Every year, I look at my enormous cookbook collection and think, “I’m done buying cookbooks. After all, how many do I need?” The answer, dear reader, is apparently “an infinite amount,” because I just cannot quit them. Cookbooks are my literary meth. Wandering into any bookstore, a gravitational pull seems to reach out from the culinary section and I am helpless. The shiny covers, the sultry food styling, the beloved chefs beaming while holding up a perfect sourdough boule for all to see … each element conspires to lure me in. I furtively purchase a few and hide them from my husband, because we’re downsizing, you know. I’m supposed to be purging from my collection, not adding to it! But given the quality of great cookbooks this year to add to the pantheon of must-haves, what’s an obsessive cook to do? Here are the books I cannot live without this year; perhaps someone on your list will feel the same?
By Stella Parks
If her revolutionary piecrust recipe were the only great recipe in this book, I would be satisfied, because it’s the best piecrust I’ve ever made. But happily for all, this is a dessert book you’ll refer to again and again. She revisits Classic American Desserts (Boston Cream Pie, Brown-Butter Carrot Cake, Snickerdoodles, Magic Key Lime Pie), Classic American Brands (Homemade Nilla Wafers and Thin Mints) and Classic American Ice Cream (Philadelphia-Style Strawberry, Devil’s Food Chocolate) and makes them her own. Parks is a senior editor at Serious Eats, and a James Beard Award nominee for her work there, so it’s no surprise that in addition to the spot-on recipes, the book is well written to boot.
By Gail Simmons
Ever wonder what the Special Projects Director of Food & Wine and “Top Chef” judge might cook for her family and friends? This book holds the key, and it will make you wish you actually knew Gail Simmons in real life, rather than just by reputation. Because then she might just whip up a bowl of her Rainy Day Ribollita, Christmas Brisket Fried Rice, or Lazy Lobster Pie. Dessert-wise, her recipe for Banana-Cardamom Upside-Down Cake with Salty Caramel is a stunner, and I found the section on “Chef’s Lessons to Bring Home” super informative.
By Jami Curl
I’m in love with this sunny and, yes, magical cookbook that demystifies candy making. Just reading it put a smile on my face, and I’m dreaming of jewel-colored lollys made with roasted fruit puree, or perhaps buttery soft and chewy caramels in inspired flavor pairings such as Sea Salt + Roasted Pumpkin Seed, or Coconut + Toasted Pecan + Chocolate. Pastry goddess and sugar-holic Jami Curl owns Quin Candy in Portland, Oregon, and I can only imagine what a happy place that would be to work.
By Alison Roman
I’ve been a fan of Alison Roman’s writing for a while, and was excited to hear she was coming out with a cookbook. I was charmed from the start by her separation of ingredients into the main food groups: Crunchy, Fatty, Spicy, Salty, and Tangy Stuff. Like many current restaurants, her recipes are veggie-forward and instantly craveable (Roasted Broccolini and Lemon with Crispy Parmesan, Grilled Corn Salad with Fresh Cheese and Corn Nuts), but meat eaters also get their time in the sun (Skillet Chicken with Crushed Olives and Sumac, Seared Short Ribs with Quick Kimchi and Sesame Salt). The gorgeous food photos are an added impetus to cook this food — and buy this book.
By Melissa Clark
Not much time to cook? Melissa Clark, a beloved New York Times Food columnist, tackles recipes for the new darling of the home kitchen, the multicooker. She’s tested the recipes exhaustively, detailing all of the correct steps to take, and recording all the time saved. Port-Braised Short Ribs with Star Anise? Duck Confit? Bone Broth? Ready in less than an hour. Make your own yogurt! Cook beans in a trice! I don’t know about you, but I’ve requested an Instant Pot for the holidays … and this book.
By Dana Cree
There’s a science to making ice cream, and Dana Cree — a James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef for Chicago’s One Off Hospitality Group — knows from whence she speaks. So if you want to know the inner workings of texture and flavor, or love to combine flavors into something special, this is the book for you. Cold-Press Coffee, Burnt Honey, and Lemony Lemon Crème Fraîche are just a few of the delightful varieties that await within.
By Samin Nosrat
Samin Nosrat started her career in the storied kitchens of Chez Panisse, and has become a writer and cooking teacher of some renown. This book is a culmination of all she’s learned about flavor and the four elements that affect it: acid to balance; salt to heighten; fat to carry and deliver; and heat, which creates texture. She teaches you how to really cook, not just to follow a recipe, and the story is charmingly enhanced by drawings and graphics. So now’s your chance to learn the key to making Finger-Lickin’ Pan-Fried Chicken, Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts in Agrodolce, Light and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits, and Fresh Ginger and Molasses Cake.
By Deb Perelman
Let me be frank: I’m OBSESSED with Deb Perelman and her newsletter and website. I cooked my way through her first cookbook, and this, her sophomore effort, has current pride of place in my kitchen. Meeting her at a recent discussion and book signing was a highlight this fall, as she is every bit as funny and delightful in person as she is in print. And everything just SOUNDS so damn delicious. So … Pea Tortellini in Parmesan Broth? Cacio e Pepe Potatoes Anna? Olive Oil Shortbread with Rosemary and Chocolate Chunks? Yes, please and thank you very much. I’ll be washing them down with the Garden Gin and Tonic with Cucumber, Lime and Mint.
By Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh
The now world-famous chef Yotam Ottolenghi started his career as a pastry chef in London. After building his Mediterranean-cuisine restaurant empire and publishing five best-selling cookbooks (including “Jerusalem” and “Plenty”), he’s returned to his roots with “Sweet.” Some of the recipes are, shall we say, aspirational for most home cooks, but wow! They are packed with flavor and deliciousness and the photos and food styling are beyond gorgeous. I’m planning on adding the Fig and Pistachio Frangipane Tartlets, Cinnamon Pavlova with Praline Cream, and the Sesame Brittle to my holiday rotation.
By Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo
For the past 30 years, I’ve been buying (and eating!) delightful baked goods through the Zingerman’s catalogue, and when driving through Ann Arbor, Michigan, stopping for sustenance at the Bakehouse. What a thrill to know that I can now make some of these at home, including favorites like Parmesan Pepper Bread, Black Magic Brownies, Ginger Jump-Up Cookies, and their legendary Sour Cream Coffee Cake. The recipes are easy to follow, and I love the head notes for the recipes, which explain the lore behind each dish, and are filled with helpful tips of the trade to make your life easier. Such fun!
More from Make It Better:
- The Better Gift Guide
- 8 of the Year’s Best Holiday Cookie Recipes
- The Best Internationally Inspired Holiday Pastries From Chicago’s Top Restaurants
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.