is about creating something with love for our friends and family. Whether it was layer cakes for birthdays or cookies and squares for neighbours, friends and far-flung family I found myself using baking as a way to connect and to gift a physical reminder of my love.
Layer cakes were central to my baking this year. With the first birthday of the year (my daughter’s), I made her two glorious cakes — one from Joanne Chang’s Pastry Love and another from Odette Williams’ Simple Cake. The Malted Chocolate Cake w/ Malted Milk Frosting from Pastry Love is incredibly good. Chang’s recipe yields a cake that looks like it could have come from a bakery and, it’s a cake where the time I put in is really represented on the plate. This cake is still talked about. But, with cake baking this year, I learned that not all cakes require a herculean effort. With books like Simple Cakes or Yossy Arefi’s Snacking Cakes, the home baker is given recipes and a world of options to bake delicious, beautiful cakes that look like they took more effort to make than they did. Both books allowed me to bake cakes for the small occasions — coffee with friends, after school treat for my daughter, a treat for the cookbook club. Even bigger occasions — like the birthdays of family and friends — found cakes within the pages of these two books.
If given a choice, I’d pick cake over cookies any day, however, when a copy of Sarah Kieffer’s 100 Cookies (review) came into my life, I had to revise my opinion. Full of cookie (as well as “cookie adjacent”) recipes, after trying over a dozen of her recipes I’m converted. The cookies and squares from this book are so tremendously good that I’ve given away batches by the dozen to family and friends (I even went as far to send a box of the Neapolitan Cookies 5,000 km to my family in Edmonton). I almost hesitate to suggest this book because it is one of the most difficult-to-get books of this year but it is one of my favourites.
2020 also saw many home bakers nurturing their sourdough starters and baking epic amounts of bread. After trying a couple years ago to make sourdough, I found that it felt too much like tending to a pet or a child so I left sourdough baking up to the bakers at my favourite bakery (Birdies Bread Co.). When I received a copy of Poilâne, instead of trying to use their recipes to recreate Poilâne’s famous sourdough bread I, instead, tried all of their recipes which used sourdough bread to its full advantage. Tartines, bread granola and chocolate-covered bread chips are just a few of the memorable recipes I learned from the book.
Poilâne is also a book that allowed me to enjoy a little vicarious travel. During a year where I’m firmly planted at home, there were some baking books that let me see other parts of the world — whether it was France with Poilâne, Scotland with Flora Shedden’s Aran (review), or to my beloved hometown of Edmonton, Alberta with Giselle Courteau’s Duchess at Home, I’ve been everywhere (all from the comforts of my own kitchen). What I also loved about Aran and Duchess at Home is that both books offer savory and sweet recipes to bake and enjoy (the same may be said for Dessert Person, The Pastry School, and Pastry Love).
Baking in 2020 for me has been about love and comfort as well as skill-building. For years now I’ve admired the lovely pastries that Julie Jones creates. And, never in all those years did I think I could bake a tart like she does. This idea turned out to be completely wrong because with the careful instruction and guidance from her latest book, The Pastry School (review), I baked up the most breathtaking Apple Rose Tart (2020). One of the most important lessons I learned from Jones’ book is that patience is the key to creating gorgeous pastry.
Even though I’m baking from a couple of recent books — Edd Kimber’s One Tin Bakes and Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz — I’m not quite ready to write full reviews on them. Needless to say, that from what I’ve made both are excellent books. All of the recipes in Kimber’s book use a 9×13″ baking tin, and I was overjoyed to find a recipe for sheet pan scones in the book (not to mention the recipe for a sheet pan Dutch Baby pancake too). Enjoying Saffitz book too, if you’re unfamiliar with her I recommend watching an episode of her YouTube cooking show based on her book — a great way to see what some of the recipes are like!
My final mention is of a book that contains no recipes at all: Alice Oehr’s The Art of Cake. An artfully illustrated book about 50 different cakes from around the world. Another series of baking books by Maida Heatter brought the art of Alice Oehr into my life. Oehr’s distinctive illustrations also grace the pages of all three of Heatter’s recently published books: Happiness is Baking, Cookies are Magic, and Chocolate is Forever. I found reading through the origin stories for each cake fascinating!
This year I’m going to eschew my normal gift guides in favour of these cookbook roundups. So, stick around, I’ll be posting another cookbook grouping next week, along with my last cookbook review of 2020!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Penguin Random House Canada, Appetite by Random House, Clarkson Potter, Raincoast Books, Chronicle Books, Hardie Grant, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hachette Book Group Canada, Manda Book Group and Kyle Books for providing me with a free, review copies of most of these books (the books by Yossy Arefi, Odette Williams, and Alice Oehr were purchased by myself). I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Please not that this post does not contain any affiliated links.