Beyond the Kitchen

What Makes A Great Cookbook?

What Makes A Great Cookbook?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a great cookbook.  I’m currently working on my third book (wow…) about Brunch and as it carefully, lovingly, stressfully, curiously, and haphazardly takes shape, I think a lot about how to make it great. 

‘Great’ is both elusive and subjective.  I think it’s about being of service, being creative, communicating what’s beautiful about food and what’s beautiful about life.  Easy.  Super easy.  Luckily, I have shelves full of useful, beautiful, encouraging, inspiring… downright GREAT cookbooks to absorb as I make my own.  

Let’s talk about cookbooks:  the good, the great, the inspiring.  

What Makes A Great Cookbook?

•  So much of the information we take in comes from our computer screens, our phone screens, our electronic books (is that what they’re called?).  One thing we’ve lost in this new transmission of information is FEEL.  A great cookbook feels good to the fingertips.  It’s the kind of canvas bound, thick papered book that you want to run your hands over before opening.  Feel, for savoring.  One feel-good cookbook in my collection is Jamie At Home.  Its canvas cover, thick paper, and colorfully playful interior make it feel just… special, every time I take it down from the shelf.  

•  I eat with my eyes.  Ok… so I mostly use my mouth, but my eyeballs have a lot to do with how much I enjoy what I eat.  A great cookbook often has really stellar photography.  Mouth-watering, hunger-inducing, bright-light food photography.  I always reach for The Kitchy Kitchen when I need inspiration for approachable, everyday food.  The photography is clean, simple, special… and just makes me feel like I’m living a good good life.  

•  Some of my favorite cookbooks have a laser point focus, or a specific niche to tease out. Such focused cookbooks can be a wealth of knowledge… like little cooking encyclopedias.  I love The Perfect Egg  for all things eggy from breakfast to dessert, and an old cookbook called The New Complete Book of Pasta when pasta is on the brain.  One of my favorite baking books of all time:  The Cake Bible… it really is.  

•  I call upon a part of my brain called my Food Brain to think up the recipes I post here and in my cookbooks.  It’s not rocket surgery but my Food Brain needs feeding.  Great cookbooks are out-of-the-box and mega creativity. Hellloooooo:  Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook.  Related:  Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies.  Be about it.    

•  I’m a self-taught baker.  Translation:  I don’t make very good baguettes and I’ve messed up more chocolate mousse than I care to mention.  For me, great cookbooks are those that nail me with technique.  It’s about rules and regulations.  I splurged on this Advanced Bread and Pastry just after I had finagled my way into my first bakery job.  It was a tremendous help in terms of technique and ratios.  School yourself… or let Julia Child school you:  Mastering The Art of French Cooking.  Classic and essential. 

•  A really supreme cookbook is a feel-good, approachable, new classic.  One of the best examples of this is Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: from my home to yours.  It’s classic yet inventive, and rooted in solid technique.  Dorie is a master / my hero.  Other feel-good very new classics is Food52 Genius Recipes and The Gourmet Cookbook.  

This is barely the tip of the iceberg.  Really… there are just too many great cookbooks to mention.  There are many more great cookbooks coming out this Fall!  We’ll talk about those soon.  I’m really excited.

xo Joy