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10 Best Cookbooks Of the Year

To produce F&W's annual Best of the Best cookbook, our testers reviewed a year's worth of contenders (about 150) to find 10 keepers.

5 BEST BAKING BOOKS

The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion
BY KING ARTHUR FLOUR
King Arthur Flour has been in business for more than 200 years and its staff understands flour as well as (if not better than) most bakers. The book clearly explains which ingredients work together, which don't, and why. The 74-page section on ingredients is encyclopedic, and there's a vast, indispensable equipment chapter. Best of all, the numerous recipes, which cover a wide range of sweet and savory, all tested beautifully—from Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies to Spicy Cheese Puffs.

Home Baking
BY JEFFREY ALFORD AND NAOMI DUGUID
Award-winning authors Alford and Duguid traveled to six continents in search of heartfelt, authentic, home-style baking recipes. Their discoveries come from unexpected places like Lebanon (Beirut Tahini Swirls) and the Ukraine (Ukrainian Honey Cake), and more familiar locales like France (Free-Form Fruit Galette—uncomplicated and utterly delicious). Whatever the provenance, these recipes are completely trustworthy.

The Bread Bible
BY ROSE LEVY BERANBAUM
Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible and The Pie and Pastry Bible, can now add The Bread Bible to her accomplishments. As with all her books, this is an incredibly detailed, meticulous investigation into the subject. Beranbaum's style can seem daunting (each recipe comes with several charts), but all the information is helpful, whether you're an expert or a novice. And the recipes we tested—including moist, sweet, cheese-encrusted Southwestern Corn Spoon Bread and a giant sunken popover called a Dutch Baby—were simple and successful.

Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads
BY BERNARD CLAYTON, JR.
More than 25 years ago, Bernard Clayton published his groundbreaking The Breads of France. This expanded version updates that classic. Clayton has a wonderfully confident tone and comprehensive range: His white-bread chapter alone includes 25 different types. From the book's easiest recipe (The First Loaf) to its most time-consuming (Brioche Vendéenne), the instructions are always detailed and user-friendly.

Bittersweet
BY ALICE MEDRICH
This stunning book is an invitation to explore the world of bittersweet chocolate. Medrich, the author of four other chocolate cookbooks and founder of the San Francisco shop Cocolat, has a knack for making even ordinary recipes (Best Cocoa Brownies, Marble Cheesecake) seem special. There are also fun, new desserts to try, such as her Intensely Bittersweet Soufflés and Sicilian Chocolate Gelato. Don't miss Medrich's Melting Chocolate Cookie Tartlets, which dissolve in your mouth with each bite; they are truly outstanding.

5 BEST SAVORY BOOKS

César
BY OLIVIER SAID, JAMES MELLGREN AND MAGGIE POND
César, a compilation of recipes from the highly regarded Spanish restaurant of the same name in Berkeley, California, shows a Chez Panisse­like regard for simplicity. (In fact, the founders of César all worked at Alice Waters's legendary restaurant at some point.) The emphasis is tapas—snack-size dishes. Ideal for cocktail parties, the recipes are (mostly) easy and the drinks (from martinis to mint juleps) are perfect. A section on the tapas pantry defines staples, such as boquerones (anchovies), that might be unfamiliar to Americans. But one of our favorite recipes, Chorizo and Apples in Hard Cider, doesn't require any exotic ingredients.

It's All American Food
BY DAVID ROSENGARTEN
What is American food? David Rosengarten answers this question by dividing his book into three sections: "Ethnic America" (Classic Fried Rice), "Regional America" (She-Crab Soup) and "Classic America" (Creamed Spinach). At times he offers his own twists (adding cumin to Texas Chicken-Fried Steak), but tweaked or not, his recipes are impressive: They're dead-on accurate and the lively headnotes make them sound even more delicious.

Tom's Big Dinners
BY TOM DOUGLAS
Some cookbooks are immediately appealing. Tom Douglas, the chef and owner of Seattle's Palace Kitchen and Dahlia Lounge, has created such a book. It's comprised of 13 menus, such as a Puget Sound Crab Feed and Pop Pop's Winter Solstice (with Caramelized Fennel Tart and Creamy Seafood Chowder). This is lusty food with a Northwestern bent—all very carefully tested.

The Vineyard Kitchen
BY MARIA HELM SINSKEY
Maria Helm Sinskey, an F&W Best New Chef 1996 who is now culinary director at Sinskey Vineyards in Napa Valley, has a sensibility we wish all cookbook authors shared. Recipes from her seasonal menus are tempting, innovative and absolutely doable: Watercress and Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnut Vinaigrette; Salt and Herb-Crusted Prime Rib with Horseradish Cream; Meyer Lemon Meringue Tart. Sinskey encourages readers to shop for the finest ingredients, but her recipes work well even with supermarket basics.

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen
BY PAULA WOLFERT
In her seventh book, the esteemed author surveys the world of slow cooking. It's a lovely break from the slew of cookbooks promising almost-instant meals. In her precise way, Wolfert covers the Mediterranean, from North Africa to Spain, France and Italy. Although many of her recipes are weekend projects, they require more time than effort. For instance, her Beef Short Ribs Simmered in Red Wine with Fennel and Black Olives take two days to make, but only 30 minutes of active prep. And the result is exquisitely rich and complex.

Published December 2003
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