L.A.'s Best Local Cookbooks of 2013

Cookbooks From 2013
Cookbooks From 2013

The best cookbooks of 2013? Make that the best cookbooks by Los Angeles-area authors. And no, we don't mean those with television deals.

In years past, two, maybe three, notable titles typically made our local "best of" cut. But this year, an impressive number of thoughtful recipe testing notes have been written in nearby restaurant galleys, cramped apartment kitchenettes and farmhouse nooks. This year there were not only enough, but another half dozen fun titles that deserve a list of their own. (Among them, Lust for Leaf from Hot Knives' duo Alex Brown and Evan George and Randy Clemens' latest vegetarian Sriracha release.)

One caveat: How do you compare a cookbook that is more memoir, dusted with powdered ramen seasoning, to one that is filled with gorgeous French pastries? Right. So think of this not as a ranking, more as a list of notable titles worth flipping through. Have your own local gem to add? By all means, do share. And please do invite us to the table.

9. The Art of French Pastry

When you get that "can you make a croquembouche?" call for a friend's wedding, you want to turn to a culinary professional like Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago. Especially when he teams up with Martha Rose Shulman, a longtime local cookbook author who has years of croissant folding precision to her credit.

If you have ever written a chef's cookbook, you know why we included a cookbook with Schulman on this list even if yes, Pfeiffer is from Chicago (fine, a compromise: we listed it as number 9). The book is filled with 400 pages of French pastry essentials- not exactly a quick weeknight recipe testing and writing gig.

The book, more a pastry bible reference guide, starts with the fundamentals of French pastry, complete with illustrations showing how to pipe that éclair filling, and classic pastries like croissants, creme-filled Paris Brest and a mille-feuille (otherwise known as a Napoleon). Everything you want right now, in other words. Chapters on cookies (tuiles!), tarts and cakes follow, but our favorite chapter is the one filled with "Sweet and Savory Alsatian Specialties," as it is called. We love the idea of Shulman, who also writes the healthy cooking column for The New York Times, making bee sting cake (brioche sliced and filled with pastry cream and dusted with almonds and honey), chinois (Alsatian cinnamon rolls), beignets and holiday stollen in sunny 80 degree L.A. weather. A sweet, sweet antidote to the latest kale salad.

8. The New Wine Country Cookbook

Not so long ago, we were awash in Napa and Sonoma wine country cookbooks; more recently, we've seen Oregon on the Publisher's Weekly list. But our Central Coast neighbors have gotten far less love. Enter this great book by Brigit Binns. A longtime L.A. cookbook author with dozens of titles to her name, Binns now spends much of her time in the area, where she has a home and a pretty fabulous looking new cooking school retreat.

Many of the dishes are inspired by time Binns has spent with area winemakers, a dinner here, a tasting room experience there, with profiles of some of our favorite farmers who make appearances at local markets (Bill and Barbara Spencer of Windrose Farm among them). There are a hundred-plus dishes with wine-pairing in mind. But also creative wine-based cooking, like smashed avocado toasts with sun-dried tomato jam and feta-stuffed chicken with green olives, white wine, and grilled lobster with syrah butter and orange sea salt that will now be making an appearance on our New Year's Eve table. Followed, come midnight, but that late-harvest Moscato panna cotta with candied kumquats.

7. Handcrafted Candy Bars

Susie Norris, lucky for us, is a former baking and pastry instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena specializing in chocolate. Susan Heeger, a local journalist and cookbook author. Yeah, time to bookmark some serious weekend candy making time.

That's not to say the recipes here are complicated. Refreshingly, quite the opposite. This is a tidy little book, the sort of thing you might slip into a stocking as an appetizer to a behemoth like The Art of French Pastry. It includes all of the basics you need to make you own candy bars, including recipes for soft nougat (get the recipe for chocolate nougat here), marzipan, fondant, four versions of caramel, toffee, fudge and a vanilla cookie dough that doubles as a candy bar base.

Some of the recipes are inspired by classic commercial candies (peanut butter-chocolate cups, dark-chocolate dipped almond coconut bars); others are classics in the homemade sense like chocolate taffy. In other words, enough secret stash to sneak into the movie theater to please everyone.

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