Cookery Books

by Harry on May 9, 2006

Laura berates her readers for not coming up with America’s most popular Cookbook author in response to her plea for good cookbooks. Unlike Laura, I rarely get recipes from the internet. Sometimes I make them up; other times I reverse engineer them (upcoming later this week; my reverse engineered recipe for Tesco’s fresh pesto). My own favourite cookbook of all is out of print: Katie Stewart’s wonderful Times Cookery Book; my mum gave me the more beaten up of her two copies a few years ago and I treasure it no end. But the best internet recommendation I got was in this thread; cranky observer recommended Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. She leads you through both the stages and the science of baking good cakes; I’ve yet to have a failure. Better still is The Bread Bible; again, she shows how you to deal with yeast and flour, and tells you enough of the science to instill the necessary patience. I have had failures with this, but not many, and because the book is so well designed I’ve actually learned from the failures!.



Cranky Observer 05.09.06 at 5:00 pm

That is funny: I received The Bread Bible about 6 months ago as a gift, and have been working on perfecting my artisan bread-making skills since then! Another good book from Rose. I did end up having to buy a scale though (see Cooking for Engineers for a discussion of your choices; I ended up with the MyWeigh).Two sites that may be of interest: RLB’s blog at Real Baking with Rose, and The Fresh Loaf, a breadmaking blog.Cranky


The New York City Math Teacher 05.09.06 at 6:32 pm

I find Clifford Wright’s _A Mediterranean Feast_ fantastic. My wife’s professional culinaria (the The New Professional Chef, 5th Ed.) is good but is restaurant dicke with the butter and the fat. The Beranbaum is *way* too fiddly. Her ostensibly completist descriptive prose is *way* too much for effective execution of the recipes, which I have better results from the brief notes in Pop-pop’s pro-baker cookbooks from the ’50s and the ’60s. _Schandri’s Regensberger kochbuch_ when I’m pining for the speiskuchen and the goulaschsuppe.

But for all ’round utility, it is hard to beat the Rombauer, which I have in three editions (not the most recent). The recipes work, and if you possess taste buds and not a tin tongue, it’s not hard to cook well.


Colin Danby 05.09.06 at 6:40 pm

McGee’s _On Food and Cooking_ is also nice on the geekier aspects of bread, not to mention many other things. Bernard Clayton’s books are also nice in this regard. His French bread book, together with Carol Field’s _Italian Baker_, were what introduced me to slow-rise and hearth breads. Thanks to cranky for the links.


Mary Kay 05.09.06 at 7:01 pm

I adore the Cake Bible, but Flo Braker’s, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking has the world’s best devil’s food cake.



harry b 05.09.06 at 7:57 pm

cranky — I’m eternally grateful for the recommendation — and now for those links. I agree with nycmt that the Beranbaum books are detailed (though not as detailed as elizabeth David’s wonderful book about bread), but the detail helps with the fiddliness; because she explains in such detail how things work you know what you can and cannot get away with and, crucially, when things go wrong you can troubleshoot effectively for next time. Anyway, that’s my take.

Keep on with the recommendations…


grackel 05.09.06 at 8:20 pm

I second the Carol Field recommendation heartily. Another favorite of mine is Joe Ortiz’s The Village Baker which has recipes for home baking in front and commercial proportions in the back. For basic cooking I am addicted to James Beard’s marvelous American Cookery.


Brett Bellmore 05.09.06 at 9:13 pm

I’m more old school myself; With ten dozen cook books on the shelf, (Cooking is a family specialty, with my sister a professional chef, and several relatives in catering.) I keep going back to a 1940’s edition of the Culinary Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook.

Just like mother used to make, because mother USED it. :)


double-plus-ungood 05.10.06 at 12:48 am

While I own The Bread Bible, and am extremely appreciative of many of the techniques offered up in it (the illustrations of how to form various artisan loaves especially), some of the recipe instructions are a little, well, obsessive in nature. But yes, hey, a classic. And I’ve been making a hell of a lot of baguettes recently.

But I’d also recommend The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger (who has, confusingly, also written a book called “The Bread Bible”). I wish I could get a hardback copy of this, because I’ve practically destroyed my paperback through overuse.


chris y 05.10.06 at 5:23 am

No, no, no. this is the essesntial breadmaking source. Accept no substitutes. It is absolutely failsafe.


y81 05.10.06 at 7:28 am

My favorite cookbook to read is Wolke’s “What Einstein Told His Cook.” I haven’t actually tried any of his recipes, but when I read his explanation of the fat/flour/water interaction, I felt like a veil had lifted from my eyes. Wolke was talking about gravy, which is more my wife’s bailiwick, but this triune interaction is vital in baking too.

His discussion of sugars is also very good.


The New York City Math Teacher 05.10.06 at 7:51 am

Bread is very forgiving. Learning the very few utterly basic principles, and knowing what particular ratios and additives can do to gluten development (wet vs. dry, lipids vs. no lipids, et cetera) is enough to bake superb bread. What exercises me about Beranbaum is that she attempts to distill into prose the innumerable little skill-twists that professional bakers apply to their craft. Which is not possible. You cannot write exhaustively prescriptive directions and expect understanding to come.

Were all home bakers professional artisans, possessed of the panoply of expensive, fiddly equipment she prescribes, like, for example, the bannetons and the silpain bakeware, then, sure, everything would come out of the hearth tasting of paradise.

And the expensive equipment she recommends, like for example, the bannetons, that’s just nuts.

You do not need a banneton to rise and shape a country loaf. You do not need hundreds of dollars of silpain vessels to bake good bread (hint, flour and cornmeal do the job). You can bake a spectacular baguette on a rusty baking sheet. You can buy a bristle brush at the hardware store and give your loaves a great sheen. You don’t need to measure out your ingredients to the gram – that’s especially nuts. Weight measure is important, but gram accuracy? And she falls down on *the* most important part of bread _baking_ which is that no risen loaf is finished until it hits 207 degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the thickest part of the loaf. She *never* talks about doneness temperatures.

I have passed through the Beranbaum event horizon, and on the other side is an 8.5′ by 11′, double-sided sheet of looseleaf with thirteen bread types, giving ratios, rise times, and special additive comments.

So, there’s my Beranbaum rant.


SamChevre 05.10.06 at 8:21 am

My favorite bread cookbook is The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book. Excellent instructions, descriptions of how different ingredients affect the basic bread, plenty of recipes ranging from simple to complex. All the recipes are for whole grain flour, and I prefer whole-grain bread most of the time. It’s a very hippy-ish book, but it’s the best I know of for bread-making.


Cranky Observer 05.10.06 at 10:24 am

> What exercises me about Beranbaum is that she
> attempts to distill into prose the innumerable
> little skill-twists that professional bakers
> apply to their craft. Which is not possible.

That is what metalworkers and later machinests said from 10,000 BC until 1980. Turned out to be incorrect, and that there was a large element of guild/job preservation involved in that myth.

> She never talks about doneness temperatures.

Are we reading the same book? She gives doneness temperatures for each type of bread, and states that she abandoned the “tap on it” method early on in her bread investigation in favor of a Thermapen.

> You don’t need to measure out your
> ingredients to the gram – that’s
> especially nuts. Weight measure is
> important, but gram accuracy?

Beirnbaum’s goal is to allow the home baker to get the same results a professional would consistently and with a high rate of success. If you disagree with that approach that is fine; I can understand why. And as she herself states it conflicts with the artisan bread concept somewhat. Then again, most things in life conflict somewhat ;-). Personally, I was able to use Rose’s recipies to get started, produce bread that was not only good but edible, and build understanding. I have now started modifying and creating recipies based on that understanding. Then again, I spent 5 years as a test and measurement engineer.

I agree about the equipment – all you really need is a stone. Everything else you either have or can make do. The toys are fun though.

I am going to try the Reinhart series next (I already have Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book and it is good). I have been reading Bread Baker’s Apprentice at the bookstore and would like to try his approach. Then maybe La Brea and Tajassahara.

Enough bread. I will post my general cookbooks this evening.



grackel 05.10.06 at 10:48 am

I find the Tajassahara kind of dated – good for some rustic breads but no clues about developing more complex flavors – which means understanding starters, long rising times etc. A forerunner to the artisan bread movement. Reinhart is irritatingly cloying after the first reading and some of his recipes are questionable.


The New York City Math Teacher 05.11.06 at 7:52 am

Oops – I misremembered and checked my copy of the Bread Bible – there are indeed doneness temperatures. It was Elizabeth David who didn’t give donenesses (which was excusable in the mercury bulb days of the fifties).

Other really, really good cookery books: Edda Servi-Machlin’s _Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews_ which is the essence of working class Tuscan – very, very fine; John Thorne’s _Serious Pig_, which, though highly literary and light on the recipes, per se, gives excellent recipes for things like Maine baked beans, hoppin’ john, and gumbos galore.

For continental mitteleuropaïsche soul food, I favor the cookbooks that came over in the lift, the ones that Opa and Oma and Mom-mom and Pop-pop used – in the US, Mimi Sheraton is the contemporary go-to for German cooking – but, there is a 2003 cookery book published by András Koerner entitled _A Taste of the Past_, which of the reading and preparation of its recipes I can only describe as being smeared all over with svezchenkuchen, wrapped in mono-grammed linen bedsheets to the gramophone accompaniment of Strauss lieder.


emma 05.12.06 at 6:33 am

I have read whole lot of cookery books and always ready to experiment. Its doesn’t come out perfect at very first time. I simply abhor the recipes made by me. But later on they turned out well. So i learn from my own failures.


otto von bladet 05.12.06 at 9:42 am

NYCMC that’s Regens_burger_ of course. (Google neglected to read my mind, is why I happen to say so.)

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