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Best cookbooks of 2016: Find something for the serious and not-so-serious cook

| Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

If you had never bought a cookbook before this year, the crop of 2016 could build a first-rate culinary library. But because you are reading this, you probably own cookbooks. (Come to think of it, who doesn't? Even my friends who say they never cook have some on their shelves.) Well, you'll want to look through this list, too, with an eye toward replacing a few titles. That's how impressed I am with what's on offer.

Bakers can delight in Dorie Greenspan's must-have compendium of cookies and the stunning pictorials of Uri Scheft's breads; Southern and Appalachian foods get star turns from Asha Gomez and Ronni Lundy. Plant-based eating advances in heroic leaps and bounds, thanks to Isa Chandra Moskowitz and to the Philly team of Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby. A few notable chefs tried to shake up the cookbook status quo by splattering a mess here and slipping in profanity there, but L.A.'s Jessica Koslow managed to set herself and her work apart to better effect.

It was especially nice to see some backup singers of the culinary world, a.k.a. ”with” authors, step out on their own, such as Genevieve Ko and Julia Turshen. If we were pressed to compose a shortlist, both their books would be on it.

And I'm happiest to report the recipe collections that always draw me in the most — handsome, practical, full of dishes you have to try — come from the wisest cooks I know. They inspire and teach us.

Cookbooks are listed in alphabetical order within each category:

For bakers

• “Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life,” by Kate McDermott (Countryman Press, $35). She is the Piechiatrist, after all - a title that speaks to the bits of wisdom shared in this pages. This book is the next best thing to taking one of her classes.

• “Better Baking: Wholesome Ingredients, Delicious Desserts,” by Genevieve Ko (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30). Motivated to update classics with more alternative flours and less sugar, Ko has created some of the most innovative flavor combinations you'll find in a baking book, such as Fennel and Currant Corn Bread; Buckwheat Almond Apple Cake; Toasted Walnut and Grape Clafoutis; Chestnut Kisses.

• “Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking,” by Uri Scheft with Raquel Pelzel (Artisan, $35). Scheft, the force behind Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv and Breads Bakery in New York, has contributed mightily to the canon of bread-focused books not only for his wizard use of Middle Eastern ingredients but also for helping to create such stunning process and technique photography.

• “Classic German Baking: The Very Best Recipes for Traditional Favorites from Pfeffernüsse to Streuselkuchen,” by Luisa Weiss (Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House, $35). This overdue guide is a happy marriage of European craft and American sensibilities. One Weiss tip that will may come in handy elsewhere: Euro size “M” eggs are equivalent to large ones in the States.

• “The Cardamom Trail: Chetna Bakes With Flavours of the East,” by Chetna Makan (Mitchell Beazley, $30). The former “Great British Baking Show” finalist empowers the average home baker to experiment.

• “Dorie's Cookies,” by Dorie Greenspan (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35). It was worth the wait. The author always keeps her audience in mind, with clear directions and ideas for substitutions.

• “The Rye Baker: Classic Breads From Europe and America,” by Stanley Ginsburg (W.W. Norton, $35). The genius of this collection is that it has the power to neutralize people's love it/hate it relationship with such an assertive flavor. The book is geared toward serious breadmakers who won't mind seeking out unusual ingredients.

For a culture dive

• “The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria,” by Marlene Matar (Interlink, $40). As the souks of this former world food capital lay in ruins, the chef-author links Middle Eastern foods and history.

• “Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food From an American Kitchen,” by Katie Button with Genevieve Ko (Flatiron Books, $35). The Carolina-born chef-restaurateur, whose mentors include Ferran Adrià and José Andrés, makes Spanish food with local and widely available ingredients.

• “My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen,” by Asha Gomez with Martha Hall Foose (Running Press, $35). The author's sure hand and Kerala roots make for a stunning fusion of culinary traditions. It can be as subtle as adding nutmeg and white pepper to the batter of an angel food cake or as seamless as pork in a vindaloo-inspired gravy that can be mopped up with cardamom corn bread.

• “Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes From the Culinary Heart of China,” by Fuchsia Dunlop (W.W. Norton, $35). You won't find a Chinese food cookbook with shorter ingredient lists than this one has - a welcome surprise for the genre.

• “Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens,” by Pati Jinich (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30). The emphasis is on accessibility here, from one of Washington Post Food's favorite authors.

• “Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions,” by Domenica Marchetti (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23). Expect sure-handed advice with a clear and personal point of view.

• “Scandinavian Comfort Food: Embracing the Art of Hygge,” by Trine Hahnemann (Quadrille, $35). The range of recipes steps outside the typical American casserole zone, yet it offers a level of enticing familiarity, especially with grains. The concept behind the title — how to create a good feeling around one's self, often with food and company — is not explained until you're well into the book. But you won't regret spending the time it takes to get there.

• “Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, With Recipes,” by Ronni Lundy (Clarkson Potter, $). The author's a terrific guide to the regional cuisine many Americans know so little about. Full review here.

For people who really cook

• “Cooking for Jeffrey,” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35). Her painstaking approach to recipe development and testing translates to “easy” for the rest of us. Fans will delight in the young-couple photos. The Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken is destined for classic status.

• “Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks: Second Edition,” by Linda Carucci (Author House, $28). You'd be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive guide for anyone who's new to the kitchen or wants to up their game. There's a nice balance of scientific explanation and practical tips. The author's two exercises for seasoning soup and steak may forever change the way you salt your food.

• “Life in Balance: A Fresher Approach to Eating,” by Donna Hay (HarperCollins, 2016; $35). Just about every dish is photographed to seduce. The recipe writing skews minimal yet does not leave too much room for guessing.

• “How to Celebrate Everything: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day in Between,” by Jenny Rosenstrach (Ballentine Books, $30). The average cook-host who's so often stumped by party menu planning will appreciate the straightforward recipes here, as well as author's friendly writing style and party game suggestions.

• “Poole's: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner,” by Ashley Christensen with Kaitlin Goalen (Ten Speed Press, $47). This is Southern chef food you can make at home; the macaroni au gratin recipe alone practically justifies the book's hefty price point. The restaurant narrative and photos unfold at an unhurried pace.

• “Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better” (Oxmoor House, $35). Cooking is about “nurturing, context. A life,” the author says - and that comes through loud and clear in this collection of tips and 150-plus recipes.

• “Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors,” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $33). This is really Thoughtful food, as it dips into many cultures and comes up with original combinations. It is a fitting addition to the London author's series of handsome, well-written and hands-on-produced cookbooks.

• “Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home-Cooking Triumphs,” by Julia Turshen (Chronicle, $35).

• “The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook,” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Little, Brown and Co., 2016; $32). This could be the sleeper cookbook of the year, as it steers party food in the mode that's increasingly sought-after and appreciated.

• “V Street: 100 Globe-Hopping Plates on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking,” by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby (William Morrow, 2016; $34.99). These vegan Philadelphia chef-restaurateurs are especially adept at seasoning and saucing. From Washington Post Food Editor Joe Yonan: “The book aims to help readers bring those flavors home, suggesting almost two dozen pantry staples that can span various cuisines and including shopping lists for seven types of ethnic markets.”

For gift-giving and/or fun

• “The Asian Slow Cooker: Exotic Favorites for Your Crockpot,” by Kelly Kwok (Page Street Publishing, $22). The recipes are not so exotic, in fact, but doable renditions for anyone who has a pantry full of supermarket-access Asian ingredients. Slow-cooker enthusiasts tired of chili, this one's for you.

• “The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild,” by Dave Canterbury (Adams Media, $17). Practical and sized just right, for places where Google can't always be summoned. Includes a guide to what's edible for foragers and key illustrations, in addition to recipes.

• “Chicken: A Savor the South Cookbook,” by Cynthia Graubart (University of North Carolina Press, $20). Here's a tidy roundup done in good taste; we especially like the categories of whole birds, and pieces.

• “Deceptive Desserts: A Lady's Guide to Baking Bad!,” by Christine McConnell (Regan Arts, $29.95). The campy how-to is as inspirational for lovers of trompe l'oeil as it is for admirers of the entrepreneurial spirit.

• “Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking,” by Jessica Koslow with Maria Zizka (Abrams, $40). Big props for this restaurant chef-author who apologizes for relying on some “sub-recipes” - those extra, time-consuming elements that can bring plans for imminent dinner to a halt. This is fun and it has a different look that doesn't alienate the average cookbook reader. Another candidate for a would-be shortlist of this year's favorites.

• “The Short Stack Cookbook: Ingredients That Speak Volumes,” by Nick Fauchald, Kaitlyn Goalen and the contributors of Short Stack Editions (Abrams, $40). This is a visually hip, color-coded compilation of ingredient-focused recipes found in the series' small-format booklets. The emphasis is on ease, and you'll find some of the most accomplished and reliable chefs and cookbook authors among the book's contributors.

Bonnie S. Benwick is a Washington Post staff writer.

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