The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What makes a baking book great?

colombaker's picture

What makes a baking book great?


I'm in the process of writing a book on Latin American baked goods for home use and realised it'd be really smart to ask you guys what features you consider set a great baking book [for home use] apart from the mere good ones.

In other words -and fully aware that every great book excels in its niche and has, thus, traits that may not be desirable across the board- what characteristics do you look for or appreciate the most in baking books?

Thank you very much!


Bob Marley's picture
Bob Marley

Baker's percentages, metric measurements, protein composition of the flours used.

dabrownman's picture

is good when you learn something new from it.  Something that you can't find with the search function on TFL .  Seriously!

PetraR's picture

I am with Bob Marley , Baker's percentages, metric measurements , what four used, protein in the Flour * not per cup * though.

MisterTT's picture

as possible, give water temperatures, desired dough temperatures, fermentation times for those temperatures. It makes tweaking the formula to your particular situation easier.

And like DB says, it's always nice to see something you haven't seen! I can pardon some technical deficiencies if the book is interesting as an idea book, like for example Carol Fields' Italian Baker.

isand66's picture

Agree with all of the above.  I also think good photography of each recipe and clear concise directions are very important.

lepainSamidien's picture

I would consider for what audience the book is aiming: are you trying to make it more of a recipe book, or a descriptive-explorative book? That is, is the audience for whom the work is intended going to be learning how to bake from your work, or is it going to be more of a coffee table book?

I don't want to establish any hierarchy of baking books--each kind has its own merits--but there exists a very wide range of functions that each of them can possess. For example, the FCI's "Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking" offers a hyper-scientific approach to artisan bread-baking, meant as a companion to professional instruction; alternately, a book like Maggie Glezer's "Artisan Baking Across America," while offering techniques and formulas, is more of a casual reading adventure, the bulk of it devoted to descriptions and narratives rather than techniques and formulas. These are, of course, only two examples among many others; I invoke them to show that not all baking books are created equally, and purposefully so.

The books I have found most helpful are those in which I can feel the author's voice and experience coming through. While baker's percentages, metric measurements, etc., ARE helpful, I feel most comfortable when I believe that the person writing the recipe has actually had his or her hands in the dough and can therefore provide me with more than just "this is how it SHOULD work . . . " I want to hear about failures, about quirks in the recipe, about all the things that could go wrong or could freak me out. For example, try telling an amateur baker to mix and knead a dough, by hand, with a good amount of rye flour thrown into the mix: it would be fantastic to give a personal heads-up that rye flour doesn't behave well, and that the dough might not come together like one would expect. Again, just one example out of many, but I hope it's helpful.

Best of luck and keep us posted!!!

sandydog's picture

It would be helpful if we knew your motives for wishing to write a bakery book? The world is not short of them - dozens come onto the market each year - most sink without trace after the initial "Hou ha" my bookcase is full of them.

If you are famous - And have your own television series on baking - you will sell lots of books.

Of course that does not necessarily make it a good book - but it will be good for you financially, if that is one of your motives.

If no one has ever heard of you - your book can be the best in the world - your sales will be small.

If I was to write a book (And my motive was financial) I would compare all the best sellers in the area I was intending to write about and include all the common characteristics I spotted in them and then try to get a "Celebrity" face on the frontspiece to attract potential buyer's attention.

If my motive was not financial then I would just do it the way I wanted to, and let the world decide if it wanted to read it or not.

Good luck with your project - I hope it brings you joy (And lots of money),


Twisted Brick's picture
Twisted Brick

Photography is a beneficial element to instruction of processes and technique.  Unfortunately, I bought a famous-name bread book that skipped photos and relies on simple drawings in order to maximize profits.  Also, a good book needs to include information on how recipes/ingredients  and processes work and differ from each other, not a series of pats on the back for creating cost-effective recipes for paying commercial clients. 

mcs's picture

Here you go.  Buy this book, take a look and you'll see what makes a baking book great.  It's in Spanish, has a ton of pictures, great descriptions, formulas in grams, and the whole nine yards.  Shaggy mass?  Nope, it shows you what the dough is supposed to look like.  65% hydration dough?  Yes, photos of the differences between different hydrations.  Pizza, focaccia, baguettes, tang zhong, bao...   Seriously, get this book and have a look.  It's the best bread book I've ever owned BY FAR. 


PaddyL's picture

I've found Rose Levy Beranbaum's books to be packed with hyperbole, too much information.  Write the recipes as you make them, and be as laid back as possible.  Be comfortable with baking and do not toss in too much information.  Give measurements in cups and weights, and make sure to tell the readers not to use both at the same time.'s picture

I agree with user mcs, a book with very specific, detailed instructions, along with photos illustrating what the dough should look like at various stages, is what makes a great book.  Instructions that are brief, concise, and clear rather than laborious and overly wordy also help.

clearlyanidiot's picture

I've been having an urge to pass along a bit of what I've learned about/from baking and the comments in this thread have been thought provoking. 

Is a book the only way to get information out there? Until it's done I'm not sure how much I have to say. I was thinking along the lines of PDF file or the like.