May 23, 2022

How to Find Cookbooks You Will Like and Use

What can help propel the novice home baker towards baking cookies and enjoying it so much they want to return again and again to the scene of the crime (a la the kitchen)?

A few good cookbooks.

I’ve read, collected, borrowed, bought and loved quite a few cookbooks in my life. Some are great. Some have been less than desirable.

When I made a major cross country move, I had no idea of the mass of cookbooks I had collected. Because all of my earthly belongings had to fit in the car I was driving, I could take only a few (I suppose some people would have even considered that as elaborate).

It took a long time (and a few tears) to shed some of my beloved cookbooks. Many were given away to friends and family. My sweet best friend holds on to a few for me that she has promised to return when I come and visit (we’ll see- she may have become quite attached to them at this point!)

After reading so many cookbooks, I started to think about what makes a good cookbook.

Excellent cookbooks are more than recipes and pictures slapped together. The cookbooks we fall in love with have something special woven into the pages, a mixture of love and deep caring and passion for the food being prepared and shared.

A good cookbook can be read through like an addictive fiction novel.

Here are 4 essential qualities of an excellent cookbook.

The Essential Qualities of an Excellent Cook book


  • Appealing Recipes I can Replicate


Including recipes that are yummy and turn out well seems a bit redundant but we’ve all had stinker cookbooks that seemed to yield no good thing.

More than yummy recipes perhaps it is better to state and an excellent cookbook will have recipes that I actually want to try.

And when I try them, they work out. If they don’t work out, I’m usually in the know why they didn’t. Either I am inexperienced in a technique or didn’t have all the ingredients and tried to short cut a way.

However, if I follow the recipe instructions to a T and it still doesn’t work, something’s up. If this happens too many times, the cookbook gets a stamp of disapproval and is put out to pasture.


  • Useful explanations to go with the Recipes


There are good reasons why some cook books stand the test of time. in10sityfitnessunited Yes, the recipes themselves are important but the home cook needs something besides a list of ingredients and basic numeric instructions.

The more complicated the recipe the more important and helpful having a background to accompany the recipe. Do the instructions answer the question, “What does the home cook need to make this recipe and have it turn out successfully?”

I remember when I got together with a group of girlfriends to make chocolate croissants. We compared baking books and read through explanations a few times over to make sure we understood the process and order we needed to follow to make chocolate croissants half as good as the ones we remembered eating in our coffee shop days! We ended up settling on a recipe from Julia Child’s cookbook.

Julia Child is an excellent example of writing descriptive instructions that are very useful and understandable. She writes almost as if she is your friend and she is sending you a long hand snail mail letter.

Julia really wants the reader to understand the process and engage with the food during the creating process.

People like Julia Child and Dorie Greenspan are so effective in their cookbooks because of the way they write. It’s not just a conglomerate of endless recipes. The way they write about the food and the process of creating the food they make reveals their passion and expertise.


  • Proof the cook or baker knows what they are doing


Proof and credibility can be hard to find.

It’s the elusive strand that connects everything together. Often it is in the culmination of the other ingredients of an excellent cookbook: good recipes, stories, useful advice and instructions and some well-placed pictures. These things create a picture of proof and credibility.


  • Stories of their own experiences with the recipes


A so-so cookbook can be transformed with very good stories. One cookbook that comes to mind is Gwyneth Paltrow’s first cookbook, “Food from my Father.”

I had my doubts about the veracity of a woman who I had heard was very focused on macrobiotic eating and other extreme diets. One day I found myself flipping through the cookbook while I was exploring the Aisles of Wonderful Things in Target. The pictures and the stories won me.

Granted, I tried making some of her healthy versions of desserts and was thoroughly disappointed (never try to make a brownie with agave syrup and “healthify” it- it’s meant to be a luscious bit of pure chocolate pleasure) but the fish and other entrees were surprisingly good.

Ultimately, the pictures and the stories won me.

Ms. Paltrow’s connection with her family, especially the account of one of the final special dinners with her dad in Italy, stole my heart.


Does this list mean I won’t stand in Barnes & Noble bookstore and pore over a half dozen cookbooks for an hour? No, wandering through the cookbook aisle of a bookstore is done for the pure enjoyment.