Wednesday, December 07, 2011

It's the season for my annual book gift guide, courtesy of Andrews McMeel. Also known as, "Oh man, how did this pile of books to review get so tall?" Since they have been around a bit, I have had some time to organize the pile.

Unless Santa stuffs a bookcase down the chimney, I am going to have to do a major book donation to the local library for the new additions to find a home. Which means, yes, a few of these will be giveaways. I won't tell anyone if you regift them, either.

First topic, of course, baking. Maida Heatter's set of books, Cookies, and Cakes are as jammed full of recipes as her German Oatmeal Cookies are of fruit, chocolate and nuts. Homemade fig newtons and homemade graham crackers are worth a try, given these were both childhood favorites of the packaged variety. There are also a lot of recipes for chocolate drop cookies that might help me recreate my Aunt Annie's chocolate cookies she used to put M&Ms on. She made these every time we went to visit.

I like that the book places a few extra recipes for "sides" like ice cream and chocolate sauce tucked away in the back, the same position in the freezer where I try to hide our ice cream so I actually get a second bowl. Cookie recipes are here.

The cakes companion book also contains classics and a few non-traditional items. I got a moment of vindication for my love of putting vegetables into dessert when I read Heatter's recipes for beet cake, and her carrot cake that has more carrot. My own recipes for "beet brownies" and carrot-raisin cupcakes don't seem so crazy when I learn that a James Beard award-winner has done the same thing. She aces me, however, with sauerkraut cake and tomato soup cake recipes, a classic chocolate cake with mashed potato for density and moist crumb, and a sweet potato cake. I'm humbled. And inspired!

I thought these would be an amazing present for a friend of ours who made me a gorgeous Italian Wedding cake (three layers of heavenly perfection) for my birthday. But, I think I could use a lesson or two from the pages. She's mastered cakes really well. And, I have already gifted her with Judith Fertig's Heartland.

For those of you who like photos of the finished baked goods, take note, these editions have good explanations in the recipes, but no photos. If you have previous Maida Heatter dessert books, the recipes may be familiar as these two editions are a greatest hits compilation of the best recipes.

Keep or no? I have to ask myself this question for every book I review with an obsessive 400-plus cookbook collection that needs dusting. Ironic, since I rarely use a recipe to cook with, but I love to just read cookbooks the way some folks read novels. Keep! And, I'll part with some my less proven baking books to make the shelf space.

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