You have to expect books about Christmas to be heavy on visions of snowflakes, sugarplums and snuggling, and make no mistake, the authors of this slew of new Yuletide cookbooks are acutely aware that that the dream of a perfect Christmas is a bigger selling point than the recipes.
A perfect example is "Christmas From the Heart of the Home" by Susan Branch (Little, Brown, $19.95), which is precious in the extreme. In case the fairly basic holiday recipes themselves fail to convey a child-like sense of wonder with the holiday, the book is illustrated like a children's primer, with fanciful borders drawn around the recipes and text punctuated with little hearts.
"A Yankee Christmas" by Cynthia Van Hazinga, Carole Yeager and Russell I. Burleigh (Yankee Books, $29.95) has a lot less nonsense, of course. Again, there are recipes for both the savory and the sweet, and the Maple Mousse was a subtle and surprising success. The only complaint is that the book lacks an index and that makes for a lot of time spent flipping through pages. There is also has a section for crafts like bird's nest ornaments, as well as carol lyrics and histories.
For serious nostalgia, go directly to "The Christmas Cook" by William Woys Weaver (HarperCollins, $18.95), a fascinating and well-researched look at three centuries of Christmas in America. It's as much a scrapbook as a cookbook, with pictures of antique utensils and old advertising posters, and while the puddings, jumbles and snaps may seem too old-fashioned, they are authentic and worth trying.
Lovers of an English Christmas should find something to make in "The London Ritz Book of Christmas" by Jennie Reekie (William Morrow, $10.95), even if they don't have suet on hand for the plum pudding. There are seven punch recipes to mull over, from Lamb's Wool to The Bishop to Dr. Johnson's punch, that should keep everyone glowing.
Two contenders for the Christmas cookie book trade are "The Christmas Cookie Book" by Judy Knipe and Barbara Marks (Fawcett Columbine, $14.95) and "Rose's Christmas Cookies" by Rose Levy Beranbaum (William Morrow, $19.95). The instructions in Beranbaum's recipes are detailed to a fare-thee-well, as is her style, and can come off as both extremely helpful and annoyingly fussy. The "smart cookie" baking hints are excellent, but there is so much information on each page vying for your attention that the recipes look like they are going to be much more work they are. The "Christmas Cookie Book" was more simply written and full of classics, but the cookies were not as exciting.
MAPLE MOUSSE (8 servings)
1 1/4 cups maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream, whipped
Optional: walnuts, for garnish
On the top of a double boiler, over medium heat, beat the eggs lightly. Heat the syrup in a separate saucepan and then gradually add to the eggs, beating constantly. Add the salt and cook the mixture until thick. Cool in the refrigerator.
Fold in the whipped cream. Return to the refrigerator or freezer to set, at least 2 hours. Garnish with chopped walnuts or walnut halves.
Per serving: 405 calories, 5 gm protein, 39 gm carbohydrates, 26 gm fat, 15 gm saturated fat, 253 mg cholesterol, 185 mg sodium.
From "A Yankee Christmas" by Cynthia Van Hazinga, Carole Yeager and Russell I. Burleigh (Yankee Books, $29.95)