So… speaking of bridal showers. I’m going to one next week. The bride-to-be isn’t an epicurean by any means but she does have an interest in cooking and baking. She’s registered for a gorgeous glass cake stand and some decorating bags and tips. Clearly, I had to buy these things for her but also wanted to pick up a few cookbooks to help her get her library started.
Giving cookbooks as part of a shower gift is something that I do often. It’s usually themed, like, a bartending book with a blender or a book on slow cooking to go with an enameled cast iron pan, for example.
For my friend with the interest in baking, I’d considered The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum and I’m Just Here for More Food by Alton Brown but decided they were a little too scientific for someone just starting out and maybe less refined than my friend’s tastes. Instead, I’ve purchased Baking with Julia by Julia Child and Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Cakes. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was looking for a Peter Reihart book to go along with one of these but didn’t find what I wanted at the small shop I was at). I’m not sure I would consider either of these books particularly epic but they are classic, quality, and not too intimidating, I think.
So, let me put it to you guys – what would you consider an essential for the cookbook library? Or maybe more specifically what would you get to help a beginner baker get started? What cook book or cooking references would you want all your friends to have?
6 thoughts on “Cookbooks as Gifts”
You made me realize that I don’t have any books on baking. Hmm. I tend to use cookbooks mostly for reading and getting ideas instead of for recipes, which I usually just find online (primarily from epicurious). My favorites for just reading are Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World (thanks, Hattie!). My favorite cookbook of all is The Ottolenghi Cookbook, and I’ve actually cooked a handful of the recipes too. Bittman’s are great for people just starting out, Ottolenghi less so.
I just cohosted a barbecue and made a whole bunch of food. I realised afterwards that every single recipe I made was slightly tweaked from the same source: The Joy of Cooking. I made guacamole, spinach salad, a pasta salad with shrimp and capers and red peppers, chocolate chip cookies, and apple crisp. My husband made chicken and didn’t use a recipe, and we also brought corn on the cob that doesn’t need a recipe either. I really think that people only need one good quality cookbook. The Joy is a good one, but other comprehensive ones like the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (red plaid) or Fannie Farmer can do just as well. Anything with all the basic techniques, and once you’ve mastered those you can tweak them yourselves.
In this crowd, I think it goes without saying that I also recommend The Joy, and have given it as a gift a few times. If you want to put the focus on baking, tuck some bookmarks with notes into the pages that have the best tips. I have also given Hot Sour Salty Sweet, mostly for the gorgeous look of it. Like Jessica, baking is not my focus, and I don’t have special cookbooks for it, rather my cookbook library is dominated by books about preserves: charcuterie, pickles, and jams.
But you should give the books that are special for you. I am very pro giving the gift of something you own, cherish, and use. My mother once advised me to never to give a gift you don’t want to keep for yourself.
I do like Joy of Cooking. I own it and use it (last week for cobbler, for example) Though, I think I’m with Jessica. I don’t use my cookbooks a whole lot. I browse or look for ideas by title and then just Google. Mostly. Sometimes I look for 3 or 4 or 5 recipes for the same thing and then figure out how I want to try it. HOWEVER I have an OBSCENE amount of baking books. Probably half of my entire cookbook library is baking or confectionary. And I use them.. well, not all of them, but many of them, very regularly. That’s probably why I have so many. And there are still so many more I’d like to own (the earlier mentioned Peter Reinhart “Bread Baker’s Apprentice” for example). In fact, when I was shopping for my friend, I also picked up a little something for myself — “Chocolate and Confections” by Peter Greweling and the CIA. My friend Jo has this book and I’ve drooled on it a few times.. and borrowed it once.
Jeremy used to freak out every time I would stray from a recipe. What he did not know was that I had researched a few recipes, and decided what was important, what was optional, and what the tolerances were. When I printed one out, it was just a guide; the one closest to what I wanted to do. Likely, it was easier than the most involved, but still “correct”. I had all the combined recipes in my head, and was working off my own invention.
Has anyone recommended the Food Lover’s Companion yet? It’s not a cookbook, but if you’re finding your way around a kitchen it is extremely handy.
One of the first recipe books I ever had living on my own was the Complete Canadian Living Cookbook. It is written in a really gentle manner and the recipes are mostly easy but still delicious. Good way to build up technique. Also, there are many handy little tips and variations in the margins and footnotes.
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