This has been a banner year for fall cookbooks. There are always some great new releases that I get particularly excited about, but this year’s different. I can hardly keep up and I wanted to share some of my new favorites with you. These are the ones that are bookmarked, riddled with post-it notes, and live on my bedstand–the ones I turn to for ideas on innovative ingredients, old-fashioned Southern recipes, and classic chocolate desserts. I’ve ogled them, baked from them, and recommended them to friends (not surprisingly, most of them are baking books). After chatting about these, I’d love to hear about any new (or classic) fall cookbooks you’ve been enjoying lately.
Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
As some of my local friends know, I have an odd crush on the guys from Baked Bakery–even odder considering they’re two gay guys from Brooklyn and I’ve never even been to the bakery. But the approach that Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito take with American baked goods is inspiring: they play with ingredients and techniques to make a classic dessert that you’re familiar with into something entirely new. Take the salt and pepper sandwich cookies, for instance. Or how about the Boston cream pie cake (brilliant)? I went to hear the duo speak recently at Omnivore Books and what they said about American baked goods hit home for me: there’s more to it than cupcakes, and with their Brooklyn bakery they wanted to show all of the possibilities with classic, simple, high-quality treats. If their lovely books are any testament to what’s being done behind the counter, this could be the highlight of my trip to New York next month.
Pick it up: Baked Explorations on Amazon.com
Flour by Joanne Chang
As most of you know, I went to graduate school in Boston and visited Flour Bakery many, many times. This is the kind of bakery I’d like to have: warm and homey with a big communal table, specials on the chalkboard, big mugs of strong coffee, and classic American desserts. So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to open up owner Joanne Chang’s cookbook and see many of my old favorite treats: the double chocolate cookie (you must try this), the unbelievably rich chocolate cupcakes, that creamy pumpkin pie, and the trustworthy banana bread. Joanne’s head notes reveal a little about each recipe and give a history of how they came to be at the bakery. And she has some charming tips she calls “Baker’s Bites” where she reveals tricks and shortcuts for some of the recipes. On a shelf glutted with baking books, this one is a keeper.
Pick it up: Flour on Amazon.com
Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
Tartine Bakery is right in my backyard (sort of), and as I wrote recently for Bay Area Bites, it’s a place locals have a love/hate relationship with. Tartine is really an exquisite bakery. If you’ve never had their morning bun, lemon tart, or fudgey brownie, put it on your to-do list next time you’re in our neck of the woods. The hate part comes from the massive crowds at virtually all hours of the day. And that’s why their cookbooks are a welcome addition to the bookshelf: with a little flour and elbow grease, owners Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Prueitt walk you through how to recreate their beloved treats at home. This book is Chad’s baby–it’s a celebration of the country loaf that the bakery’s famous for. With the help of tactile and sensuous photos from the talented Eric Wolfinger, Chad walks you through exactly how to recreate the crusty masterpiece at home in your own kitchen. In addition to the bread recipe, Chad has some great ideas for what to do with day-old bread (savory bread pudding, meatball sandwiches, fresh fava panzanella). If you’re local, Chad’s speaking about his book at the fabulous Omnivore Books on Saturday, November 6th from 1-2 p.m.
Pick it up: Tartine Bread on Amazon.com
Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott
The title pretty much seals the deal for me. Southern recipes appeal to me in a strange way–I think I may have been born on the wrong coast. And pie? Duh. Lucky for me (and you), this book has a lot more going for it than just the title. North Carolina native, Nancie McDermott, has done an amazing job covering everything from the classic Southern recipe for chess and buttermilk pies to more familiar favorites like butterscotch pie and and double apple. I love Nancie’s chapter on pie crusts and technique: she lays out numerous options for crust and discusses blind-baking and how to choose which crust is appropriate for each pie. Examples include her classic butter pie crust, graham cracker crust, and the ever-likeable ‘You Can Do This’ lard pie crust. The book is organized by seasons and types of pie; I’ve got “Fall and Winter Pies” bookmarked and am tackling her version of apple this weekend!
Pick it up: Southern Pies on Amazon.com
The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook
Here we go with Southern recipes again. When I received this book in the mail, I was a bit giddy. I curled up on the couch and read a good chunk of it like it was a novel. The Southern Foodways Alliance is a group of folks from the University of Mississippi who study food cultures around the American South. And here they’ve produced a truly lovely community cookbook–the kind that’s becoming increasingly rare these days. It’s a sweet little spiral-bound book full of recipes from pimento cheese and butterbean gravy to cheese grits casserole and persimmon pudding. They’ve successfully created a real sense of place with this book: after reading it for a mere few minutes, you feel like you’ve been uplifted to Georgia or Tennessee or Louisiana. The caramel cupcakes I just made here on the blog originated from this book, and I can’t wait to try the “Fancy Pants” banana pudding, sweet tea lemon chess pie, and the Southern chicken and dumplings. The head notes of each recipe discuss where each originated: for the most part, they’re all from regular folks like you and I–classic family recipes that have been passed down for generations and have had a shining spot on picnic blankets and church lunch tables for years.
Pick it up: The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook on Amazon.com
O.k., your turn: what’s on your nightstand? What are you bookmarking these days?
Note: I did receive a few of these books directly from the publisher for review, and did not purchase them outright.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.