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I used to get my baking inspiration from books.

When I lived in Chicago, we had a little pantry with a window, and my roommate and I totally geeked out on this feature – it was so perfect for sitting in the sun and flipping through the pages of our favourite cookbooks….ahhh.

10 years later and I still sometimes get them off the shelf to browse recipes and pictures on a Sunday morning… but much more often I’m skimming through cookery and craft blogs instead.  There are so many clever cooks and crafters out there and they are so good with their cameras and computers – I’m hoping this comes with practice…

My current favourites:

1. Smitten Kitchen

SO good - chocolate peanut-butter cake

Smitten Kitchen is the amazing blog of Deborah Perelman. It’s inspiring and also a little irritating, just because she’s so on it!  The recipes are well written with lots and lots of detail, the photos are beautifully shot, and the site is so easy to navigate, which helps when you’ve got sticky fingers and a cake on the go, and just want to see what Deb has to say on the matter.  But the absolute best thing about this website, is that it’s comforting.  As Julian Barnes said of Edouard de Pomiane in his wonderful Guardian column, the Pedant in the Kitchen:

A lovely book

The moment I realised that De Pomiane was not just sympathetic but deeply on my side came in his recipe for Boeuf à la Ficelle (top rump suspended in boiling water by a string). When it is done, you are told to:

“Lift the beef from the saucepan and remove the string. The meat is grey outside and not very appetising. At this moment you may feel a little depressed.”

Isn’t that one of the most heartening and pedant-friendly lines a cook ever wrote?

Yes Julian, it is heartening! And Deb is right up there with him, as she posts her failures as well as her triumphs, and when she says things like this, at the end of a lengthy post about making good pie crust:

Now go forth and bake ye some pie! I’ll be the one in the back row, jumping up and down and shouting ‘You can do it!’ like a high school basketball coach on too many Red Bulls.

Sometimes that’s just the kind of thing you need to hear before you venture into the kitchen.

2. Sprinkle Bakes

Sprinkle Bakes cake

On my search for cookie spoons, I came upon the lovely Sprinkle Bakes site. Sprinkle Bakes, aka Heather Baird, made the delicate tulle spoons that were closest to the vision I had (which I still haven’t perfected – maybe it’s impossible!).  AND they were chocolate and peanut butter (yum) AND she does things like this, and this, and THIS!

And she does lots of giveaways and honest product endorsements, and beautiful, beautiful celebration food.  Alongside brilliant shared recipes and photos, it’s also interesting to see how someone has found success in food blogging and creative cooking.

3. They Draw and Cook

James Gulliver's Applecake

I just found this site yesterday and I’m already planning a contribution.  Brother and sister designers host this site, where artists and cooks from around the world are invited to submit an illustrated recipe.  The submissions range from precise computer graphics to handmade watercolours, and the recipes themselves are just as varied.  Promotion for the artists, free recipes for everyone, and a sense of community.

4. Epicurious

Epicurious screen grab

An online treasure chest full of recipes from the archives of Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines, read by thousands of cooks and foodies who give thoughtful and detailed reviews.  The resulting website is a fantastic resource – type in carrot cake and get a dozen different takes on a classic, and hundreds of suggestions from other bakers.

5. Playing with Fire and Water

Summer Pasta from Playing with Fire and Water

I love this site (getting a sense of deja vous?). Linda Anctil is a freelance chef who makes amazing works of art in food.  Molecular gastronomy can sometimes seem very macho, but her blog is gentle and approachable, often funny, and the things she does with food are nothing short of amazing.

6. Oh Happy Day!

Oh Happy Day - fringed streamers

Craftastic!  Jordan Ferney is a blogger and event planner and her site, Oh Happy Day, is filled with quick hits of clever craft ideas, pretty things to covet, and links to other lovely sites.  Like Sprinkle Bakes, it offers an interesting insight into how someone’s made blogging part of their career, but mainly it’s just a good fix of pretty things when you’re feeling low.  There are lots of similar blogs online, but this is the one I always go back to.

7. You Tube

It’s amazing how much stuff is up on You Tube now.  Pick a song, any song, and you can find a video of it on You Tube.  Do you want to know how to make marzipan roses?  To ice a cake in buttercream?  To make palmier biscuits, thread a bobbin, or do French knot embroidery?  Or do you just need a jolt of something beautiful, fascinating, hilarious, or very, very charming? Of course You Tube is full of a lot of crap, but it’s also full of a lot of good things too.

8. Etsy

Etsy screen grab

Etsy the marketplacee for handmade and vintage items and craft supplies, is an obvious choice, but it really is one of the nicest websites to visit, and full of inspiration when I’m in a funk.  A marketplace for homemade stuff sounds very straightforward and ho-hum, but the scale of it is so impressive, and there are so many great how-to’s, articles by staff members, and advice on how to run your handmade business.  I visit my “favorite things” page all the time – a little stockpile of images of things I want to buy, things I want to try, and just stuff that is so pretty or clever that I just like to gawp at them now and then.

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