I have about 25 feet of cookbooks, and about 15 years of Cook’s Illustrated. I usually come up with what I want, and then search for the best interpretation of that concept. I have an idea of what I think that recipe should be, and I look for the component parts wherever I can find them. A few years ago a friend asked how you make Black Forest Cake. I knew what I thought it should be. Lacking a specific recipe, I assembled the component receipes and gave her my take on the whole process. I have never made that cake. (It did utilize Rose’s Brandied Burgundy Cherries and stabilized whipped cream.)
I have some that I go to for only one or two recipes. It’s tough to keep track because if I use a recipe regularly enough, I put it into my computer and add it to my collection of recipes. I really like
“The American Baker” by Jim Dodge. I use his pastry cream recipe. The recipes are straight-forward and simple. And he gives components and assembly methods so you can mix & match.
When I got this book (a long, long, time ago) I read something that has always stuck with me.
“A well-made dessert communicates with those who are going to eat it long before they take the first bite. Its first appeal is visual. What appears on the outside is a promise of what awaits within. The pastry cook should always be aware of this promise. Once you have created anticipation, you either fulfill that anticipation or you disappoint.” - The American Baker, p 23.
I also really like “Rosie’s All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds Barred Baking Book by Judy Rosenberg. Who can argue with that title. It runs the gamut of dessert recipes and has some wonderfully unexpected items.
I just purchased the new edition of “The Joy of Cooking”. It has great basic recipes that are time tested. Where else can you find the recipe for home-made marshmallows (yum, and easy too with a stand mixer) and learn how to dress out a squirrel (haven’t tried that one yet). If you want to experiment with candymaking, you can start with “Joy”. You don’t have to go out and buy a specialized book to start out. Try your hand at some old fashioned basics before you launch into the modern era. After all, the chemistry of sugar hasn’t changed.
And I must weigh in on Saveur Magazine. If you are looking for authentic recipes for traditional regional foods, regardless of what country of origin, their in-depth articles and accompanying recipes can’t be beat. To read about these cultures, even if it’s Memphis BBQ or the Southern Fried Chicken from the perspective of the community, and then see a gorgeous picture and say “Mmm. I’m gonna make that”. My only boeuf with them is I have over 10 years of magazines, and I don’t think they publish a comprehensive index. Arrgh.
I love “Cookwise”. I’m a big picture person. I want to know “Why”. Why did my nicely thickened custard turn runny overnight? Well you didn’t bring it to a boil and kill off the enzymes in the eggs. They ate your starch gel while you were sleeping. Only in Cookwise.
Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads is a great comprehensive resource for the world of bread. Once again, I haven’t cooked out of it as much as I would like to say, but I know that if I have the urge to make bagels, or pretzels, or cheddar cheese bread, pita, brioche, or just plain white bread. It will be there for me. I was following a recipe for the traditional Mardi Gras King Cake. It was the one like brioche, not danish. AFter extensive research on the internet I proceeded with a well-known TV chef’s recipe. However, things just didn’t seem right. The dough was way too dry. I pulled out “Breads” and looked up brioche. Comparing the recipes helped me to realize that the recipe I was following didn’t have nearly enough liquid in it. I added in the egg whites that weren’t being used, and everything worked out great.
You can’t cook in a vacuum (everything would explode).
You can never have too many cookbooks.