The holidays are looking different this year—not only are many of us isolating to reduce exposure to COVID-19, but a lot of people have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced, making the holiday season extra stressful.
So, let’s roll with it the best we can. I’m confirming with family and friends that this Christmas, we make all of our gifts instead of buy, and do virtual hangouts instead of IRL gatherings. This means more baked goods, homemade cards, awkward Zoom silences, and shoddily whittled wooden spoons.
In addition to homemade gifts, we’re allowing books (since knowledge is power and all that), and cookbooks are at the top of my wishlist. Reading them makes me feel like the author is in the kitchen with me, walking me through their beloved family recipes. No matter how many cookbooks I own, there are some that I return to time and time again, not just for the recipes, but also for the gorgeous photos, witty introductions, and hard-won tips and tricks.
This is a list of my all-time favorite sweet, savory, and specialty cookbooks. Are they super current? No. Do I pick them up so often that pages are starting to fall out of the spine? Hell yes. So, whether you are shopping for a budding baker, a beer enthusiast, or someone who wants to up their dinner-party game, this list has what you are looking for. And, because many of these picks are a few years old, you can probably find them used or for a bargain at your local bookstore. If you live in LA, might I recommend Now Serving? They are an absolute treat.
Heads up: If you buy something through these links, it doesn’t affect your price but Elyse Creates may earn an affiliate commission, which is pretty cool.
Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes from our Kitchen – by Zoe Nathan
I’ve read this book cover to cover on multiple occasions. The writing is so approachable and every recipe reads as if plucked from my dream brunch menu. I’ve written about the carrot and apple loaf cake here, but don’t miss the blueberry scones, the old-fashioned coffee cake, or the maple bacon biscuits.
Bouchon Bakery – by Thomas Keller
This book is a touch pretentious, but I continue to crack it open because the recipes are thoughtfully laid out and there are tons of insights to their approach on baking. Just be warned, you will need a food scale to effectively use this book.
Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes – by Tessa Huff
If the person you are shopping for is ALL about a three-tiered masterpiece, this is the perfect book for them. With exciting flavor combinations and great tips and tricks for properly decorating a cake, I turn to this book whenever I need a little inspiration and a dependable Swiss meringue recipe.
Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing – by Jerrelle Guy
This newer addition to my collection is already in heavy rotation. The Sweet Potato Pie with Chocolate Hazelnut Crust was an absolute winner at Thanksgiving and I’ve already made the Apple Cider Monkey Bread twice. There are plenty of entirely vegan recipes, vegan options, and alternative flours used in this book, which has expanded my knowledge on different ingredients and new flavor combinations.
Dinner – by Melissa Clark
An absolute staple in our house. I try to cook from this book at least once a month to inject a little life into our dinners. Complete with pasta, meat, and vegetarian options, this book has it all. Personal favorites are the Coconut Curry Chicken, Chorizo Pork Burgers, and the Brown-Butter Cornbread.
Appetites – by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain’s work changed my life. I was trying to think of a less dramatic way to put it, but I can’t—he has affected the way I move through this world. His book, Appetites, is joyful and sarcastic (just look at his “chapter” on dessert). I turn to his Chili recipe and Clams with Chorizo recipe all the time, and he devotes an entire chapter to Thanksgiving, complete with sides and turkey, so you can feel confident hosting an otherwise stressful holiday.
Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking – by Samin Nosrat
I will be the first to tell you that I am not the most confident cook. But, I’m not half-bad thanks to this book. It has helped me become more creative and knowledgeable in the kitchen, plus has tons of delicious recipes—including a wide-range of dressing recipes that rule.
My Mexico City Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions – by Gabriela Camara
I have an obsession with this book. It codifies so much of what I grew up with. If your gift-receiver loves Mexican food, or wants to learn some staple dishes that they can riff off of, this is the holy grail. The salsa verde and salsa roja asada are great, and there is an extensive list of drink and dessert recipes to entice folks who might be intimidated by entrees.
Cherry Bombe – by Kerry Diamond & Claudia Wu
An anthology of incredible recipes done by great female chefs. The recipes are straight-forward and approachable, and it covers everything from entrees and sides to drinks and dessert. Personal favorites include the Brisket, Vindaloo BBQ Baby Back Ribs, Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Best Friend Cheesecake (riffed on here).
The Art of Fermentation – by Sandor Elilix Katz
Fermentation is like magic. Throw some ingredients in a jar, let it sit, and POW! with time, you have something completely different and delicious. Katz is renowned for his commitment to the craft of fermentation, and I love the way he weaves personal stories throughout, making this book read more like a personal memoir, complete with recipes.
Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Re-Created – by Patrick E. McGovern
To continue on my quest to become a seasoned fermenter, I picked this book up and it blew my mind! McGovern is incredibly knowledgeable about both beer and ancient methods of brewing—all backed up by archaeological finds and historical records.
Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals – by Lisa Q. Fetterman
We received a sous vide as a wedding gift and while I was excited, I was also intimidated. This book lays everything out simply and has recipes for every meal of the day, including ice cream!
The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers – by Loren Bouchard (Recipes by Cole Bowden)
I am IN LOVE with Bob’s Burgers—it is my ultimate comfort watch. I received this book as a gift and frankly, wasn’t expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by how tasty some of the burger concepts were. The Bleu is the Warmest Cheese Burger, Don’t Get Creme Fraiche with me Burger, and the Bet it All on Black Garlic Burger are some of my favorites, but there are a ton in there that I’ve yet to try.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of every cookbook I own. In fact, I have a couple in the mail right now that have come super highly recommended by some of you! What are your favorite cookbooks? Share them below so others can everyone can reap the benefits. I hope you all have a fantastic and safe holiday season!