Words to Give By
When we started picking out the best books from 2015, we knew we had our work cut out for us. There were loads of excellent restaurant cookbooks, numerous bread and baking books that made us want to quit our jobs and open a bakery, and stacks of books that let us travel without ever leaving our kitchens.
Here are our 12 favorites. Each deserves a spot on your home bookshelf—or to be wrapped up and given to a friend.
Nopi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Ten Speed Press, $40)
London restaurateur Ottolenghi's newest book offers something different than his previous blockbusters Jerusalem and Plenty. Nopi takes us into the kitchen of his and Scully's more formal restaurant by the same name, offering recipes for Asian- and Middle Eastern-inflected dishes like quail with burnt miso butterscotch and pomegranate and walnut salsa, as well as an exceptionally rich and beautiful pastilla stuffed with chicken and Catalan spinach. Many of the recipes require a time commitment that goes beyond a typical weeknight dinner, but they are all worth it for a dinner party.
Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread, by Zach Golper and Peter Kaminsky (Regan Arts, $50)
Well-loved Brooklyn bakery Bien Cuit has become a destination for bread bakers and chefs visiting New York, seeking out the bakery's dark, heavy and nutty loaves. Golper and Kaminsky's book captures all of them, including recipes for a buckwheat, apricot and black pepper loaf and bourbon bread. The result is equal parts cookbook and art book with black matte pages and stunning bread photos. And though these recipes call for some serious kitchen time and attention to process, they are straightforward enough for any ambitious home baker to try.
Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)
Israeli American chef Solomonov takes readers into the kitchen of his hit Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav, sharing many of the recipes that put it on the map, like his creamy tahini-laced hummus; side salads, or salatim; and pomegranate molasses-coated lamb shoulder. But what keeps us returning to this tome of Israeli cooking is Solomonov's deeply personal narrative; stories of his family and cooking are woven throughout, making his first book part cookbook, part memoir.
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, by J. Kenji López-Alt (W. W. Norton & Company, $50)
For six years, López-Alt has been debunking cooking myths through science on Serious Eats. Now, that intel and hundreds of recipes are in a book that clocks in at just under 1,000 pages. A scientist at heart, López-Alt offers detailed instructions that can make recipes slightly tedious, but for cooks who want to understand how meat browns or how to precisely cook a steak or an egg, this book is an essential addition to one's bookshelf.
Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe, by Olia Hercules (Weldon Owen, $35)
Ukrainian cooking is too often grouped into the Soviet cooking canon, but London-based cook and author Hercules proves the cuisine of Ukraine is its own entity and one worth getting to know. Her charming book welcomes readers into the kitchen of her mother and grandmother while they prepare cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice, and pierced with tart barberries; vegetable-packed soups, like sorrel broth; and plump garlic bread. Mixed into the recipe selection are dishes from neighboring countries, like a Moldovan cheese twist and a Georgian garlic chicken.
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay (Ten Speed Press, $30)
Franklin is the patron saint of the new-school barbecue movement, so naturally his book isn't exactly a traditional cookbook. Yes, there's a recipe for his legendary brisket, but it's almost eight pages long, though, as Eater's Helen Rosner argues persuasively, you could even say the recipe runs the length of the entire book. Franklin breaks down everything from wood varieties to the way smoke flows through a smoker, engrossing the reader in just what it takes to run arguably the best barbecue spot in America.
The Violet Bakery Cookbook, by Claire Ptak (Ten Speed Press, $30)
The California native and Chez Panisse alum shares recipes from her ever-popular London bakery, where she often swaps out standard ingredients like all-purpose flour for more intriguing options to make rye flour brownies and prune, oat and spelt scones. The book celebrates the flavor of seasonal fruits, highlighting the natural sweetness of, say, cherries and loganberries over refined sugar. The result is creative, almost-whimsical baked goods to make as the seasons change.
Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste, by Dominique Crenn with Karen Leibowitz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $50)
A single lyrical poem is the menu at Dominique Crenn's acclaimed Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, so it was only a matter of time until she spread her wings into cookbook territory. Sectioned off by chapters labeled Land and Craft, and slotted with darkly lit, dramatic compositions of Crenn's artistic dishes, this hefty book is a look inside the precision of her kitchen with ingredients weighed in grams and dehydrators listed as optional equipment. It also offers a peek inside her constantly whirring, creative mind. It might not be easy to pull off brown-butter powder or a tomato dish with shiso sorbet, smoked avocado and basil vines at home, but connecting to her passion and story is.
The Nordic Cookbook, by Magnus Nilsson (Phaidon Press, $50)
There's nothing like Mom's trout cold-smoked over sheep's dung, apparently. Determined to document the food that's actually made in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland, not just fancy new Nordic stuff, the Fäviken chef has compiled all his years of research into this encyclopedic yet deeply personal cookbook. There are nearly 700 recipes with charming insights from Nilsson, like how not enough Swedes slurp up ginger- and egg yolk-rich beer soup ("I think it is a bit of a pity," he writes).
Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán, by Eric Werner and Mya Henry with Christine Muhlke and Oliver Strand (Artisan, $40)
No wood-fired oven required for this vibrant, beautifully made cookbook from the chefs/owners of buzzy Hartwood in Tulum, Mexico. Werner and Henry tell their sort of insane story—they left their steady New York City jobs to jump on a plane headed to the jungles of Tulum and open their own restaurant—and you can see the payoff in the refreshing, seafood-powered recipes, like herb-speckled grilled squid salad and roasted grouper collar with eucalyptus-like hoja santa leaves.
Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California, by Travis Lett (Chronicle Books, $35)
Pretty enough for your coffee table but better suited for your countertop, the first cookbook from the chef behind Venice Beach hot spots Gjelina and Gjusta is for salad lovers. Sure, Lett's acclaimed pizzas are in there, but his love of vegetables shines through in the recipes for braised sweet corn, roasted fennel with oranges and grilled kabocha dribbled with mint-pomegranate pesto. It's the perfect thing to read (and cook from) after all the holiday indulging.
Milk Bar Life, by Christina Tosi (Clarkson Potter, $35)
Momofuku Milk Bar queen Tosi never really grew out of her childhood cookie phase, and for that, we're grateful. When she finished college, "My course was clear: All roads led to cookies . . . They are always exciting and new and never old," she writes. Her playful prose and photos (we love the one of her in scrubs listening to someone's heart rate with a cookie stethoscope) make the book a fun read. And her recipes for sweets, like Fruity Pebble meringues with passion fruit curd, and savory dishes, like Kimcheezits with blue cheese dip, are equal parts adult and child, and just a bit over the top.
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