Cookbooks for Holiday Gifting & Baking 🎄🎄🎄 - No. 261
6 important books to gift friends or yourself!
AS I PULL TOGETHER THIS ROUND-UP of favorite cookbooks, I notice they involve interesting women who have forged their own paths into the kitchen.
Nancy Silverton’s The Cookie That Changed My Life and Claudia Fleming’s Delectable are written by two of America’s most talented pastry chefs. (Fleming’s book, I will note, was published in late October of last year, but it wasn’t on my radar until this year.) A third, Bread and Roses, is penned by Rose Wilde, a world traveler and human rights attorney turned California baker known for her wildly creative grain- and botanical-forward recipes. In Snacking Bakes, Brooklyn-based Yossy Arefi comes to baking visually as a photographer, stylist, and blogger and seems to satisfy our desire to eat first with our eyes.
Sandra Gutierrez of North Carolina is a joyful expert on Latin American foodways in Latinisimo. And Toni Tipton-Martin, whose books Jemima Code and Jubilee brought the cooking and baking of African American cooks out of the back kitchen and into the forefront, is a lifelong journalist and storyteller. In her new book, Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs & Juice, she mixes drinks.
I’m just going to come out and say that if I spend money on a cookbook, I’m going with one of these pros. Yes, the sheer number of cookbooks a TikTok influencer can sell in a day is mind-blowing. Call me boring, but I like recipes that work.
So much behind the scenes goes into writing a cookbook, from the genesis of an idea, to crafting a proposal to get published. And the latter includes the author’s vision for the book - how you see it, how it will look and be illustrated, how it feels in the hands of the cook, and how it compares to other books on the shelf.
If a cookbook author is fortunate enough to snag a cookbook deal, there is work ahead developing recipes that resonate, typing and copy editing, possibly styling the food for camera or taking the photos yourself. And then you’ve got to connect those recipes with prose that tells the cook why they should make the recipe and in the introduction why you wanted to write this book in the first place.
Only one of the six books I feature today is a first book. That’s Bread and Roses, and so this book tells the story of Rose Wilde, how she left law for levain, and why the world of grains fascinates her. Two of the books are sequels. Delectable follows Claudia Fleming’s groundbreaking The Last Course, the Bible of every talented pastry chef. Snacking Bakes is the follow-up to Yossy Arefi’s award-winning Snacking Cakes, and here she lends her magic to cookies, brownies, bars, and more cakes. Nancy Silverton has been published before, but it’s been awhile, and it’s nice to hear from Silverton who is such a pro. I admire the unabashed bravery of designing a cookbook without a food porn photo on the cover!
For Sandra Gutierrez, Latinisimo feels like her life’s work. She’s written it all down and wants to inform us. I am drawn to her passionate but careful introduction, that Latin American food ‘’is like a large house. The front door is Mexican food, because it is the most recognized of all Latin American cuisines; it welcomes cooks with familiar dishes like enchiladas, moles, and tacos…step further into the house, and ah …! There are twenty other kitchens inside.’’
And Toni Tipton-Martin. You know this book full of cocktails (boozy and not) from two centuries of African American cookbooks, has been on her mind. It makes me thirsty!
The Cookie That Changed My Life and More Than 100 Other Classic Cakes, Cookies, Muffins, and Pies That Will Change Yours. Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreno. Knopf.
Who will love this book: Bakers who think they don’t need another cookbook. How can you resist learning the story of how Los Angeles pastry chef Nancy Silverton and founder of La Brea Bakery tasted a peanut butter cookie in 2020 and this book was born. If you or your friends want to get out of your comfort zone and bake with some new ingredients, this book is for you. It’s also about how collaboration and new eyes can lead one of America’s best loved pastry chefs to reinvent her own way of baking cakes, cookies, muffins, and pies.
Delectable. Claudia Fleming. Random House.
Who will love this book: Anyone who saves room for dessert. Fleming is known for her desserts in New York City institutions like Union Square Cafe, Montrachet, Gramercy Tavern, and TriBeCa Grill, but her influence is far greater. She’s the one who flecked chocolate caramel tart with flaky sea salt and added herbal syrups to lemon desserts. In Delectable, the recipes begin with biscuits and scones and move into muffins, quick breads, doughnuts, cakes, cookies, pies, and there are savory recipes, such as the Eggplant Caponata Tart I baked last summer.
Bread and Roses. Rose Wilde. Countryman Press.
Who will love this book: Your daughter who loves to bake, your best friend who is bored with baking the same old thing, or you! Acquaint yourself with 15 ancient, heirloom, and alternative grains—barley, buckwheat, emmer, rye, quinoa, amaranth, corn, teff, millet, oats, spelt, and einkorn to name a few. Rose Wilde says to bake with them is to explore tannins, body, acidity, strength, and hydration, much like appreciating fine grapes that go into wine. She grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and South America and wants us to rebuild and rethink the baking pantry…’’what grows together goes together.’’
Snacking Bakes. Yossy Arefi. Clarkson Potter.
Who will love this book: You and your children and grandchildren. Vegan and gluten-free bakers, too. Yossy Arefi’s first book was published in 2020 and resonated with pandemic bakers who wanted to make cake even though they had little experience in baking. This sequel offers the same simplicity with few ingredients and even less technique. The recipes are indexed if they are warm and toasty, chocolatey, or fruity—it seems the three essential food groups of cozy baking. I’ve bookmarked the peanut butter blondies, triple chocolate olive oil brownies, and almond thumbprints for my cozy baking!
Latinisimo. Sandra A. Gutierrez. Knopf.
Who will love this book: The traveler, the scholar, anyone who appreciates the whole story. I met Sandra many years ago in Cary, North Carolina, when I was on my own book tour. She was writing for The Cary News and teaching cooking classes. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Guatemala City, she had written four cookbooks before this encyclopedic masterpiece of more than 300 everyday recipes from 21 countries organized not by country but by ingredient such as avocado, chicken, rice, poultry, coconut, sugar, and vanilla. My eyes are on the Kidfores de Pecanas, or pecan shortbread cookies, and the Pastel de Tres Leches, which she says is native to Nicaragua from the late 1800s.
Juke Joints, Jazz Clubs & Juice. Toni Tipton-Martin. Clarkson Potter.
Who will love this book: Drinkers, non-drinkers, historians, bartenders, anyone who has enjoyed Toni Tipton-Martin’s previous books. How wonderfully ironic that the yeast from breweries helped America’s first bread rise, and so in this baking round-up I would be remiss without including a book that delves into another use of yeast and fermentation. The talented and award-winning Tipton-Martin is back, following Jemima Code and Jubilee with a tribute to the unsung mixology created by African Americans through American history. It’s an honest book explaining the prejudice against Blacks who drank alcohol but also the behind the scenes culture of the juke joints that bordered the agricultural South. In Strawberry Wine, the first recipe in the book, homemade wine using berries growing alongside country roads was a throwback to the West African tradition of fermenting corn, sugarcane, and pineapple. Note to self: Put strawberry wine on the calendar for May.
A handful of other cookbook recommendations:
Substack’s Leah Koenig’s Portico with its Jewish-Roman cooking is a reminder that even in times of sorrow, there is the valuable story of how recipes survive generations. Also in Joanna Gaines’ volume 3 of Magnolia Table, the big cheesy Tailgate Dip with corn chips, her 1970s-ish Pineapple Baked Ham, and Chocolate Creme Brûlée show that Joanna Gaines knows what America wants to eat and how to present it with style. Juxtaposed with photos of Gaines, beautiful pie crusts falling lusciously over the edge of the pan. And in Pie is Messy, a must for beginners wanting to bake pie, Rebecca Grasley tells the story of leaving the East Coast and moving to California and setting up shop in 2011 in the Los Angeles Arts District and shares 100 recipes and much valuable technique from her bakery called The Pie Hole.
It’s never too late to become a better baker or a more explorative cook. If you seek new ideas, a fresh way of looking at something, a method that makes your life easier and keeps things fun, there is a cookbook from a trusted author to help you on that journey!
- xo, Anne
P.S. Coming Thursday for paid subscribers, I’ve cooked the new books and will share a few favorite recipes!
What are you looking for in a new cookbook? What are your favorite cookbooks for gifting?
The 7th Cake Mix Hack of Christmas: Cashew Thumbprints!
I’ve always said to experience a simple joy of baking just press your thumb into a soft ball of dough. Thumbprints are comfy and homespun and just right for customizing, too. Just think of the various chopped nuts in which you can roll these little balls of dough. And what an ingenious way to use up leftover jams and preserves in the fridge! If you use preserves, you need to finely chop the pieces of fruit in the preserves or briefly pulse in the food processor. Mix and match the fruit and nut flavor combinations like pecans with peach jam, almonds with raspberry preserves, walnuts and strawberry jam, and cashews with apricot preserves. Store these cookies lightly covered at room temperature for up to five days.
Makes about 40 2-inch cookies
1 package (15.25 ounces) yellow or butter recipe cake mix
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped and lightly salted cashews, pecans, or almonds
1 cup of your favorite jam such as apricot, fig, strawberry, or marmalade
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Set aside two ungreased cookie sheets.
Place the cake mix, flour, butter, egg, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 to 45 seconds more, or until the mixture comes together into a sticky ball.
Drop 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) balls of the dough spaced 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Place the cashews in a small bowl. Pick up each ball of dough and roll it on all sides in the nuts to cover. Place it back on the pan, and press down gently with your thumb to form a thumbprint. Place a teaspoon of jam into the thumbprint. Repeat with the remaining cookies, and place one pan at a time in the oven.
Bake the cookies until they are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then remove with a metal spatula to wire racks to cool completely, 20 minutes. Repeat the process with the remaining pan and remaining dough. Let the pans cool to the touch before adding more balls of dough to the pan.