Cookbooks for Christmas

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Reviewed by Hayley Anderton

Despite having run out of shelf space for more cookbooks some time ago, they remain one of my favourite things to give and receive at Christmas, and these three are my pick of current releases that I think particularly reflect the season, as well as being good for the whole year (a cookbook shouldn’t just be for Christmas).

First up is Fortnum & Mason The Cookbook written by Tom Parker Bowles and intended to reflect the company’s unique three hundred year history. I love Fortnum & Mason for its mix of tradition, quality, variety, and occasionally its totally over the top luxury, so this book was always going to find a home with me. I think it’s fair to say the recipes reflect the things I love about the shop, with plenty of classics and smartened up nursery food (of the sort that Enid Blyton fans would recognise).

There’s also quite a bit of history about the shop, a splendid collection of Edward Bawden illustrations from the Fortnum’s archive, and lots of product specific information about things like tea, coffee, honey, and the like.

In terms of recipes it’s probably the least inspiring of the lot – nobody really needs a recipe for porridge, and I’m personally unlikely to make caviar boiled eggs – but I approve of the attitude that it’s generally about taking a bit of time, care, and using good quality ingredients. In between those extremes there are plenty of recipes which look like they may well be hidden gems too. It might not be the cookbook at the top of your wish list, but once you have it in your hands it has a definite charm about it. Reading it is to slip into a world of well upholstered comfort and excellent manners where things are done properly – and who doesn’t crave that sometimes?

Trine Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Comfort Food promises to help us embrace the art of hygge. If I understand the concept correctly the cooking and sharing of food seems as central to the idea as candles and coffee. I’ve heard Hahnemann described as Denmark’s answer to Delia, I take this to mean that she’s something of an institution, though if I was going to compare her food to anyone else’s it would be Nigel Slater (which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it).

There is an excellent chapter on Christmas with plenty of salads (her Scandinavian Christmas is a tremendous book), and she’s particularly good on salads generally. I don’t think it’s just everybody who can make salad sound like comfort food, but she pulls it off here. The bread chapter is also particularly good for winter inspiration (what could be more hygge than warm bread straight out the oven in a cold day?).

It’s also a book that’s making me question what I think of when I think of comfort food. There’s nothing faddy about Hahnemann’s food, when she uses rye, spelt, kale and the like they’re ingredients which are deeply rooted in the Scandinavian tradition, and I’ll say again; I’ve never seen anyone make clearly virtuous and healthy eating sound quite so appealingly cosy. To keep the balance there are plenty of cakes (and a sandwich which calls for pork crackling) – it’s all about balance. This is the book that’s going to help me with the inevitable New Years resolutions regarding diet, and for once I may well enjoy it.

Classic German Baking

Luisa Weiss’ Classic German Baking is the book I’ve been most excited about getting my hands on this year, and if I didn’t already have it, it would be the one I’d most want to find under the tree on Christmas Day.

I’m not quite sure why good books on German or Austrian cooking, especially baking, are so thin on the ground in the UK. Especially not when supermarkets are full of stollen, pfeffernüsse, lebkuchen, and zimtsterne right now. But so it is, which is why it’s not surprising that this one is written by a Berlin born, American-Italian food writer (who lives in Berlin). I could wish it had been written for the UK rather than the U.S. market, but only because it would make the list of suppliers at the back more useful.

The first thing to say is that Classic German Baking has more than met my hopes and expectations (a recipe for sunken apple cake is simply the best apple cake I’ve ever had). The whole thing is a joy, and not just because it’s full of things that are subtly new to me. Again there are great bread recipes, and so many wonderful looking cakes and biscuits (there’s also a savoury chapter, but I keep getting distracted before I get to it).

It’s not just the recipes though, it’s the stories and culture around them. Weiss has collected recipes from all over Germany and is careful to set them in context. She also shares her experience of making and perfecting them for this book (it’s oddly reassuring, as well as interesting, to appreciate how much work has gone into this project). The end result is an absolute triumph. It’s going to be a happy new year really thoroughly exploring this one, everything sounds delicious.

Hayley blogs at Desperate Reader.

BUY at Blackwell’s via affiliate links below:

Fortnum & Mason The Cookbook, Scandinavian Comfort Food, Classic German Baking