Cookbook Recommendations [NOT 15/11/20]

screenshot of the book cover of American Cake by Anne Byrn
I cut off the screenshot of the bottom of the book, sorry.

We’re approaching the holidays and cookbooks are great gifts. For yourself or for others! I would say cookbooks are awesome in general, too. One can never have enough cookbooks. I totally don’t have a problem wanting MOAR COOKBOOKS.

But I digress.

NOT 15/11/20 — share some cookbooks you’ve liked. Also, please please please if you got a cookbook and were disappointed, please share with us so we don’t make the same mistake.

If you have someone to buy a gift for who loves baking and/or US history, American Cake by Anne Byrn is amazing book. She breaks down the cookbook into sections based more or less on “people were doing things this way, and then ____ happened and a new set of recipes came into the picture” – for example, baking powder was a game changer. Or ovens with temperature control.

I consider myself a very mediocre baker. Like sure, I can make decent cookies or a box mix, but I’m not anything close to advanced level. Some of the recipes, especially once you’re closer to current times, are more complex, but nothing in there that I have read screams “jesus christ no way I would try this” with the exception of the cakes made of a bunch of thin layers since I only own one 8-inch cake round pan.



  1. Great topic, brighter.  The one cookbook that is essential in any kitchen–especially for those people who deem themselves “bad cooks”–is Joy of Cooking.  There’s a shitload of great info, as well as recipes, and has stuff in there for everyone, from the novice to the expert.  I believe an updated version was just released within the past year.

    • Good to know!

      A very dear friend got me Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian a few years back and honestly I’m not a fan at all. I think because he approached it like writing an encyclopedia, but it’s not very user-friendly. 

      • I bought my daughter One Pan, Two Plates: Vegetarian Suppers by Carla Snyder and she uses it all the time. She likes the River Cottage Veg books too.

      • I also received that book as a gift and I did not use it once. It was massive and intimidating and had no personality that could discern. Then again, I’m just not that into cookbooks. I’d rather look up recipes online. 
        That said, I am debating buying Priya Krishna’s (formerly of Bon Appétit) Indian-ish. I enjoy her recipes. 

      • I have Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking and it too is excellent. One of its virtues is that it is fairly brief and not encyclopedic, like Mark Bittman’s are. (I have his The Best Recipes in the World.) My best imaginary friend is Ina Garten and there are millions of us. It is cliche but a truism: Martha Stewart recipes ALWAYS turn out beautifully but you have to be very vigilant and read them through three or four times before you begin. 
        This is somewhat off-topic but someone on Gothamist recently made a catty comment about an ice cream shop review that was posted there. It went something like “When FloFab [Florence Fabrikant of the New York Times] rewrites press releases even she puts more effort into it than you did with this, and she barely does anything.” FloFab. 

  2. I went nuts and bought The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer. It gets detailed to an obsessive degree, weighing everything to the gram including specifying the weights of both egg yolks and whites.
    I’ve managed to make a few things to middling degrees of success, but there is something to be said for trying to be this exact from time to time. And his writing is surprisingly fun — he does a good job brushing off the old claim that baking is a science, despite all of his precision. He’s honest that there are only so many variables you can control, and there are still a lot of judgment calls in play that you just have to work out on your own.

    • ooh that is interesting! When I bake I tend to go for things that are more forgiving like muffins or cookies since I don’t have precision nor confidence. I’ll have to check that one out!

  3. I don’t use cookbooks very often to cook. But I love to read them. Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes by Ronni Lundy, is a beautiful book.

    I like buying local cookbooks when I travel as souvenirs. Even if I’m not making the recipes it’s a nice way to remember the meals I ate.  And how many T-shirts do I really need?

  4. Oh, well you are singing my song. I love cookbooks. Last year I bought Candymaking, by Pauline Kendrick and Ruth Atkinson. Totally worth it for the marshmallow creme recipe alone. Who even knew marshmallow fluff could be made at home and it is kitchen alchemy to boot. James Beard’s Bread book is another favorite. Others are Fancy Pantry, by Helen Witty and a book I found in the cold pantry when I moved into my house, used so much it is falling apart, The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook by Suzanne Huntley. I don’t do xmas anymore but I still love this book, it’s very much of an era.  Oh, and a cookbook by Vincent Price, that one is fun, too.

  5. …there are number of cookbooks that I’ve either bought for other or been given that I think I’d recommend but I’m late to this post & I’d have to st & think about it before I could really provide a list

    …I would give a quick shout-out to one crop that’s arguably lesser known than most of those would be, though…namely the ones that collect recipes from Australian Women’s Weekly – they are/were produced in a sort of slim magazine-style format but I’ve enjoyed a lot of things from the ones I’ve come across over the years…& as a kid the cakes someone was kind enough to bake for my birthdays were often from the pages of one of them…getting to pick what I wanted from the pictures in the book was basically part of my present & they never disappointed

  6. My wife and daughter got me Flour Water Salt Yeast for Christmas a couple years ago.  It’s more about techniques than recipes but it makes the best bread and pizza crust I’ve found.

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