In this hefty tome, Robertson, who spent a decade working with the country's best artisan bakers, offers a terrific primer for a basic country bread. I love the simplicity of his method. No packaged yeast required. All that's needed is flour (white and whole wheat) and water. The starter gathers wild yeasts from the air. Granted, it takes several days to get a starter going, but then it's always there, ready to be turned into olive bread studded with green and oil-cured black olives, walnut bread or a polenta loaf. You can use the same basic dough to make pizza or focaccia.
— S. Irene Virbila
"Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, 544 pages, $40
Dorie Greenspan is one of the best baking and dessert writers around. But even the queen of pastry cannot live by macarons alone. In this book Greenspan gathers 300-some of her favorite recipes, sweet and savory alike, gathered from her home kitchens in New York, Connecticut and Paris, and from her favorite chefs, including longtime collaborators Pierre Hermé and Daniel Boulud.
Greenspan has earned a huge following — her recipes are written not only in great detail but with great charm as well. That's not an easy balancing act to pull off, but the result is a voice that is both informed and reassuring. You get the feeling she's cooked these recipes hundreds of times, and she's there to hold your hand and reassure you if the going gets a little sticky.
Her "go-to beef daube," braised in red wine with carrots and parsnips, is rich and comforting and tastes just like it came from a French home kitchen. But you really have to try her "long and slow apples." A two-hour spin on the fashionable French restaurant dessert 20-hour apples, they are sliced very thin, layered in individual ramekins with a little sugar and some orange zest, and baked. The result is almost like an apple custard. I've already made it four times.
— Russ Parsons
"Bake!" by Nick Malgieri, Kyle Books, 224 pages, $29.95
If there's one thing that can intimidate someone new to the kitchen, it's baking. Savory recipes are often forgiving — a slip on the stove-top or a mis-measurement in preparation can often be remedied with "a little of this or a little of that." Baking — considered the science of the kitchen — is not so forgiving.
Nick Malgieri has spent more than 30 years teaching the art of baking, and his new book is a great introduction to the essentials of this art. He details more than 30 essential techniques, including quick breads, layered and molded cakes, bar cookies and puff pastries. Each chapter starts with a basic technique or master recipe in which Malgieri lays the foundation and explains the science behind the technique. Similar to a textbook in format, "Bake!" includes full-color step-by-step instructions with tips in which Malgieri demystifies his subject, reassuring the reader. After he's introduced a master recipe, Malgieri gives variations, showing the reader that the foundation is only a starting point to a given technique, and explaining both where the reader can be creative with a master recipe, and where the reader cannot — and why.
— Noelle Carter
We ran our reviews of 10 great cookbooks in print in Thursday's Food section, but we just couldn't contain it. Here are three other cookbooks that caught our eye this fall.
"At Home With Madhur Jaffrey" by Madhur Jaffrey, Knopf, 320 pages, $35
As much as I love to eat Indian food, I confess to being intimidated by cooking it. All those herbs and spices, how does a beginner find the right balance? All those grains and pulses, it's like a new vocabulary. For as long as I've admired Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks, I've also wished for some kind of elementary introduction.
This book fills that need. The recipes are simplified but don't feel dumbed-down. They seem like dishes a talented cook would prepare when she was cooking informally just for friends and family, not for a big production of a dinner party. Jaffrey's chicken with spinach would be great for just such an occasion--legs braised with onions, garlic and ginger, with fresh spinach added just before serving. But the dishes I really loved were even simpler. Her pilaf of basmati rice (rinsed and soaked) with slivered almonds and golden raisins is one I'll cook many times. And her "Everyday Moong Dal" -- she describes it as her family's "soul food" -- tastes amazingly complex considering how easy it is to make.
— Russ Parsons
"My Sweet Mexico" by Fany Gerson, Ten Speed Press, 215 pages, $30
Pastry chef Fany Gerson, who worked at Eleven Madison Park and Rosa Mexicano in New York, opens up a world of Mexican pastries, candies and desserts in her cookbook "My Sweet Mexico." Born and raised in Mexico, she traveled her native country for recipes and lore and combined them with her own take on sweets in a book that both inspires you to read chapter by chapter while curled up on the sofa and to get into the kitchen to start rolling dough for huachibolas, cream cheese morning rolls.
Each chapter begins with a few engaging pages of background that reveal a sweets culture steeped in history. In "Sweets From the Convents," Gerson describes how each order of nuns had its own specialty, such as the virgins of Santa Catalina, who poured cajeta (goat's milk caramel) into boxes infused with the scent of orange blossom. Gerson's recipe for chestnut flan is inspired by nuns in Puebla who coat the molds with a little butter and sugar and top the flan with apricot jam. Her polvorones -- the "wedding cookies" that came to Mexico via Spaniards (and before them, the Arabs) call for more than a modicum of almond flour that makes for a crumbly, nutty cookie. But Gerson's pastry training is thoroughly contemporary (and mainly French), and besides chapters on pan dulce (morning sweet breads), frozen treats and fruit, she ends the book with a grand finale of modern desserts: a trifle that layers a mezcal-tinged meringue with passion fruit; a terrine of sorbet and hibiscus compote; and a Mexican opera cake with chocolate and almond cake, hazelnut croquant, ganache, canela buttercream and tequila syrup.
— Betty Hallock
"Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen" by Ethan Stowell and Leslie Miller, Ten Speed Press, 228 pages, $35
Baked Stellar Bay Kusshi oysters with garlic breadcrumbs, cannelloni with braised pork cheeks and sweet cicely, zatar-rubbed leg of goat with fresh chickpeas and sorrel -- this is the gutsy Northwestern spin that Seattle chef Ethan Stowell puts on Italian cuisine. Big flavors, local ingredients and compelling flavor combinations are the hallmarks of his recipes. Some of the dishes you're probably not going to find the ingredients for at the supermarket -- such as for braised rabbit paws, geoduck crudo or pan-roasted squab. But none of the recipes are fussy. And for every recipe that calls for the somewhat hard to find, there are simple, bold alternatives such as soft-boiled eggs with anchovy mayonnaise, rapini with garlic, chiles and lime, and lentils with pancetta. The latter make a hearty side dish or even a main course for a simple supper.
Even a sweets lover such as myself will like the chapter titled "Cheese for the Civilized and Desserts for the Rest of You," which includes straightforward desserts -- lemon verbena panna cotta with poached peaches, for example -- and cheese-and-condiment pairings such as La Tur with oven-roasted tomato petals.
— Betty Hallock