It’s a difficult task to decide but I have come up with my list of 4 Treasured Cookbooks. Here are 4 books that have shaped my cooking life – ones I refer to again and again.
It’s a difficult task because each one has a special meaning from a certain time and place. Many are signed by famous authors who’ve made a great mark in the culinary field. These are keepsakes but after many years I feel the need to pass most of them along to inspire a new generation of home cooks. Let’s dust off some time-honored favorites.
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food.
Alice is the visionary chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. I love how she champions a holistic approach to eating and health and celebrates integrating gardening, cooking, and education. She has sparked this inspiration to a whole new generation. She is the author of a dozen books but I love this one that inspires us to eat locally, seasonally, and sustainably. When Waters opened Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California in 1971, she didn’t expect to spark a national movement toward local, organic, sustainably sourced food or to inspire a generation of chefs to follow in her footsteps. But she did. I love what she is teaching children about food. She is the founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project, which has spawned food education programs in more than 5,000 schools. Children are learning where food comes from, how to grow it, harvest, and prepare seasonally delicious meals.
Hoppin John’s Lowcountry Cooking by John Martin Taylor
John Martin Taylor’s, Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking was the book I read many years ago that was my original deep dive into a cuisine that has become a lifetime obsession. He’s a culinary preservationist and this will always be the book I read again and again for an understanding of Lowcountry history and the true taste of Lowcountry cuisine. I believe every chef who comes to the Lowcountry should be required to read this book in order to know just how unique this region is and why southern food matters. We cannot fully appreciate it until we know where it comes from; how it was passed down from slaves through the generations and has evolved into the cuisine we know and love today. Dark hands stirred the original pots of collard greens and black-eyed peas, planted the okra and tomatoes, and cooked the first hoecakes out in the field. Read this book and you will never feel the same about Southern cooking.
Charleston Receipts the Junior League cookbook
First published in 1950, this is the oldest Junior League cookbook still in print containing 750 recipes, Gullah verses, and sketches by Charleston artists. Book sales have exceeded 100,000 copies.
Some things about life in the Charleston area do not change – gracious entertaining, lively arts, and noble history. I love how this book celebrates the abundance of fresh seafood and game, garden-grown vegetables, and succulent fruits. There is a sophisticated elegance about this book that has marked Charleston through its 300-year history as well as the casual elegance that is just as much a part of this area’s heritage.
Southern Table by Frank Stitt
Chef Frank Stitt’s Southern Table is a Classic. He’s an icon in the industry with Alabama roots and expertise in French and Italian cooking.
Stitt has received every accolade a chef can hope for, including being named a James Beard Foundation “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage.”
The offerings change weekly at his famed restaurants, Chez Fonfon, a French Bistro, Bottega Cafe and Bottega Restaurant and Highlands Bar and Grill, microcosms of Italy, North Africa, and the Mediterranean.
Regulars at Birmingham’s famed restaurants know that saving room for dessert is nonnegotiable. That’s because the dessert menus are filled with delicious confections created by visionary executive pastry chef Dolester “Dol” Miles of Bessemer, Alabama, and has worked with Frank Stitt for over 30 years. During that time she has become one of the most celebrated pastry chefs in the nation. Her brilliance is more than evident in her legendary Coconut Pecan Cake served at Chez Fonfon.
You may start weeping tears after taking a bite of this cake! It’s beloved. It’s unforgettable!
Every bite is familiar – yet revolutionary with a world of flavor. You may need a trip to Birmingham as soon as possible. They’ll save you a seat.
Reading his Southern Table takes me there every time. I can even hear the pop of corks on the Prosecco bottles and feel the tingle of excitement at the bar.
Coconut-Pecan Cake Ingredients:
1 cup firmly packed, sweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup pecan halves, toasted
2 cups of sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ stick unsalted butter, softened¼ cup cream of coconut
4 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk
Coconut-Pecan Cake Filling Ingredients:
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
¾ cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cream of coconut
1 cup shredded coconut
Coconut-Pecan Cake Procedure: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each with a circle of parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper, then dust with flour, tapping out any excess. Finely grind the coconut in a food processor, then transfer to a bowl. Add the walnuts to the processor, along with two tablespoons of the sugar, and finely grind them. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the ground coconut and pecans.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream of coconut, and the remaining 1 ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about four minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the coconut extract. Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the coconut milk, starting and ending with flour mixture.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the top of each with a spatula. Bake until the cakes are golden and a tester comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each cake, invert onto a wire rack, and remove the parchment. Let cool completely.
While the cakes are cooling, prepare the filling. Place the egg yolks in a small heatproof bowl. Combine the condensed milk, butter, and cream of coconut in a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for four minutes, stirring constantly, until hot. Whisk one-third of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks. Transfer the egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until the consistency of pudding, about 4 minutes. Do not allow the custard to become too thick. Transfer the custard to a bowl and stir in the shredded coconut. Let cool completely.
To assemble the cake, cut each cake horizontally in half. Build the layer cake in a cake pan: Place one layer in the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Moisten the top with some of the simple syrup. Spread ½ cup of the coconut filling in a thin, even layer with an offset spatula. Repeat to make two more layers of cake and filling, then place the last layer on top. Refrigerate the cake for about one hour. To unmold, run a spatula around the edges of the chilled cake, invert a cake plate over the top, and flip the cake over onto the plate.
To make the icing, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and coconut extract until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream on the top and sides of the cake and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 12 to 14.