With all the new cookbooks coming out all the time, sometimes it's worth pausing to celebrate the books that came out years ago but have became reliable friends in the kitchen.
This time, it's baking books. The James Beard Foundation's cookbook awards committee today released "The Baker's Dozen," 13 books that every baker ought to have.
First, let me make my involvement clear: This is my last year after a decade of serving on the committee that oversees the cookbook awards. I've been chair for the last three years, but I'll be stepping down after the James Beard Foundation awards in May. So understand that I not only suggested some of the books on this list, I also led the committee through putting the list together.
The other committee members: cookbook author and Portland food writer Martha Holmberg, Matt Sartwell of Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York, wine writer Tara Q. Thomas, NY food writer Irene Sax, cookbook authors Grace Young and Naomi Duguid, Chicago Tribune food editor Carol Haddix and cookbook store owner Ellen Rose of Los Angeles. And believe me when I say, that is mighty distinguished company. I've been humbled to work with them these last three years.
That said, I'll also admit that I learned a lot while we were putting together this list. I also helped put together the first Beard book list four years ago, "The Core Collection: 20 Essential Cookbooks," which was a list of general cookbooks. This time, we focused strictly on baking, both sweet and savory. Both times, I discovered books that I didn't know, and remembered books I had forgotten. This time, we dug back through several decades of development in baking books, and we took a close look at books that have just come out in the last year or so.
Here's my conclusion: Baking books are so personal, so passionate. They have to be dependable, because there are more chances for baking recipes to go astray. And they come to be loved because the things we make from them, the cakes and cookies and breads, are part of the best cooking we do. How better to show someone you love them than to bake them a cake, or to break bread together?
Here's the list, and here's a link to the full list and press release online: http://jamesbeard.org/index.php?q=james_beard_general_news
1. “Baking: From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006).
2. “Beard on Bread,” by James Beard (originally published 1973; reprinted by Knopf, 1995).
3. “The Book of Great Desserts,” by Maida Heatter (Andrews McMeel, 1999).
4. “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed, 2001).
5. “The Cake Bible,” by Rose Levy Beranbaum (William Morrow, 1988).
6. “Classic Home Desserts,” by Richard Sax (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000).
7. “Cocolat,” by Alice Medrich (Warner Books, 1990).
8. “The Fannie Farmer Baking Book,” by Marion Cunningham (Gramercy, 1996).
9. “Great Pies and Tarts,” by Carole Walter (Clarkson Potter, 1998).
10. “The Italian Baker,” by Carol Field (William Morrow, 1985).
11. “Martha Stewart’s Cookies,” by Martha Stewart (Clarkson Potter, 2008).
12. “My Bread,” by Jim Lahey (W.W. Norton, 2009).
13. “The Simple Art of Perfect Baking,” by Flo Braker (Chronicle, 2003).