5 Notable Cookbooks of 2014

Let’s be clear that by “of 2014” we mean cookbooks I started using in 2014, which means neither that they were published in 2014 nor that they were purchased in 2014. But these are relatively recent titles.

The “book” in cookbook may also be misleading since I’m starting the list with a website.

And I’m featuring 5 “books” from “2014” but there are some other books referenced within the 5. . .

. . . but other than all that, it’s a completely accurate title.

Spilled Milk Podcast: I listen to Spilled Milk when I go running, and I don’t know whether it’s lack of oxygen, but I do find it really really funny. Which leads to a lot of snorting and spluttering while running, and I get a lot of weird looks. This year I made a concerted effort to also try out the recipes they post at their site. An excellent decision (and I wrote an earlier post on that topic if you want some recipes to start with).

Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich: I picked up this title as one of the books sent to Bear Pond for our November Cookbook Review Night. The promise was that Alice Medrich had taken the unusual flours becoming readily available due to gluten-free interest (rice flour, teff flour, sorghum flour, etc) and invented desserts meant to highlight those flours’ flavors, not simply mimic the same dishes made with conventional all purpose flour. The book delivered on all fronts – down to the flours actually being available in the bulk section of my co-op (most of them at reasonable prices).

Buckwheat Gingerbread

Buckwheat Gingerbread

I liked the results of Flavor Flours so much that I ordered Medrich’s take on chocolate –Seriously BitterSweet. There’s a recipe in here for taking chocolate out of temper, then chopping it up into “chips.” Why would you do that? Ice cream. Taking chocolate out of temper interferes with its ability to harden – a problem when making candy, but when you’re making ice cream, freezing this chocolate means it starts brittle then melts more quickly when it hits your mouth – creating a more flavorful chocolate chip. All these things I didn’t know I didn’t know.

(Here’s a quick summary of the books reviewed in Cookbook Review Night)

Bitter by Jennifer McLagan: Speaking of neat tricks with chocolate – Bitter includes a recipe for tobacco truffles. And I made it. And it’s good. To me the tobacco makes the chocolate taste richer, like you’ve dumped in a whole bunch of butter, like brownie batter before you add any flour (I tried a version of the recipe with no butter at all, still tasted that way). I thought that a cookbook built around the taste of “bitter” would be gimmicky, but McLagan had me at Campari Granita. I hadn’t stopped to think about how much I like bitter. . .  the fact that I drink Orleans Bitter by the wineglassful should have clued me in. Now I’ve acquired a community garden plot to fill with chicory, methi (fenugreek greens), and cardoons. Bitter is Better.

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Cupcakes: A Love Story by Alison and Matt Robicelli: I bought this book after I saw the Food for the Thoughtless review of it. It’s funny. It’s not cute. It’s probably not for kids. It falls into my category of cookbooks you could never cook from and still be happy you bought, because they’re a great read. Oh but you can cook from it too. I began with the Buffalo Chicken Wing cupcakes for a SuperBowl party. I can’t explain how this recipe works. It’s a sweet cupcake, with a sweet frosting, and fried chicken with buffalo sauce. It just does work. (And I won’t speculate on the ‘why’s’ more than this because there’s a whole essay about it in the book that you ought to read).

There are more normal flavors, like Tiramisu and Tres Leches and . . . um. . . Rootbeer Float. . . Pecan Potato Chip. . .and stuff. Thanks to this cookbook I also know that there’s a reason why the pain the ass classic French style of buttercream exists – it truly is that much better.

(I didn’t make only weird desserts in 2014, I also discovered Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson, which walks the line between interesting enough to keep me coming back and normal enough to be a hit at the local potluck)

The Secret Recipes by Dominique Ansel: Oooh yeah. Not a beginner cookbook. Perhaps you’ve read the recent New Yorker article about the super perfectionist French pastry chef turned dedicated New Yorker Dominique Ansel? Who combines pastry chef obsessiveness with a weird creative spirit? I’ve traditionally had poor luck with ambitious baking projects that require carefully following directions. Witness the results of my attempts at Bake It Like You Mean It by Gesine Bullock-Prado (she did not intend for the cakes to look like this):

Nutella TorteTotal Fail

Ansel’s book of ambitious bakery items has very clear instruction, with notes on where I’m likely to go wrong, and explanation of why he gives the instructions he does. It also has an “easy” chapter, which includes a cookie recipe that takes the pleasure of the melted chocolate chips inside a chocolate chip cookie and turns that into a cookie in its own right. Thanks to this book I have conquered the Kouign Amann – a fancy pants pastry with lots of layers of butter (I realize this makes it sound like a croissant, but there’s sugar and density issues and folding and. . . it’s complicated). Things make sense when Ansel explains them. And the book is worth it for his perspective on time and the Madeleine, if nothing else.

Kouign Amanns

In conclusion: if you thought my cooking resolutions for 2015 included branching out from learning desserts to other menu categories then you’d be correct.

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