What's one of the best things about the holidays? The feasting! And what's best about the feasting? The sugary goodness that we get to overindulge in, with nary a lick of shame. This season is extra-filled with some amazing dessert-oriented cookbooks. Not all of the cookbooks listed here focus exclusively on sweets, but they all include tasty dessert recipes. The cookbooks we chose for our potluck have the three linchpins upon which a good cookbook relies: pleasing illustrations, interesting recipes, and a representation of the author's personality. I heartily recommend every one of these cookbooks.
Violet Bakery Cookbook
by Claire Ptak
Violet Bakery is California meets London. Author Claire Ptak, former Chez Panisse baker, puts her Californian fresh and modern twists on traditional British baking, and from this combo, charming recipes are born. Her recipes combine sweet, salty, bitter, and sour into well-balanced baked goods. This balance is best exemplified in the Olive Oil Sweet Wine Cake, and in the Chocolate Prune and Whisky Cake, both of which I'm dying to eat. (This is a blatant hint to my friends and coworkers who might want to feed me something.)
Britt made: Kamut, Vanilla and Chocolate Chip Cookies
"I was drawn to the Violet Bakery Cookbook for the heartiness of its baked goods. I like using a variety of flours, Kamut, buckwheat, millet, and spelt, and I especially like using them when baking. So I had to try this recipe. I love the sophistication of these cookies. The recipe calls for coconut sugar instead of traditional sugar, so it has a more delicate sweetness. And instead of using chocolate chips, it advises you to buy milk and dark chocolate bars and chop them yourself. I think this recipe is a great upgrade to the traditional chocolate chip cookie." – Britt
My Kitchen Year
by Ruth Reichl
My Kitchen Year was written from a diary kept by Ruth Reichl, former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, when she found herself suddenly jobless by the shutdown of the beloved and massively popular magazine. With her calendar suddenly open, she took her depression into the kitchen and cooked her way back to wholeness. If you've ever turned to food and cooking for comfort, if you've ever doubted your place in the world and looked to simple things to make life feel better, Reichl's deeply personal story will move you. My Kitchen Year is a quiet joy filled with Reichl's own recipes. They are lovely and of the caliber you'd expect from someone with Reichl's formidable food background. My Kitchen Year is a book to read from as much as to cook from.
Michal made: Cranberry Pecan Crostata
"Brimming with culinary and life reflections alongside cooking musings, Reichl's guide to savoring the seasons provides a glimpse into the joys of simple food. The Cranberry Pecan Crostata is an elegant-looking but quick-and-easy dessert to prepare requiring little preparation time. The filling is bright and not too sweet, and the crust is light and delicious." – Michal
Food Gift Love
by Maggie Battista
This is a must-have cookbook for the cook who likes to give gifts from the kitchen. Food Gift Love has it all: soup, butter, cheese, jams, candy, cookies. Honeyed kumquats, candied jalapeños, rompopo (Latin-style eggnog). Page after page of giftable food items. Each recipe comes with a presentation suggestion. As a bonus, Food Gift Love has a gift-giving guide based on how well you know the recipient. (Any of my friends reading this: feel free to make and give me anything from this book. I'm especially fond of the chocolate-dipped spoons!)
Corie made: Jam Swirled Marshmallows
"The thing about homemade marshmallows is that they don't compare in any way to those grocery-store marshmallows we've all eaten since childhood. Fresh marshmallows are light, fluffy, and mildly sweet, rather than overbearingly so. They're the perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of cocoa on a chilly Northwest evening! I stored these in a sealed container on the counter for a week, and the freshness stayed true." – Corie
Complete Cooks Country TV Show Cookbook
by America's Test Kitchen
This updated version of The Cook's Country includes all seasons of the PBS cooking show, including the current 8th season. These are foolproof recipes! They have all been tested by the America's Test Kitchen folks, so you are guaranteed to get a good recipe, and maybe you'll learn a little cooking science as well. Complete Cook's Country is recommended for all levels of experience in the kitchen and may be best suited to the intermediate cook: someone who is ready to graduate from boxed macaroni and cheese to making it from scratch, or someone who may have mastered the hamburger and wants to step up to steak. Complete Cooks Country is also good for someone like me; I'm proficient in the kitchen, but sometimes I just want a good old American meal that I don't have to fuss with much and can feel confident will turn out well the first time I make it.
Jen H. made: Muffin Tin Doughnuts
"Rolling these muffins in melted butter and then a cinnamon-and-sugar coating gives them the decadence of a doughnut. This recipe was very clear and easy to follow. I consider myself a beginner in the kitchen, and the recipe was perfect for my skill level." – Jen H.
by Lucy Cufflin
I always love to open up a new cookbook from publisher Hardie Grant. They can be relied on for delicious recipes, and Lucy's Bakes is no exception. These are easy baking recipes with simple instructions. Each recipe includes mini reviews by people who have actually baked the goods, and they often include hints or suggestions for changes in the recipe. I've made the Lemon Curd Cake, which was yummy enough for me to start keeping a jar of lemon curd in the pantry, for impulse cake bakery. The recipes are mostly sweets, with a nod to savory baking as well. Lucys Bakes is a good cookbook to haul out when you want a nice desert, but don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
Aubrey made: Peanut Butter Crispy Squares
I didn't make these, but I sure as heck ate them! These squares have a good flavor, and the recipe produced a lot more than expected. When I make these crispy treats for myself, I plan to drizzle melted chocolate over the top. – Tracey
by Debra Music and Joe Whinney
When shopping for the kitchen, there are a few things you shouldn't scrimp on, and chocolate is one of them. A good chocolate makes the difference between a good dessert and a breathtaking dream of a dessert. Theo Chocolate is a wonderful choice for cooking as well as snacking. Theo Chocolate's dessert recipes are approachable yet have a touch of sophistication. The savory recipes have a rustic appreciation of chocolate: carrots in balsamic chocolate, roasted squash with brown butter nibs, a mole recipe from Portland chef Naomi Pomeroy (Beast Restaurant, Top Chef Masters). Theo makes sustainability a high priority, so while you are enjoying the high chocolate percentage, you are also helping the world just that tiny bit more.
Jen C. made: Basic Toffee (coated in chocolate)
"In Theo Chocolate, cofounders Debra Music and Joe Whinney present the story of Theo, along with techniques and a multitude of sweet and savory chocolate recipes. From cocoa nib prawns to wonderfully decadent marshmallow bars, you'll find unexpected ways of cooking with chocolate and many new favorite recipes as well." – Jen C.
Aubrey made: Chocolate Mousse with Olive Oil
"This might be my very favorite mousse ever, not only because the recipe yielded successful results, but also because the flavor and texture were absolutely perfect — "smooth and silky," just as promised in the cookbook. I highly recommend making a little freshly whipped cream to go on top, also mentioned in the recipe. Our staff has tried out several recipes from Theo Chocolate, and each one has turned out fantastic. This entire cookbook gets five stars from me, for having such a broad assortment of dishes (including lots of savory recipes!) that have clearly been well-tested, from a company that is as passionate about its ethical business practices as it is about making wonderful chocolate." – Aubrey
by Yvette Van Boven
Home Baked was an instant hit with us. Mostly sweet recipes, with the occasional savory, this cookbook has something for everyone. Lovely hand-painted watercolors add some extra charm amidst the wonderful photography. At almost 400 pages, Home Baked is filled with classic recipes, all with an extra touch of delicious: Gingerbread Pepper Cookies, Sourdough Pizza with Spicy Smoked Tomato Sauce, Quick Whole Wheat Sunflower Seed Bread with Beer, Chocolate Olive Oil Cake with Grapefruit. Besides making sure each dish is delicious, author Van Boven uses healthy ingredient choices when appropriate and offers helpful allergy hints and substitutions when she can.
Kim made: Pear and Caramel Pie with Walnuts
"This recipe combined two of my favorite flavors: caramel and pears. The puff pastry made the crust easy to assemble, and the walnuts gave a really nice crunch to these sweet little pear-shaped tartlets. Such an easy and fun recipe for a special weeknight treat!" – Kim
Richard made: Sticky Gingerbread
"Home Baked's very tasty, very moist Sticky Gingerbread has an easy-to-follow recipe with plenty of the essential ginger. It's a great alternative for people who don't like dark molasses because it uses maple syrup instead. This makes for a wonderful accompaniment to your morning tea or coffee." – Richard