This was a #disrupt year for cookbooks, wasn’t it? There was a striving for attention, an attempt to stand out from the pack. Even classics got in on the act, revising previous editions to ride a trending wave (I’m looking at you, plant-based eaters).
The ones that made our short list do what cookbooks should: They inspire. They elevate the craft. Their writing is captivating and provoking — yes, that’s what you can expect from a really good modern cookbook. Their photographic images have a purity and focus, and even when there are no images at all, their comprehensive approach keeps us engaged.
There was a downside to some of that Pick Me!-ism. Emphasis on style overtook the basic mission of information sharing. We found what seemed to be a greater number of recipes that were flawed or inexact or just plain puzzling as to how they ended up in print. Trust in a recipe source is key; otherwise, people are less inclined to spend time and money on a dish that might be unfamiliar or a bit of stretch, technique-wise.
Here are our favorites of 2014, streamlined to a baker’s dozen, in alphabetical order, with an additional 13 strongly recommended titles below:
A Change of Appetite: Where Healthy Meets Delicious, by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $34.99). More people on this side of the Atlantic are getting to know the Sunday Telegraph columnist’s work, which deserves a wide audience. She comfortably dips into various cuisines and almost unerringly combines flavors in ways that seem new.
Apples of Uncommon Character: Heirlooms, Modern Classics and Little-Known Wonders, by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, $35). This one stood out among several fall books on the fruit, based on the strength of the writing and research as well as the recipes themselves. Read a full review here.
The Baking Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40). The author has great-book cred — one of the few whose work fits a “bible” genre. Charts are clean and easy to read, and the photography is stunning.
Baking Chez Moi: Recipes From My Paris Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40). Long recipes are a turnoff for some home cooks. We never feel that way about Greenspan’s, because she chooses words that help each step along the way. French pastries become less intimidating under her care. Read a full review here.
Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, by Jennifer MacLagan (Ten Speed Press, $29.99). Deftly and daringly presented, the recipes in this collection seem provocative and fashioned for a mature palate. Read a full review here.
The Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes. Kitchens and Tips to Inspire Your Cooking, by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand (Clarkson Potter, $32.50). Sprung from the popular Kitchn blog, this book delivers on its title’s promise. The missing “e” could stand for “everything,” which, in this case, is all done well. The windows on where others cook are, to me, like secondhand smoke to a former cigarette fiend.
Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, by Aglaia Kremezi (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $35). The author shares a world of Greek cuisine far beyond the feta and souvlaki level. Lucky Washingtonians are treated to an audience with the author just about every year, when José Andrés and Zaytinya restaurant invite her to consult. Read about Joe Yonan’s cooking session with her here.
Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes for Year-Round Preserving, by Cathy Barrow (Norton, $35). It’s no secret that we’re fans of the premise and the author. Even so, this is a terrific compendium to keep and to give, with clear instructions and an authoritative, non-preachy voice. Check out Barrow’s Canning Class series that ran in Food over the summer.
My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories, by David Lebovitz (Ten Speed Press, $35). The former chef’s stories are always quirky and entertaining. His recipes are always enticing. Read a full review here.
The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press, $40). If you had but one vegetarian guide to buy, this would be the one to pick. The volume contains 200 more recipes than its 1997 predecessor, which is one reason why there are no photos. Read Joe Yonan’s interview with Madison here.
Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking From London’s Ottolenghi, by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press, $35). Luscious and intense are watchwords of the London restaurateur’s way with vegetables. He says they deserve special attention, and he makes good on that. Sweet-sour combinations are particularly spoton. Read Joe Yonan’s interview with the author here.
Persiana: Recipes From the Middle East and Beyond, by Sabrina Ghayour (Interlink, $35). This book alone provides reason enough to keep pomegranate molasses on hand. Ghayour, a British-Iranian chef and cooking instructor, writes recipes that are simple and winning.
The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food, by Charles Phan with Janny Hu (Ten Speed Press, $40). The process of translating restaurant dishes into user-friendly recipes is challenging, but the authors have gracefully avoided pitfalls here, with photos that capture the famous San Francisco restaurant so well. Phan continues to demystify Vietnamese cuisine for us.
A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, by Renee Erickson, Jess Thomson and Jim Henkins (Sasquatch, $40).
America Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers, by Mario Batali and Jim Webster (Grand Central Life & Style, $35).
Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets and Recipes From Our Kitchen, by Zoe Nathan (Chronicle, $35).
Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh, More Than 100 Unforgettable Dishes Updated for Today’s Kitchen, by Janna Gur (Schocken, $35).
Joy the Baker Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats, by Joy Wilson (Clarkson Potter, $30).
The Kitchen Ecosystem: Integrating Recipes to Create Delicious Meals, by Eugenia Bone (Clarkson Potter, $27).
My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve, by Cathal Armstrong and David Hagedorn (Ten Speed Press, $35).
Nick Malgieri’s Pastry: Foolproof Recipes for the Home Cook, by Nick Malgieri (Kyle, $29.96).
Smashing Plates: Greek Flavours Redefined, by Maria Elia (Kyle, $27.95).
The Secret Recipes, by Dominique Ansel (Simon and Schuster, $35).
The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, by Karen Page (Little, Brown, $40).
Heritage, by Sean Brock (Artisan, $40).
At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well, by Amy Chaplin (Roost Books, $35).
Did we miss your favorites of 2014? Let’s discuss during Wednesday’s Free Range chat: live.washingtonpost.com.