Flashy doesn’t count here. A friend gave me CHEZ PANISSE DESSERTS, a cookbook that’s about as plain vanilla as a cookbook can be. It has a soft cover and NO PICTURES! In our visually oriented society, that’s hard to imagine. The recipes, however, are worthy of a five star restaurant. Not surprising perhaps, since the author, Lindsey Shere, was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse. The recipes are extremely clear and well written and make it easy to navigate through a complicated dish. CHEZ PANISSE DESSERTS contains my favorite recipe for Dobos Torte, sometimes called Dobosh Torte. Of Hungarian origin, this is the cake you want to serve to a snooty domestic diva mother-in-law. Formal and regal, it’s a once-a-year knockout indulgence. Fabulous. Seven thin layers of cake with chocolate hazelnut buttercream in between, and a thin glossy burnt sugar top. There is nothing more elegant, and Lindsey Shere’s recipe is classic.
I am not, however, a recipe snob, as evidenced by the very worn cover of my copy of the original JOY OF COOKING. The book is so thorough that I use it as a reference. Anyone who is a newcomer to cooking will find it invaluable. I think it makes a really nice bridal shower gift for a young couple because it’s so comprehensive.
One of the newer cookbooks in my kitchen is the Better Homes and Gardens OUR BEST RECIPES. It has a fun feature showing how some recipes have changed over the years. Our mothers’ version of classic dishes has lightened up quite a bit. Do you write in your cookbooks? I do. I make notes after I prepare the dish, like -- substituted dark corn syrup for molasses. I note who liked recipes and who didn’t. It’s fun later on to see that I made the Walnut Mocha Torte for New Year’s in 2007, who was there, and who liked it. Of course, some recipes get the dreaded “don’t bother” or “yecch” note, but those are few and far between in the cookbooks I’m mentioning today!
Possibly my favorite cookbook is Susan G. Purdy’s HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO. Another picture-less cookbook (note to editors -- use pictures, you’ll sell more cookbooks!), it hits the spot every single time. Susan Purdy and I must have exactly the same taste palate, because these recipes are always just right. Happily, she has reduced the fat and calories in all her desserts and explains how she did it -- but you’ll never notice. This woman is a baking wizard of the highest order, and I would buy any other cookbooks she puts out without giving it a second thought. In fact, I would be first in line!
So, what’s your favorite cookbook?