After considering more than 100 new titles and checking out mountains of contenders from the library, these are our favorites.
A snapshot of the research that went into this post.
Still searching for that perfect-something to buy the food lover on your list? 2015 was a banner year for cookbooks, any number of which would make an ideal gift. Masters Ruth Reichl, Jacques Pépin, Mark Bittman, Lidia Bastianich, and Alice Waters all released titles this year. Also out, instant cult classics like the NoMad Cookbook, Sea and Smoke, and Atelier Crenn. (NoMad has been so sought after that the publisher ran out of review copies, the Tattered Cover’s copy was stolen, and a local Barnes & Noble keeps the book at the warehouse but not on shelves). But after considering more than 100 new titles and checking out mountains of contenders from the library, these were our 10 favorites.
Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread, Zachary Golper (Regan Arts, $50)
Anyone who’s a fan of Babettes bakery in Denver knows just how satisfying that dark, charred outer crust of a carefully crafted boule can be. Bien cuit means “well done” in French, and refers to the loaf’s deep mahogany crust. It also refers to the Brooklyn bakery by the same name. In this stunning, creatively bound book, owner Zachary Golper gives even novice bakers the confidence they need to create his pane pugliese, hazelnut bread, pancito potosi, and Cherokee biscuits at home. Bonus: Pick up the cookbook and a loaf of Bien Cuit's holiday chestnut bread at Grateful Bread Company on Saturday, December 19.
The Broad Fork, Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter, $35)
In Hugh Acheson’s third book, the award winning Georgia chef gives us the best of both worlds—flavors from the delectable American South, delivered in more prudent vegetable-forward creations. Sorted by the seasons, this user-friendly compendium offers four recipes for each vegetable you might find at the market— “three quick or straightforward ones and one more in-depth,” Acheson explains. Despite accolades such as James Beard awards and time as a Top Chef judge, this go-to is modest enough to teach home cooks how to make chicken stock in a slow cooker yet savvy enough to offer new ideas for everyday vegetables like cast-iron broccoli with anchovies and olives. This book won’t even make it to my bookshelf—it’s got a new home right on my counter.
The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog Drinks Manual, Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27)
If you’ve ever made the trek to lower Manhattan’s financial district to check out the Dead Rabbit cocktail bar, you know it's a special place—the kind of magical, history-steeped spot that’s hard to describe. Thanks to this 288-page manual from Belfast-born Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry you can now let their cocktails do the talking. Sorted by drink type (“Communal Punch,” “Fixes and Daisies,” “Slings and Toddies”) this title is a must-have for any bar cart.
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay (Ten Speed Press, $30)
It’s no wonder seemingly every Coloradan is obsessed with barbecue and meat-smoking—there’s no better place for outdoor cooking than the sunny Centennial state. But, we’d be wise to learn a few things from our neighbor to the South, Texan Aaron Franklin. Franklin Barbecue, which is two parts instruction manual, one part recipe book, brings the success of this line-out-the-door, “game-changing” barbecue temple to your backyard. The wood chapter alone is worth buying the book. Franklin praises the virtues of oak, hickory, pecan, fruitwoods, and mesquite and teaches readers how to source, season, and split it all.
Magpie: Sweets and Savories from Philadelphia’s Favorite Pie Boutique, Holly Ricciardi (Running Press, $28)
One of the year’s biggest trends was pie—both sweet and savory. This season-aware book from Holly Ricciardi, the Pennsylvania-German owner of “Philadelphia’s favorite pie boutique,” helps readers explore both. With recipes for everything from apple cherry–peanut butter minis and lime custard with basil cream and pistachio praline to ginger ice cream pie and smoked gouda butternut squash pie, your biggest challenge will be deciding what to bake first.
Mastering Pasta: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto, Mark Vetri (Ten Speed Press, $30)
Scratch pasta is one cooking discipline I’ve never made the time for. I’ve always been content to splurge on imported noodles from the motherland—until I saw “Mastering Pasta.” In it, super star Mark Vetri makes the daunting task of rolling your own pappardelle, pinching your own farfalle, and folding your own caramelle seem entirely doable. I especially love—in a year when we were reminded to seek out whole, artisanal grains—his discussions of the many types of wheat. Anyone who’s always wanted to make their own pasta but has been too intimidated to know where to start needs this book.
The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook, Danny Bowien and Chris Ying (Ecco/Anthony Bourdain Books, $35)
For decades, serious cooks have sworn by only the most authentic inspiration when cooking “ethnic” cuisine. For Chinese cookery, that has long meant the titles of Barbara Tropp or Eileen Yin-Fei Lo. In recent years, however, the notion that authentic is better has been turned on end. “Nothing else matters. Only deliciousness,” Anthony Bourdain writes of Danny Bowien’s inventive restaurant, Mission Chinese. In the forward to Bowien’s book Bourdain gives us permission put flavor ahead of authenticity and enjoy making this talented chef’s addictive flavor combinations at home. Whether its from the recipes for chile-pickled pineapple, match noodles, or tiki pork belly, this is one book that will be oil splattered and chile stained in no time.
Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Ten Speed Press, $40)
I’m typically not a huge fan of restaurant cookbooks. While they are gorgeous to page through, I’m happy to let, well, restaurants to be the ones to search for xanthan gum and madrona branches. Leave it to Ottolenghi—the author of wildly popular Jerusalem, Plenty, and more—however, to bridge the gap and make an entirely gorgeous, chef-y restaurant book that will actually land on your kitchen counter instead of your coffee table. Recipes like a lamb rump with vanilla-braised endive and sorrel pesto are sure to spark that coveted guest compliment: “This was better than eating in a restaurant.”
Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman (Clarkson Potter, $33)
I’ve been fascinated with regional Mexican food for decades, throwing countless dinner parties based on the titles of either Rick Bayless or Diana Kennedy. It would require a special release for me to make more room on my shelves for yet another Mexican title—but Stupak’s Tacos is just that and more. Once a pastry chef, Stupak is known today for his wildly successful Empellón restaurants in New York City. This book, his [first], is loaded with fan favorites such as saffron tortillas, fava bean tacos with blood sausage, and lobster esquites tacos with sweet corn and epazote. I can’t wait to plan (yet) another Mexican dinner party.
Vegetarian India, Madhur Jaffrey (Alfred A. Knopf, $35)
We’ve all heard the call to eat more vegetables, using headline-plagued protein as a garnish or splurge. What better place to turn to for a little inspiration than India, where millions have been vegetarians since long before it was a food fad? And who better to take us there than Madhur Jaffrey, one of the most prolific cookbook authors of our time? This colorful title, her 19th, takes inherently simple preparations (hard-boiled eggs) and makes them sublime (as in, curried hard-boiled eggs).