What a year. The last 12 months have produced some of our favourite books of all time, by cookbook veterans through to fresh faces on the scene. Think beautifully shot The New Nordic, vivid Eastern European storytelling in Mamushka, Middle Eastern deliciousness in Falafel For Breakfast and edgy Greek. The best part? 2015 is still ticking and the publishing powers that be have saved some of the best till last.
With Christmas just around the corner (we can hardly believe it either), we’ve amassed this year’s legion of culinary tomes, read them top to tail (and cooked copiously from them, too), and whittled them down to only the finest. The result? The ultimate Christmas cookbook gift guide to get you through the season.
We’ve included treasures from earlier in the year, as well as hot new releases, and divided them into cook types to match various foodie friends, from keen bakers and the big-flavour cook to the world-food enthusiast, sustainable advocate and even the food geek. In addtion to those below, for the home cook, don’t miss these recent releases by the cookbook doyennes: Simpy Nigella, New Kitchen by Karen Martini and Maggie Beer’s Summer Harvest Recipes.
We’ve also scoured the globe, so there are fantastic releases from Australia to the US and UK. A few foreign and local titles on our radar are yet to drop – including Fire of Peru, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl, The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook, Homemade Sausage and Supernomal – which we’ll be reviewing as soon as we get our hands on them. Look out for that early next year.
Until then, happy Christmas shopping fellow cookbook lovers!
For the baker
What better way to start than with something sweet? It is Christmas after all. While we’ve included one of the cutest little books ever for festive baking, plus a pro’s guide to the best gelato creations, our suggestions for gift giving aren't limited to dessert - we suggest you also consider the ultimate patisserie line up in The French Baker, and home-baked bread in all its glory in The Larousse Book of Bread.
Gelato Messina: The Creative Department, by Nick Palumbo and Donato Toce (Hardie Grant, hbk, $55)
He’s back. Nick Palumbo, the frozen sweets mastermind behind Gelato Messina has just released his second book, co-authored with head chef Donato Toce, and it’s every bit the world of magic as number one, from the vibrant design to the sheer creativity behind the ice-cream creations. Where the original was foundational, focusing on basic-ish gelato, Gelato Messina: The Creative Department, showcases the complex range of cakes, softies, monoporzione (single serve) and plated desserts the ever-expanding chain is equally famous for. This book is for the advanced (read: gelato freak), or at least patient cook, but it’s nice to dream about what you would make flipping through its colourful pages, and learning how these nifty sweet inventions came to be.
Best bit? The striking graphic look, particularly the combination of mouthwatering images with slickly designed ‘blueprints’ showcasing each dessert component required. Plus, the hilarious dessert names on which Messina has built a solid 120k Instagram following, from Biggie S’mores to We Don’t Give a Fudge.
Cook the book: There's a reason this Messina masterpiece is called So wrong, it's right (image above).
The only guide to gingerbread you’ll need this Christmas.
Gingerbread Wonderland, by Mimi Sinclair (Kyle Books, hbk, $19.99)
It’s diminutive, in dimensions and recipe count, but this simply adds to the adorable little package that is Gingerbread Wonderland, a cookbook devoted to – you guessed it – all things Christmas-y and spice. Upfront are recipes for light and dark gingerbread, plus royal icing and caramel ‘glue’, which together form the backbone for every sweet creation author Mima Sinclair has dreamed up. (Read: easy to use and endlessly flexible). Think glazed babushka biscuits, a grand gingerbread garland and a chocolate-covered birdhouse. There are recipes for the classics, from speculass to lebkuchen, as well as inspired creations, such as apple and gingerbread streusel tart, too. A pretty little gift for a baking friend or pocket-sized guide for yourself.
Best bit? The stencils at the back of the book to make cardboard cutters or gingerbread houses, plus the easy substitutions for gluten, dairy and egg intolerances.
Cook the book: Turn a gingerbread man upside-down and what do you get? A reindeer head, which when decorated become Rudolph biscuits. Genius.
For the big-flavour cook
Like your food big, bold and hearty? Or shopping for someone who does? This section is for you. There is a lot of meat going on in this quadrant of food publishing –a cookbook dedicated entirely to Meatballs that we reveiewed earlier in the year, and below, another two delving into the delectable flame-kissed world of barbecue plus a guide to top-notch home-cured meats (yes, please!). But flavour is certainly not all about meat, as American cookery in Hartsyard and The Ultimate Sandwich Book prove.
The American master of cured meats.
Olympia Provisions: Cured Meats and Tales from an American Charcuterie by Elias Cairo and Meredith Erickson (Ten Speed Press, hbk, $79.99)
There’s meat, and then there’s cured meat. And Olympia Provisions sells the dream from its first photo with chopping boards laden with thin and thick-cut slices of irresistible fat-laden meats. It’s the first book from the acclaimed charcuterie company and restaurants of the same name based out of Portland, Oregon, itself a city famed for top-quality chow. Co-author, co-owner and salumist Elias Cairo is, as expected, a cured meat fiend and his deep-seated love for the subject is palpable in every gregarious and knowledge word. Divided into two parts, the book covers in-depth charcuterie making skills, from rillettes to forcemeats, sausages and dry-cured specialties, followed by recipes from the restaurant to work your creations. Lots of fun and, equally, acutely practical.
Best bit? The author’s warm, self-depricating and often hilarious voice, which makes you want to try your hand at cured meats even more. The step-by-step pics are also very useful.
Cook the book: “Capicola is made from the neck of the pig, coppa, prized for its perfect ratio of 30 percent fat to 70 percent lean, making the meat moist and tender,” writes Elias. Sold. Another plus? In the cured meats world, it’s easy to make – just a cure in the fridge, then a roast in the oven. Here's the recipe.
The road trip you wish you’d been invited on.
Temples of BBQ, by Lance Rosen (templesofbbq.com.au, hbk, $49).
There’s a lot to like about Temples of BBQ. First, there’s Aussie author Lance Rosen obsession with American barbecue. The owner of Melbourne’s Big Boy BBQ has dedicated countless hours to the art of low-and-slow cooking (Australian barbecue, by contrast, is technically grilling over high heat) and his excitement is contagious. Next, there’s the I wanna-do-that four-week family road trip he takes across America’s barbecue belt that forms the narrative for this book. Think ten states, 73 restaurants and a truckload of meals. Finally, there’s the finger-lickin’ recipes – the best barbecue, sides, drinks and desserts the gang eat along their way.
Best bit? The combination of recipes, illustrated how-tos and address list for venues to visit, plus the fun glossary for barbecue slang (do you know your "hot guts" from your "yuppiecue"?).
Cook the book: You've got to try Texas beef brisket. First, it's brisket, and second, Texans do some of the best beef barbecue around. Also, have you see what it looks like? Mouth-watering visual stimulus above.
All the best barbecue dishes from around the world? Yes, in one book.
Food Safari Fire, by Maeve O’Meara (Hardie Grant, hbk, $55).
On the back of a global renaissance for the ancient art of cooking with fire comes world food maven Maeve O’Meara’s 12th cookbook Food Safari Fire. It’s the new accompanying title to her TV series and like the new season airing in January 2016, it delves into the enticing world of flame, wood and smoke. It’s clearly a hot topic (pun intended – see Temples of BBQ), but this one differs with its worldwide breadth, from Chilean pork belly to Xinjiang lamb skewers, and variety of techniques covered. Think grilling, smoking, wood-fired ovens, spit-roasting, tandoors, fire-top pans and backyard barbecues, all forming the chapters of this beautifully designed, evocatively photographed book. Pyro-cooks, you’re gonna love it.
Best bit? While delicious flame- and smoke-kissed meat is upfront and centre, vegetable sides also star, from ember-roasted pumpkin to fresh broccoli and pistachio salad. The recipes come from favourite Aussie chefs and home cooks, too.
Cook the book: The classic barbecue dish known as chicken inasal hails from the Philippines and combines the exotic flavours of annatto, lemongrass and sugarcane vinegar. We’ve tried it and it rocks.
For the sustainable cook
Looking after your health, as well as that of the planet, is upfront and centre this year, and it’s a trend that’s not going anywhere soon. From eating more plant-based foods in Whole Food Kitchen and April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Greens, to turning leftovers into star meals and preserving produce in sumptuous pickles and jams in Cornersmith and What’s Old is New Again, we’ve seen some great books in the feel good, do good field, and here are two more.
How we should be cooking midweek meals.
River Cottage Love Your Leftovers: Recipes for the Resourceful Cook, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, hbk, $45).
Using up leftovers is nothing new, but today, the act is more urgent. One out of every five bags of groceries is wasted in Australia and, according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, seven millions tonnes face the same fate in the UK. It’s the impetus behind the River Cottage star’s latest cookbook, Love Your Leftovers. If the title doesn’t make it clear, Hugh’s approach is less about sanctimonious deprivation and more about creative application. “If the dish didn’t make me want to eat it, then it didn’t make the cut.” Tips for avoiding waste, storage for prolonged life and general ideas for turning leftovers into meals kick off the book, followed by 100 recipes, ranging from seen-it-before to I’d-never-thought-of-that. A compact, easy-to-follow book with a clean design, which Hugh fans and simple home cooks will undoubtedly like.
Best bit? A handful of surprising dishes, such as spicy crispy fish skeletons and potato peel soup, plus the global flavours Hugh draws from.
Cook the book: Jazz up your regular party snack spread with Hugh's roast root hummus.
What Californians are eating right now.
Crossroads, by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books, hbk, $69.95).
Like a burgeoning group of people today, I’m a meat eater, but increasingly incorporating plant-based foods into my diet – for the environment, my health and plain old great taste. Enter Crossroads, one of a slew of vegetable-forward cookbooks to be released this year. It hails from the Los Angeles restaurant of the same name that’s pulling crowds for its ‘Mediterranean first, vegan second’ approach to smart-casual dining. At first glance, it’s all your Italian favourites with a little twist, from smoked white bean dip to pumpkin ravioli with kale and black garlic butter sauce. Scan some ingredient lists, however, and you’ll see a few substitutes, like veganaise and nut cheeses, for the more dedicated among us. A concise, good-looking cookbook offering insight from across the Pacific as to what other plant-conscious folks are eating.
Best bit? Chef and author Tal Ronnen’s aversion to dressing vegetables up as meat – there’s no tofu chicken on this vegan menu.
Cook the book: We love American's gusto for maple syrup on everything, so these roasted baby parsnips with sherry-maple glaze and earthy chanterelle mushrooms sound like a perfect combination.
For the food geek
If you’re anything like us, it’s not just the delicious dishes you love about food, it’s the lore, fun facts, history and science that surround it, too.
Cook (almost) everything. Perfectly.
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt (Norton, $69.65, hb)
Gee, we’d love to see Kenji, Harold McGee and Stephanie Alexander in one room discussing cooking. The aggregated grasp of how to cook pretty much everything would be big. Hefty. Incredibly impressive. A bit like this book. It’s more than 950 pages, and probably weighs more than your average kitchen appliance. And it’s amazing value at the price. Kenji, who studied biology and architecture before throwing himself into food, is the ultimate food nerd and here he shares what he’s learned through years and years of detailed, repeated nerdy experimentation. This isn’t fancy, complicated chef stuff, but rather detailed – VERY detailed – explanations - how and why to cook everyday foods. How to make mashed potatoes gets four pages, ground (minced) meat an entire chapter. Now, if you’re a pizza fan and have followed Kenji’s extensivee experiments on that front, his website, seriouseats.com is still your best bet. Maybe he’s saving that for the next book? Yes please. Another 950 pages should do it, Kenji.
Best bit? The fact that his obsession translates into easy-to-follow recipes. Soak up all the information or just cook the recipes that have resulted from all his kitchen nerdiness.
Cook the book: Kenji's super-crisp roasted potatoes.
Could this be the best-looking food encyclopedia of all time?
Taste: The Infographic Book of Food, by Laura Rowe (Quarto UK, hbk, $39.99) with illustrations by Vicki Turner.
It’s a book for the Internet age… in print. Sounds confusing, but Taste: The Infographic Book of Food is worth overcoming the initial ‘what is it?’ phase. Essentially, it’s every interesting factoid and culinary tidbit about almost every ingredient known to man, beautifully illustrated as an infographic. Millenials, this has your quick-to-digest name all over it. And everyone will appreciate the downright thoroughly researched information. From the percentage of haas among the world’s cultivated avocados (80 per cent) to how to fillet a fish and which lentils to use in which global dishes, author Laura Rowe, an English food magazine editor and writer, has balanced practical with just plain fascinating.
Best bit? The drop-dead gorgeous illustrations, which entice you to read every last bit of info simply to turn the page and see another one.
The food works all food lovers should read in their lifetime.
Eating Words: A Norton Anthology of Food Writing, edited by Sandra M. Glibert and Roger J. Porter (W.W. Norton & company, Inc., hbk, $49.95).
“The truth is that you can enter history at almost any point and find out a great deal merely by listening to writers describing their meals,” pens Ruth Reichl, herself one of today’s foremost food writers, in the foreword to this wonderful little anthology of written works featuring food. It sums up the value of this historical collection, and the reason food writing has been such an important form of literary expression since the beginning of time. Well, at least from the age of The Old Testament, from which passages are featured, along with excerpts from Roman poets, Renaissance writers, 19th century novelists and more, plus dedicated food writing by modern favourites including Anthony Bourdain, Michael Pollen and Jonathan Gold. For lovers of food and literature in equal measure.
Best bit? The interesting low-down before each excerpt for when you probably should know who the author is, but you don’t.
Read the book: “No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.” Marcel Proust on the madeleine, in Remembrance of Things Past.
And if it's Christmas recipes you're after, head here.