Favorite Things

The 10 Cookbooks I Can’t Live Without

[Note: This post contains affiliate links.]

I have a cookbook obsession.

I used to have a blog called 131 Cookbooks (which is now offline), aptly named after my cookbook collection. Since pulling that blog, I’ve culled it somewhat – thanks to this book on tidying* – but it nevertheless has remained fairly remarkable. [Note that this post contains affiliate links]

I’m really particular about the cookbooks I’m willing to both buy and use. Aesthetics are important to me, as is layout, emphasis on quality ingredients, and recipe type. Images are a toss-up – I love America’s Test Kitchen and the like, despite the fact that such cookbooks are seriously lacking in the inspiring photographs department. And, while I love a good back story behind a recipe, I get really excited when the author gets a wee bit romantic about the culture of the people from where the recipe was sourced. Finally, if the cookbook teaches me something about technique – something valuable I can add to my culinary repertoire – it usually qualifies in my head as being pretty damn good.

10 cookbooks I truly can't live without.

I was tempted to title this post “My Favorite Cookbooks”, but aside from being uninspiring, I knew that you probably didn’t want to sift through a list 50+ lines deep. So, know that these 10 cookbooks are truly something spectacular.*

The 10 cookbooks I can’t live without:

  1. Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers
  2. 50 Great Curries of India
  3. The New Best Recipe
  4. Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  5. Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes
  6. Jamie’s Italy
  7. Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (currently out of print)
  8. Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe’s Best Artisan Bakers
  9. Joy of Cooking
  10. Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine

And the reasons why I can’t live without them:

  1. Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers I love to bake, and this book has inspired countless recipes on my end. Plus, it’s a gorgeous book jam-packed with techniques. And, did someone say Julia Child?!
  2. 50 Great Curries of India I spent years learning how to cook Indian food, and I must say that this cookbook is brilliant. Full disclaimer: it’s actually not my favorite Indian cookbook (it’s meat-heavy and less focused on technique than others I own), but it’s my go-to one because of how accessible the recipes are. Plus, each dish comes with a beautiful photograph. You simply must try the egg curry, which has got to be my favorite!
  3. The New Best Recipe America’s Test Kitchen relentlessly seeks to perfect each recipe it publishes, and it explains the hell out of the techniques it employs. At times we have diverging opinions about what the “best” recipe actually is, but the education provided in the text makes it easy to successfully adapt the recipes.
  4. Mastering the Art of French Cooking Julia Child. JULIA CHILD. JULIA CHILD. No other commentary required.
  5. Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes For the serious artisan baker, Hamelman’s book is ridiculously rich in technique. Seriously, it’s like THE bible for artisan bread baking.
  6. Jamie’s Italy For some inexplicable reason, I avoided The Naked Chef for a long time. It turns out that I was simply being an idiot. He really takes you behind the scenes with his powerful and stunning images and poignant commentary. He’s a food activist, which makes me love him all the more. This is the perfect book to cozy up with, provided you have a delicious but humble Pinot on hand.
  7. Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (currently out of print) Alice Medrich is arguably the individual most responsible for bringing chocolate truffles to the USA. Her passion for chocolate is unrivaled, and she thoroughly explains how to master simple but difficult techniques such as tempering. I highly recommend this book!
  8. Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe’s Best Artisan Bakers It took me countless tries, a meeting with the master baker of a local artisan bakery in Montana, and subsequent follow-up reading to get the holes just right in both my ciabatta loaves and baguettes. I could have saved myself a lot of time had I employed the techniques outlined in this great book – a book that romanticizes European hearth breads – from the start.
  9. Joy of Cooking This cookbook has every recipe imaginable, and is my go-to whenever I need to make a very specific dish. Recent editions have been overhauled by reputable chefs, and – wouldn’t you know it – Alice Medrich (see #7) was tasked with revamping two sections. That ought to tell you something.
  10. Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine Remember the book-turned-movie Julie & Julia? You know, where Julie Powell taught herself how to cook by working (and blogging) her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking (see #4)? Well, my preferred method is to cook my way through adaptations of culinary school textbooks…and this particular text is one of the most complete yet approachable options I’ve encountered. It’s not cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than the tuition to get hands-on training!

Are any of these cookbooks in your library? Do you have any favorites that you think I ought to check out? What makes a cookbook awesome in your opinion? I’m always looking for some great reads (yes, I read these babies like they are novels!). Please share below!

*Note that the above links are affiliate links, meaning that if you decide to go on a wild shopping spree at Amazon after clicking a link (whether or not you actually buy the book to which I’ve linked), I’ll earn a small percentage of the total sale.


12 Comments

  • Reply
    Darryl
    February 26, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    I am absolutely addicted to the America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated books. I often find myself pre-ordering these books when something new is being released. My two absolute favorites are:

    The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010
    and
    The Best Mexican Recipes

    I love the stories behind the recipes and they always include new, random tecniques that I can add to my repotoire and use to make other recipes better.

    My other favories were from a the Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World. Each book features the cuisine, traditions, and beautiful photography from a specific city. I have several (I tried colloecing one for each of the “world class” cities I have visited. The best book was Florence!!!

    • Reply
      Kristi Smith
      February 27, 2016 at 12:22 am

      Lol, I KNOW you are!

      OMG, I don’t have either of these! Hmph. I did just count 8 of their cookbooks on my bookshelves, though. Plus a 9th, if you count one of Jack Bishop’s.

      I love the stories, too. And the sketches. I love their magazine, although I’ve never actually subscribed to it. I dig how there aren’t any outside advertisers!

      Williams-Sonoma has some good ones. Florence just sounds awesome! I used to (maybe still have) its India cookbook. Super beautiful! Oh, and the store is gorgeous, too. We live about five blocks away from one, and I just learned that I have access to a discount on everything, should I decide to use it. *Must exercise restraint* lol.

  • Reply
    yogafire
    March 3, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    OK, we put the Joy of Cooking and Julia Child’s vol. I and II on our wedding registry, but we haven’t actually cooked any recipes from them. I think the issue is that it’s easier to search by protein or random ingredient I have on the web, so I tend to take items from epicurious.com (I really miss Gourmet magazine).

    Thanks for the inspiration to crack open those book spines!

    • Reply
      Kristi Smith
      March 4, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Haha – you bet! I far prefer cookbooks to web-based recipes (despite the fact I post them!). Joy is awesome, although I don’t usually use it unless it’s a holiday or something. But, I would feel so entirely lost without it because it literally has a recipe for everything, and everything I’ve made has always turned out. Julia Child’s book is beyond a classic. In fact, I think I may cook myself through it just to improve my cooking. Of course, I’ve said the same thing regarding a few others shown in that pic #notenoughtime.

      Thanks for being inspired and commenting!

  • Reply
    Stephanie - Fearless Fresh
    March 14, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    So many good books here! Some of my favorites as well.

    • Reply
      Kristi Smith
      March 14, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      It was hard to choose just 10 🙂

      • Reply
        Stephanie - Fearless Fresh
        March 14, 2016 at 7:13 pm

        Indeed! I have over 900 cookbooks. It’s hard to chose between them. 🙂

        Also, your opt-in guide (Channeling Your Domestic Goddess) is gorgeous! Did you design it yourself?

        • Reply
          Kristi Smith
          March 14, 2016 at 7:31 pm

          WHAT?!?! I had to stop what I was doing (prepping a photo shoot for a blog post, lol…) to respond…wow! That’s about 8x the most I’ve ever owned. How many do you use? Do you have recommendations? I’m most curious *insert in awe emoticon*

          Thanks, btw! Yes, I had to learn InDesign to create it, but it was worth it. Oh, and the kitchen pic is a stock photo (my kitchen is too dark for the vibe I was after), but the rest were mine.

          • Stephanie - Fearless Fresh
            March 14, 2016 at 9:29 pm

            Wow you did an AMAZING job! It looks like you hired a professional to do it. Color me impressed. 🙂

            So… yeah. 900. It’s kind of a problem, haha. I use many of them regularly as reference – like, I want to develop an apple cake, so I pull out all the books with apple cakes and see how they each do it, then craft a recipe based on what they all do right (and also what will make it different).

            Have you seen Eat Your Books? It’s my FAVORITE site for keeping track of my cookbooks! You can search all of your cookbooks at once for a certain kind of recipe, and then it gives you the page number of where it exists in each of your books. Amazing!!

          • Kristi Smith
            March 15, 2016 at 8:56 am

            Well, thank you! It took forever for me to figure out the whole InDesign thing, but once I did, it was pretty easy to achieve the look I was after. I used other random opt-ins I’ve picked up for inspiration.

            Eat Your Books – I have not seen this site before, but I’m super stoked to check it out! What a cool idea. Thanks for the tip. I’m going there now 🙂

          • Darryl
            March 15, 2016 at 11:24 am

            I’ve never heard of Eat Your Books. Sounds like a cool site. I will definitely have to check it out. I’m not even close to your 900 or Kristi’s 131 (at one point in time), but I have quite a collection. I too like pulling from different sources to generate my own recipe. This site could be quite a useful tool for that! Thanks for sharing.

          • Stephanie - Fearless Fresh
            March 15, 2016 at 8:10 pm

            Sure thing! I love that site. Such a cool idea when you’re a cookbook zealot. 😉

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