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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
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.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.