Why Fannie Farmer Is the Best Cookbook for Weeknight Bakers

updated May 24, 2019
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Last year I wrote about my mom’s favorite resource for finding simple, easy-to-follow recipes: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. After going through her well-worn copy for the umpteenth time, I started thinking about how perfect so many of the recipes are for easy, weeknight baking. Whether you need a quick dessert for unexpected guests, or just want to satisfy 7 p.m craving, many of Fannie’s old-fashioned recipes have just a handful of ingredients and are a blank canvas open to your customization. Here are some of her most underrated, unexpected recipes — perfect for busy weeknights.

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Easy, breezy recipes for no-frills classics

Today, there are so many takes on pastry favorites — a search on the internet for something as simple as “chocolate chip cookies” will bring up thousands of recipes. How are you supposed to pick the best one? Simplify your hunt for the perfect recipe, and flip open your copy of Fannie for a no-fail version.

Some of my favorites include Fannie’s brownies (skip the walnuts if you don’t have them); gingersnaps, which have just six ingredients and make around 50 cookies; and any of the pie recipes. Pie can be pretty time-consuming, but you can freeze the pastry (or the whole pie!) and store it in case you need a quick dessert.

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Recipes with just a few ingredients (that you probably already have in your kitchen)

One of the biggest challenges of weeknight baking is that you probably have limited ingredients. Luckily, many of Fannie’s best recipes use staple items that you probably already have.

Her One Egg Cake combines a single egg, butter, milk, sugar, flour, and baking powder. All you have to do is bake it in a shallow pan for half an hour, then top it off with fresh fruit, a scoop of ice cream, or leftover frosting from last week’s birthday cake.

Use the oatmeal in your pantry for something other than breakfast, and whip up Fannie’s oatmeal cookies. Add chocolate chips or raisins to sweeten them up, if you want (and if you have any!).

(Image credit: Christine Han)

Recipes that are easily customizable

Whether someone in your family has dietary restrictions or you’re dealing with a picky eater, many of Fannie’s recipes are easy to customize. Thanks to their simplicity, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you can add some personal flair without derailing the dessert.

Fannie’s recipe for old-fashioned sugar cookies comes with ideas for spicing up this “plain” cookie. She suggests adding finely chopped coconut, raisins, or almonds to the dough, or filling the finished cookies with fruit jam.

If you need a treat for the next day, meringues are a sweet solution — they only bake for an hour, but need to sit in the oven for at least six hours, so let them finish up while you’re catching some z’s. Fannie’s classic meringues only have three ingredients (egg whites, sugar, and vanilla), but she suggests adding chopped nuts or unsweetened cocoa for a delicious twist.

Fannie’s easy recipe for apple crisp is a classic, but you can swap the apples for nearly any fruit. Use pears in the winter or berries in the summer and serve with whipped cream either way.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

Simple recipes with big impact

Anything requiring yeast, kneading, or rise time on a weeknight is a big no-no in my kitchen. Luckily, Fannie is the queen of quick breads. My mom never made breads that required yeast, but every year would bake all kinds of quick breads (banana, apple, blueberry, pumpkin, zucchini) for holiday parties, teacher gifts, and family brunches. These recipes are super easy to double or triple, and you can pour the batter into those cute miniature bread pans to multiply the fruits of your labor.

Fannie’s straightforwardly named Nut Bread takes around an hour to prepare and bake, and you can use whatever kind of nuts you like. The Orange Peel, Pumpkin, Banana Nut, and Cranberry Nut varieties are also family favorites — perfect for a fresh-out-of-the-oven weeknight treat or sweet breakfast bite for the next morning.

Do you have any favorite dessert recipes from this classic cookbook?