Books for cooks


Good food and drink go hand in hand during the holidays and ’tis high season for publishers to rush new cookbooks into stores. This year’s crop is filled with a number of editions that will bring a smile to a home cook’s face. In fact, the following books are so fine, buy two – one for a friend or family member and one for yourself.

"The New Spanish Table" by Anya von Bremzen ($22.95, Workman Publishing, paperback) is a monumental work dedicated to the chefs, home cooks, farmers and winemakers of Spain. It took von Bremzen 10 years to pen this hefty tome, which is filled with more than 300 recipes, tips, sidebars and beautiful photographs. Coming to New York from Russia when she was a girl, von Bremzen is a graduate of The Juilliard School and a concert pianist. As a travel writer, she journeyed to Spain, where she found an Iberian nation that is now the capital of international gastronomy. She and international food writers deem chef Ferran Adria the founder of this culinary movement.

Alice Medrich, who has won the James Beard Award three times for her works on chocolate, is the author of "Chocolate Holidays: Unforgettable Desserts for Every Season" ($15.95, Artisan Books, paperback). This is full of easy recipes and perfect for beginners. Medrich tells you how to stock a pantry and gives advice on equipment and mail-order resources. One look at the photograph for bittersweet chocolate truffles made me head for the store straightaway.

Joan Nathan has been called the Julia Child of Jewish cooking. She has written a number of books on American and international Jewish foods. Her fine book on the foods of Israel is one of a few in English on that country’s cuisine. Her latest is "The New American Cooking: 280 Recipes Full of Delectable New Flavors from Around the World as well as Fresh Ways with Old Favorites" ($35, Alfred A. Knopf, hardbound). Nathan traveled throughout the United States, visiting with chefs and home cooks with roots in many lands. Read through Nathan’s book and you will soon discover why bagels, pizza, sushi and salsa are now all-American favorites.

Here are recipes from these new cookbooks for perfect-for-the-holidays sweets:

Christmas Bread Pudding (Budin de Pan)
courtesy of "The New Spanish Table"


1 pound panettone cut into 1-inch cubes<
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Spread the panettone cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring once, until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Turn the oven off.

Place the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, milk and cream in a large bowl and whisk until completely smooth. Place the panettone in a 2-quart shallow baking dish.

Pour the egg mixture over it and let stand for one hour, stirring occasionally. The bread pudding can be covered with plastic and refrigerated for several hours before baking.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350.

Dot the top of the bread pudding with the butter and bake until puffy and golden and the custard is set, about one hour. Let cool for about 30 minutes and serve.

Serves six to eight.

Note from Phyllis: The author writes in Spain this bread pudding is made with "roscon de reyes," a ring cake with sugar and candied fruit. She made bread pudding using this leftover cake. In America, she discovered panettone was a fine substitute and developed this recipe.

Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles
courtesy of "The New American Cooking"


8 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons (3/4 of a stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1/4 cup boiling water
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder


Place the chocolate and butter in a 4- to 6-cup heatproof bowl and set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water over low heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl and set aside. Leave the skillet on low.

Place the egg yolk in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the boiling water. Place the bowl in the skillet and stir constantly until the yolk mixture thickens slightly to the consistency of light cream and registers between 160 and 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove from the skillet and scrape the yolk mixture immediately over the melted chocolate. Stir until smooth. Pour through a fine strainer into a clean bowl. Cover and chill until firm, two hours or more.

Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and allow to stand for about 30 minutes. Pour cocoa into a pie plate. Dip a melon baller or small spoon into warm water. Scrape the spoon across the mixture to form a 1-inch ball. You can pinch each truffle into a round shape with your fingers. Roll the truffle in the cocoa powder, shaking the pan to make sure it is coated. Repeat until all the mixture is used.

Store the truffles tightly covered and refrigerated for up to two weeks or in the freezer for up to three months.

Makes about 30 bite-size truffles.

Note from Phyllis: These easy-to-make truffles are a perfect hostess gift. And this recipe can be easily doubled.

Chocolate Chewies
courtesy of "The New American Cooking"


2 cups chopped pecans
2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup Valrhona or other good-quality cocoa
2 tablespoons flour
Generous pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two greased cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat baking mats.

Scatter the pecans on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and slightly brown, about five to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

Put the sugar, cocoa, flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer equipped with a whisk and beat until well blended. Beat in the egg whites one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla and beat on high speed for one more minute.

Fold in the pecans with a spoon, mixing until well blended. Drop, by the tablespoon, onto the cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between for spreading.

Bake for 15 minutes, turning the sheet halfway through the baking time, until the cookies are dry on the surface, but soft in the center. Remove from the oven.

Cool on parchment paper or Silpat. Store in an airtight container for two days or in the freezer for a month.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Note from Phyllis: This recipe comes from chef Laurence Gottlieb, who owns Gottlieb’s Restaurant and Dessert Bar in Savannah, Ga. His great grandparents were Russian Jewish immigrants who arrived in Savannah right after the Civil War. Gottlieb’s Bakery was in business for more than 100 years. This is a recipe from the family bakery, which closed in 1994. Chocolate Chewies are served in Gottlieb’s restaurant, but home chefs can easily double this recipe.