Because we here at Paste Food do not excel at following rules, the books we collectively deemed to be the Best Cookbooks of 2015 were not all published in 2015. One of them is not even a cookbook. And when compared to other cookbooks released this year (it was a good one), maybe not all of them rank up at the tippy-top when judged by the typical criteria: How useful is this book? Are its recipes clearly written and easy to follow, with dependable results? Are there random garnishes pictured in the photos that aren’t even listed in the ingredients? Will this cookbook stand the test of time as a cooking reference?
And sure, plenty of these volumes pass those tests with singing colors, but the biggest factor of our list is pleasure. Did these books compel us to dig deeper, to think differently, to be thankful? The answer is yes.
The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning: A Polar Journey by Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine
The title of this book sounds like the offbeat debut novel of a precocious novelist, but press on! This scrapbook/memoir/cookbook truly is about cleaning and cooking in Antarctica. In the 1990s, Devine organized crews of international volunteers to journey to the most southerly continent and clean up debris left behind at various scientific bases. She recruited Trusler as the cook, and thus began the adventure of uniting people of various backgrounds, languages, and food preferences with pluck and goodwill. Trusler’s freestyle approach to the recipes and Devine’s insightful braiding of their modern-day expeditions with the rich and treacherous history of Antarctic exploration elevates The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning from an amusing curiosity to something much more meaningful. Imbued with a sense of otherworldly wonder amidst the make-do mindset of cooking meals with limited provisions in an unfamiliar setting, this book is candy for fans of polar lore. (Sara Bir)
Back in the Day Bakery Made with Love Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day
The first time I visited Cheryl and Griff’s Savannah bakery and spotted the marshmallow mobile, I knew I was home. And it has proven to be a home in Savannah for me—a place I go every time I visit. Their latest cookbook not only has killer desserts, but savory items too, and fun little craft and decorating ideas that teach you the bakery style. Plus, it’s beautifully shot by photographer Angie Mosier, whose photographs can inspire a baker to spend a quiet morning in the kitchen, especially when one of these dishes are the result. (Stephanie Burt)
Cookie Love: More Than 60 Recipes and Techniques for Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary by Mindy Segal and Kate Leahy
Segal helms Chicago standby Hot Chocolate, where there’s not a bad item on the menu. I adore her book Cookie Love especially for its comprehensive chapter on bar cookies, which too often seem like cookies’ frumpy cousins. Here, standouts like Blondie Butterscotch S’mores and Apple Confit Breakfast Pie Squares, do require some planning and ingredient hunting, but the results are well worth the effort. (JoAnna Novak)
The Cordon Bleu Cookbook by Dione Lucas
I’ve been on a vintage cookbook kick of late. Honestly, I’d probably only consider actually making about a third of the recipes in the 1951 Cordon Bleu Cookbook (dill pickle soup? salmon pudding? no thank you!), but both as a recipe guide and a history book, it’s pretty fascinating. (Holly Leber)
A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook Hardcover by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer
As Geek & Sundry sing in their song “Write Like the Wind,” George R.R. Martin loves writing “six page descriptions of every last meal” in his ASOIAF book series. Many readers complain about these loquacious descriptions, but food lovers (like yours truly) lick their lips as they read the descriptions of pigeon pie and lemon cakes. This last year, to my ultimate joy, my hubby got it right and gifted me the official ASOIAF cookbook, A Feast of Ice and Fire, written by Chelsea Monroe-Cassell and Sariann Lehrer. In this book, bibliophiles will find recipes and photographs of dishes from various parts of Westeros. (Madina Papadopoulos)
Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break, with Recipes for Pastries, Breads, and Other Treats by Anna Brones, illustrated by Johanna Kindvall
How sad is it for the American coffee break to have evolved into consisting of nothing more than waiting for a pedigreed cup of artisanal coffee we’re probably not cool enough to drink anyway? If waiting endless minutes for a cup of joe at the latest trendy coffee roasterie eats up the entirety of your coffee break, you have no one to blame but yourself. You could have taken a beautifully drawn page from food writer Anna Brones and illustrator Johanna Kindvall, turning that coffee break into a Swedish fika, a daily sanctuary of coffee and snacks, a making of time for comfort from the rest of life. With 50 recipes, the authors thoughtfully cover every fikasugen (fika craving) from buttery semlor for a day of indulgence, or a slightly less rich cinnamon bun for a day ending in y, there is a Swedish baked good for every break and every craving. (Minerva Orduno Rincon)
Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Flours by Alice Medrich
If you like to experiment with alternative flours, this is your book. It’s the book I’ve been waiting for because it smartly leads with the flavor profiles and possibilities of flour types (I want to call them families). And Medrich, a total baking pro, gets down to the nitty gritty about the testing process and trial and error that went into the book’s creation. Flavor Flours isn’t really about being “gluten free” in any kind of overt, marketing-driven way; these recipes, which incorporate oat, corn, buckwheat, teff and more, are instead quietly revolutionary. Medric is an assured companion for anyone looking to delve more deeply into gluten free baking or expand their own understanding of how these flours work. Medrich’s recipes also reinforce the necessity of using a scale, which becomes even more crucial with this kind of baking. This thinking baking person’s gluten-free cookbook was released in fall 2014 and this year won the James Beard Award for Best Baking and Dessert cookbook. (Carrie Havranek)