What do you look for in a cookbook? Lots of photos? Creative twists on classic recipes? The author's style, reputation or celebrity? What matters the most?
Like a great recipe, it's the artful synthesis of many "ingredients" that I believe makes a cookbook worthy of a place in one's kitchen library:
1. Generosity of spirit
2. Variety & Creativity
3. Well-written recipes
4. Photos of finished recipes
5. The Bookmark Test
6. Proof in the Pudding
7. Breadth of Appeal
Last summer, I had the pleasure of reviewing The Homesick Texan from Hyperion. The cookbook met each of these criteria with flying colors. It's a cookbook that I revisit time and again, recommend and gift to friends, and feel a surge of excitement for every time I open the smooth red cover.
Today, I'm happy to be reviewing another Hyperion volume -- the Joy the Baker Cookbook. Joy Wilson is a self-taught baker who has baked her way creatively through life both at home and in a professional setting. Her popular food blog, Joy the Baker, was named the Best Baking & Dessert Blog of 2011 by Saveur magazine, and has earned several other prestigious accolades since its inception in 2008.
So, did this cookbook, bright and joyful as the author herself, have what it takes to earn a permanent spot on my shelf and a glowing endorsement to my readers?
1. Generosity of spirit -- Does the author share their personality, talent and tips without talking down to the reader or holding back their best tricks-of-the trade?
Yes! Joy's lighthearted and easygoing style gives the reader a baking-with-my-best-girlfriend feel. In Chapter 1 you'll find such headings as "What the Heck is Cake Flour?", "Am I Seriously Out of Brown Sugar?", and "How to Get the Bundt Out" letting you know that Joy is no-nonsense and a lot of fun! From a trick for getting the most flavor out of fruit zest to instructions on how to brown butter and make your own vanilla extract, Joy is full of tips to take one's baking skills to the next level.
2. Variety & Creativity -- Do the recipes all strike the same note, or is the book a symphony of classics & creative twists; running the gamut from savory to sweet and breakfast through dinner?
With 100 "Simple and Comforting Recipes" (the book's tagline), the Joy the Baker Cookbook has a little of everything: Classics like Chocolate Bundt Cake, No-roll Pie Crust, Simple Vanilla Cupcakes, and a host of traditional frostings; Unique savory recipes like Avocado Fries, Parmesan Seaweed Popcorn, and Cheddar Chive & Jalapeno Biscuits; Frozen treats like Chocolate Covered Coconut Macaroon Ice Cream and Pineapple Malted Milkshakes; Breakfast treats like Cocoa Almond Granola, Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes, and Leek & Asparagus Quiche. And that's just the tip of the icepop (a Chocolate Raspberry Fudge Pop, that is).
3. Well-written recipes -- Are the recipes easy-to-follow? Are the ingredients listed in order of appearance? Do the recipes contain notes or tips to held guide you on your way?
Joy's recipes are well laid-out. The introductions are informative, endearing and often funny. The recipes are peppered with notes to help keep you on track, like "Mixture may seem a bit dry, but that's okay" (Dark Chocolate and Anise Biscotti recipe). Many measurements are given in both volume and ounces. I appreciate having the option of weighing my ingredients, like the chocolate chips (1 cup or 6 ounces) in the Strawberry Cookie Dough Ice Cream recipe.
|On the Left: Joy's Brownies, page 153 On the Right: My Brownies|
4. Photos of finished recipes -- Is there a visual example of what your finished product should look like? Are the photos over-styled, or are the results pictured actually attainable?
The photos are lovely and tantalizing, but not overdone. They are not so artfully manipulated that you question whether what you're viewing is a sculpted work of spackle or crisco. The food looks real. It looks delicious. And it looks do-able.
|A cookbook worth its salt will look like this after your first flip through.|
5. The Bookmark Test -- Grab some scraps of paper and flip through the cookbook page by page. Bookmark any recipe that stands out as a "MUST-MAKE". 10-15 recipes marked, and you probably have yourself a keeper.
The moment I unwrapped my advanced copy from Hyperion, I sat down with a stack of hastily torn bookmarks. First glance yield twelve "MUST-MAKES". Every time I've opened the cookbook since, I've found something else that piques my fancy.
6. Proof in the Pudding -- Try before you buy. Visit the author's website or look for a cookbook review that includes some recipes from the book. Try them and see if you like them. Here's what I've tried so far...
Chocolate Fudge Brownies with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (*****) -- Made them, shared them, everyone loved them! We'll definitely be making these fudgy morsels with chocolate malted frosting again!
Dark Chocolate & Anise Biscotti (*****) -- My family now demands that I make a batch every week.
Chamomile Tea Cakes with Honey Frosting (****) -- Light and lovely. Such a unique and delicious flavor. A wonderful cake to serve for a tea party. I baked mine right inside the oven-safe coffee cups!
Flaxseed and Cracked Pepper Crackers (**) -- Honesty's important, right? It's what sets apart a real review from a shill. So here's the deal -- I didn't care for the crackers. I baked them once, following the recipe to the letter. I baked them a second time, making my own tweaks and modifications. Does this count as a strike against the cookbook? Puhleese. It's only one recipe out of 100.
7. Breadth of Appeal -- So, will I recommend this cookbook? To who? Novice bakers, savvy bakers, culinary pros?
This cookbook has broad appeal. It is friendly and straightforward enough to encourage the beginner, and has enough culinary-savvy & creativity to appeal to the pro. Pros may skip over the classics like White Chocolate Mousse, Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting, and Pumpkin Bundt Cake, opting instead for their own well honed versions, but will surely be seduced by Joy's more unorthodox combinations and unique creations.
Well, that's 7 for 7!
A perfect score!
A fabulous book!
(and only $11.99)
(and only $11.99)
Thank you to Hyperion and to Heather of Girlichef for including me in this sweet experience!