Food Science Reading

Since I’m sometimes asked, I figured it would be easiest to compile a list of food science books that I can update as I continue to read and learn. These books vary in their scope of baking or cooking, their focus on recipes versus science, and how engaging they are to read, so I’ve included little blurbs about each to help you evaluate which might fit your interests best.

P.S. I know books can be an investment, so I like to check them out from my local library first! From there, if I think I will refer to them often, I will make the purchase.

Books exclusively about baking

BakeWise by Shirley Corriher

Baking and/or cooking? Baking
Recipes? Yes
BakeWise holds a special place in my heart because it showed me that other people interested enough in baking science for someone to write a whole book about it. It’s organized into five chapters, each dedicated to a type of baked good (cakes, steam-leavened bakes like choux, pies, cookies, and breads). Corriher comprehensively describes the science of the ingredients and preparation of each bake with her engaging voice, then takes one step further to share innovative, chemistry-informed techniques. She also includes hundreds of recipes that use these tricks. When I first got the book, I read it straight through, cover to cover. Corriher’s writing and insights were just that good.

How Baking Works by Paula Figoni

Baking and/or cooking? Baking
Recipes? No
How Baking Works is a textbook written for future pastry chefs. It’s dry, and it contains details about ingredients that home bakers don’t often use. Furthermore, it’s not really written from a chemical perspective—sometimes it’s left to the reader to make the leap from the “what” the book describes to the “how” that science answers.

Even so, it’s packed with information. The book is mainly organized by ingredient type (flours, sweeteners, fats, eggs, leaveners, fruits, nuts, dairy, and so on), and it describes where our ingredients come from, different variations that are commercially available, and ingredient interactions. It also covers the basics of different ingredients’ chemical structures pretty clearly, with simple illustrations to help the reader picture what’s going on. Each chapter also comes with instructions for experiments to demonstrate the theory described in the text, and there are review questions to make sure you’ve cemented your understanding. If you can make it through the wall of text, it’s a great resource.

Bread Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen

Baking and/or cooking? Baking
Recipes? Yes
Bread Illustrated is primarily a collection of recipes for dozens of different types of breads, from rustic loaves to international breads to dinner rolls. However, it begins with an introduction to the science behind basic bread techniques, including sponges, with photos to illustrate how the science translates into bread dough. Throughout the book, each recipe is preceded by notes on its development, which also provide insights into how science can help us troubleshoot recipes.

The Perfect Cookie by America’s Test Kitchen

Baking and/or cooking? Baking
Recipes? Yes
Like Bread Illustrated, The Perfect Cookie contains dozens of recipes, some internationally inspired, with development notes and full-color photographs. It’s divided into chapters by type of cookie, including drop cookies, slice and bake cookies, cookie sandwiches, and gluten-free cookies. The gluten-free cookies are made with a homemade flour substitute, but the recipes also include notes for using commercial gluten-free flours. Each chapter includes a brief section of scientific concepts specific to that type of cookie, and the introduction of the book describes the science behind general cookie techniques and ingredients. My favorite part was the table that summarized how each ingredient could be manipulated to make cakey, chewy, or crisp cookies.

Books with baking and cooking

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

Baking and/or cooking? Both, with an emphasis on cooking
Recipes? No
Harold McGee is one of the foremost writers who brought food science to the home cook. On Food and Cooking is one of the classic resources for food chemistry. It covers dairy, milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, doughs, sauces, confections, and alcoholic beverages. Each section includes historical contextualization of the food and its preparation, an introduction to the chemistry of the ingredient, and an overview of the science behind different techniques to work with the food. The book also includes traditions and techniques from cultures outside western Europe, which is both instructive and refreshing.

Best of all, On Food and Cooking includes an entire chapter dedicated to the fundamental chemistry and biology concepts that are crucial to a molecular understanding of food. This chapter, along with the chemistry in the rest of the book, makes On Food and Cooking the most technical resource written for the general public that I have read so far. Even so, all the information is straightforward and easy to digest so you can learn even if you don’t understand all of the scientific terms. And for the cooks who want all the nitty-gritty details, this book delivers.

CookWise by Shirley Corriher

Baking and/or cooking? Both
Recipes? Yes

CookWise is Shirley Corriher’s first book, and it reads just like BakeWise, with plenty of recipes interspersed with engaging stories and science. As the name suggests, however, CookWise has a stronger focus on cooking. Corriher covers breads, pies, cookies, and cakes, which she explores in more depth in BakeWise, but also eggs, sauces, fruits, vegetables, and meats. CookWise also includes a chapter on sweets and confections such as ice creams, sorbets, chocolates, and caramels that is not included in BakeWise.

The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists by America’s Test Kitchen

Baking and/or cooking? Both
Recipes? Yes
Yes, it’s written for kids, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t learn from it, too! In fact, it’s a fantastic introduction to food science because it’s written for kids. The cookbook explores concepts like gluten, eggs, browning, and flavor with experiments and recipes. The experiments are written to develop sound experimental skills and critical thinking, and the recipes tie into the experiments to provide additional reinforcement for the lesson. The writing is direct and engaging, and even just reading through the book will get you started thinking about food from a scientific perspective.

The Science of Good Cooking by Cook’s Illustrated and Guy Crosby, PhD

Baking and/or cooking? Both
Recipes? Yes
Still reading. Review coming!

Books exclusively about cooking

The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt

Baking and/or cooking? Cooking
Recipes? Yes
Still reading. Review coming!



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