Since we're celebrating Cookie Week at TheKitchn.com, and you may still have a few folks on your gifting list, I want to share my list of favorite baking books from this past year.
Two major food magazines, Bon Appétit and the now resting-in-peace Gourmet, put out books about desserts that were outstanding. Two first-time authors, Fany Gerson and Joseluis Flores, published books about Latin-American baking. There was an excellent textbook style baking book by Nick Malgieri. The folks behind two bakeries, Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth's Bakery and Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of Baked, both produced beautiful volumes about sweets, and chocolate maven, Alice Medrich wrote what appears to me to be the perfect cookie book. Finally, David Lebovitz put forth his best recipes for desserts, ice cream and beyond
What a year for sweets!
Bon Appétit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful by Barbara Fairchild (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
At six and a half pounds, just about what I weighted when I was born, this is seriously a body of work. With both recipes culled from the magazine's archives plus new recipes, Barbara Fairchild curated and created what might possibly be the only dessert book one needs. With over six hundred recipes for cakes, tarts, cookies, frozen desserts andbeyond (each rated from "very easy, perfect for the novice" to "showstopping, for the expert baker"), it covers every traditional dessert I can think of, and dozens and dozens of new twists. The photography by Con Poulos is understated, enticing, and un-fussy.
Dulce: Desserts in the Latin-American Tradition by Joseluis Flores (Rizzoli)
One of two books about Latin-American desserts, dulce covers the basics like Churros, to more obscure recipes that riff off other cultural traditions, like Avocado Panna Cotta. Like most Rizzoli books, this is a fun one to curl up with, even if you're not planning to cook a thing.
My Sweet Mexico: Recipes for Authentic Pastries, Breads, Candies, Beverages, and Frozen Treats by Fany Gerson (Ten Speed Press)
When this book came across my desk I got really excited. Coming from Los Angeles with some Mexican blood in my background, I've always felt Mexican sweets were overlooked in the culinary world's attention toward Mexican cooking. This book really brings to life the sense that dessert plays such a role in celebrations, and the Mexican culture has so many festivals where sweets appear. Rosa Mexicano pastry chef Fany Gerson gives you the Tres Leches, Mexican Wedding Cookies, and Cajeta you might be looking for, she also surprises with recipes like Amaranth "Happiness" Candy and Almond Stuffed Prunes. With no dustjacket and matte-finish pages, it feels like a book ready to be smeared with butter and splattered with sugar.
The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe from Each Year 1941-2009 by Gourmet Magazine (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
For grieving fans of Gourmet magazine, this book is a trip down memory lane. It's a simple collection of the best cookie recipe from each year of Gourmet's existence. That's sixty eight cookie recipes. Some, like Jelly Centers (1948), show their age. Others, like Mini Black and White Cookies (2005), are of course timeless.
Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes by David Lebovitz (Ten Speed Press)
If there's one person you can trust to write a good recipe, it's David. My copy of Ready for Dessert is already dogeared and vandalized with all manner of sweet ingredients. His chocolate chip cookies are my go-to and his ice creams, for which he is well-known, are all outstanding. The man worked as as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse then moved to Paris. Need I say more?
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours by Sarabeth Levine (Rizzoli)
Sarabeth's has long been a New York City destination for breakfast treats, brunch-y bits and take-home desserts. I can't imagine any fan of the Bakery who wouldn't want to add this book to their baking collection. It's a big book: lots of photos, large print, nice space between steps in the recipes. If you plan on attempting any of her signature recipes like Croissants, this kind of layout really helps. If the complicated pastry-chef recipes are too intimidating, simpler recipes like her cupcakes, ice creams and Sarabeth's signature preserves will keep you busy, but relaxed.
Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
I've nestled on the couch with it and studied the recipes far from the kitchen, but I've also worked through a few. Spending time with Baked Explorations either way is a pleasure. Each recipe has a hefty head note, explaining the history of the dessert, and a pithy "Baked Note" often explaining something about an ingredient or method in the recipe. The Sweet & Salty Brownies and Orange Creamsicle Tart are worth a try. The authors clearly have a lot of knowledge and very good taste. Think of it as a baking textbook, but prettier, with curly fonts, vintage graphics, moody and manly photography by Tina Rupp, and props from flea markets.
Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking by Nick Malgieri (Kyle Books)
Pastry school in your dreams? Before you quit your job and drop a lot of dough on a culinary program, start with a good book. There are lots out there, but this year an excellent one was written by Nick Malgieri who runs the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education. It has step-by-step instructions, tips galore, and illustrative photos for pastry doughs, cookies, breads, cakes, muffins, and cookies. Despite my time in culinary school, it was this book that put me at ease around brioche dough. The puff pastry section is equally accessible, and a true call to action for attempting Ox Tongues, Empanadas, and Croustades. For a book, that's a serious accomplishment.
Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich (Artisan)
When most of us reach deep down into the depths of our cookie cravings, it's usually the texture that guides our palate. It might be gooey you're after: how about a brownie? Or maybe it's a crunchy seeded cookie you'd like to dunk in a tall glass of milk. So that's how Medrich organizes this volume of cookie recipes: in addition to chewy, gooey, crispy, and crunchy there are recipes for chunky and flaky cookies, and an all-you-ever-wanted-to-know FAQ section. Clever, right?
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