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The Piglet2013 / First Round, 2013

Canal House Cooks Every Day

Canal House Cooks Every Day

Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

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Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel

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The Judgment

Meredith_erickson_david_mcmillan_fre%cc%81de%cc%81ric_morin

By Meredith Erickson, David McMillan & Frédéric Morin

Our judgment wasn’t supposed to happen like this. All three of us anticipated the alternative conclusion and pre-judged these books not the by their covers “per se” (nudge, nudge) but by the overall Davey vs. Goliath vibe. We made a preconceived assumption, and it was wrong. 

But let’s get down to it:

Canal House Cooks Every Day is a seasonal compendium of a year at the Canal House. This gem of a space is where the two Ms. H’s cook, make art, shoot photos of said food and art, drink booze and all in all, appear to have a great time. We’ve been fans of these women since receiving their first volume (or maybe it was just our first?) of recipes: a small orange gem of summer recipes that the Joe Beef staff ooh-ed and ahh-ed over.

The pages of this book are warm, simple and down-home. This book makes us want to hang out at the Canal House, get drunk with these ladies, jump in the canal, and then cook and eat their food.

Their mantra “home cooking by home cooks for home cooks” is reflected in their recipes, none of which are too daunting. In the spirit of the book, the recipes tested were all from the "Autumn" chapter: Chicken Broth with Spinach and Little Meatballs, Agee’s Pecan Pies, Butternut Squash and Candied Bacon on Fresh Pasta, and Milk Punch. We had no trouble and all of the recipes worked per their instructions 100%. Everything was tasty (especially the milk punch) and we’re already eyeing up Sister Frances’s Potatoes and looking forward to our own Northern version of The Garden Giveth.

The design of this book is the similar to the smaller volumes: it’s very pretty and approachable. If there was one thing we hoped for, it was a bit more voice, and more stories -- The Canal House After Hours, if you will -- to give us even more of feel for who these women are. Still, there is no doubt that Canal-ians far and wide will eat this book up.

And now we move from “for the people, by the people” to a different plane altogether. 

When Bouchon Bakery book arrived, we began to flip through the pristine, white, glossy pages and our first reaction was that it made us feel very very dirty. Our fingers looked grimy on the white gloss, on the clean lines of brown text, and on the pages among pages of perfect photos of perfect food (Sebastien Rouxel in the kitchen in Napa, Keller piping butter nutters, or Cygnes a la Chantilly -- even the pictures of “Keller the cow” made us feel backwater and a bit shameful of how we spend our time.) Bakery is in the same visual vein as Bouchon and The French Laundry Cookbook. Design-wise they’re all stunners, but for us, it’s in the same sort of formulaic way. 

But then there are the recipes. Good god, those recipes.

These recipes are so well practiced, so well considered, so thorough and yes, so technical, that they make you sit down and softly say “holy shit” over and over. From beginning to end, this book is a complete master class in baking -- we see it perched on the shelves between Traité de Patisserie Moderne and Le Compagnon Pâtissier.

We tested the croissants, the Devil’s Food Cake, the Toasted Almond Streusel, and the Sugared Doughnuts. As expected, everything worked (of course everything worked!).

And though it’s not a book you can really read cover to cover, there are notes like "The Vagaries of Dough" by Rouxel that wax poetic about the alchemy of dough, and almost all of Keller’s openers are impassioned. His words on the baguette speak for themselves: “You can’t hide anything about the bread [or yourself] when you’re making a baguette. Every aspect of bread baking is represented in the baguette…I love that. The baguette speaks clearly and it never lies.”

To hit you with the climax: we chose Bouchon Bakery as our winner. 

What sums up our decision is really something Keller says: “We need to consider what we may be losing in our perpetual quest for convenience. Once we lose the knowledge of something learned and refined over centuries, it’s gone for good.”

Bouchon Bakery will be a reference book not only for ambitious home cooks, but for restaurants too. It’s the kind of book that will take everyday bakers, B&B owners, cooks and pastry chefs to a heightened level. And we’ll all be the better for it. 

And the winner is…

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

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Do you Agree? (32 comments)

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about 1 year ago Melissafitz

Bouchon is a revelation in baking. It inspires me to clean my KitchenAid after every use. Like, *really* clean it.

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about 1 year ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

Favorite review so far and great comment thread, including the comment from the Canal House ladies. :))

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about 1 year ago Sauertea

Well I have and love Canal House Cooks. I now want Bouchon. I think this was difficult choice

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about 1 year ago jenniebgood

I have loved Bouchon since I bought it and read it cover to cover (one tiny disagreement I have with the esteemed authors of this great review)! The recipes are amazing and it's the kind of cookbook that offers techniques that a cooks can (and should) adopt in other baking recipes. Congrats to Msrs. Keller and Rouxel. I also love the Canal House Ladies - your publications are amazing as well. I look forward daily to your awesome CH Cooks Lunch email! They are inspiring!

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about 1 year ago Midge

After perusing its glossy pages, I too found Bouchon Bakery a little off-putting, but you all have inspired me to pick it up again and actually bake something from it. Thanks for an awesome review.

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about 1 year ago Wendy Miller 1

Well now I want both.

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about 1 year ago ATG117

I've really enjoyed and continue to enjoy all the reviews this year.

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about 1 year ago sel et poivre

I love this review. I'm new to baking and this review has made me even more determined to take the plunge and enjoy the dive.

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about 1 year ago mainecook61

Excellent review.

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about 1 year ago The Fiery Epicurean

Excellent review! Looking forward to exploring both of these books!

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about 1 year ago Lynne Faubert

I own all of the Canal House cookbooks (except for Lunch, which is only a matter of time before I order). And I had no intention in heck of buying Bouchon. I don't bake, you might even say it scares me. But after reading this review — and the comments —, you make me want to reconsider. That's saying a lot.

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about 1 year ago Dina Moore-Tzouris

i'm just so happy it's only tuesday-and i never say that! the piglet is so much fun and inspiration!

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about 1 year ago PetetheBaker

I have and use Bouchon Bakery cookbook on a weekly basis (at least.) I love to bake sourdough bread and my go to book had been the Tartine cookbook. While I still love that book I find Bouchon so much more educational and diverse. Can't recommend the book enough.

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about 1 year ago Naomi Manygoats

Thank you for the excellent review. I quite agree, I looked through Canal house books many many times, but for some reason never felt compelled to buy them. I will buy this one however, it sounds lovely! I also hesitated to buy another huge, perhaps over designed Keller book, but finally did buy this. It is totally amazing!

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about 1 year ago The Canal House

That hardly hurt at all. We expect to see you Joe Beefs and the Food52 crew down here at Canal House for a jump in the canal and some good eating and drinking. We'll send an invitation to the Bouchon Bakery team too. Congratulations Bouchon Bakery!--The Canal Ladies

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about 1 year ago sheimoon

La classe!

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about 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Associate Editor of Food52.

The most gracious.

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about 1 year ago iowafran

As always - so lovely and generous!

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about 1 year ago Tabledeckers

I am one of the 5 "disagrees"! I own and cook from both books (actually I own all the books published both CH and TK) and while there is no question that Thomas Keller is a master and the recipes are spot on, every time, Canal House is like reading a favorite novel over and over, with wonderful prose, beautiful photographs and lovely illustrations. I read these books time and time again. I disagree that anything is these books is "lost to convenience" (if that is what the reviewer was implying). I had the wonderful pleasure to visit CH this past November for their Open House/Book Launch. I was not disappointed! It was truly a feast for every sense and the ladies of the house could not have been more gracious! I have had a small catering business for the past 12 years and I am also a bookbinder. My visit to CH got my creative juices flowing again and I have embarked on a project to write and bind my own cookbook (that will probably take many years)! Thank you CH for the inspiration!

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about 1 year ago ChefCitron

So lovely and gracious, Canal House!
Recently, when asked what my dream profession would be, I responded without hesitation, "Whatever-you-call-what the fabulous Canal House ladies do!" I'm a charter CH subscriber, and love the inspiration and warmth CH inspires!

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about 1 year ago ChefCitron

Wonderful review! In looking at the 2013 bracket, this round was the toughest! I own and cherish both books, and love them both for different reasons. The Canal House recipes read as if the CH ladies were right there with you, divulging a fun family recipe over nibbles and a glass of wine. Bouchon, on the other hand, offers the concise, exacting precision I adore in a baking book. A very, very difficult choice indeed! Ultimately, I admire the clincher that determined the winner: “We need to consider what we may be losing in our perpetual quest for convenience. Once we lose the knowledge of something learned and refined over centuries, it’s gone for good”, which at their core, both books strive to achieve. If only the Piglet allowed a tie…both books are winners to me!

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about 1 year ago cookinginvictoria

Wow, such a wonderful review. I love that the Joe Beef authors tested so many recipes and wrote about their experiences in such a funny, thorough and thoughtful way. I drank up every word. I too think that I need both of these books in my kitchen. This is my favorite Piglet review so far this year!

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about 1 year ago sheimoon

And that is an excellent outcome. Joe Beef is number 1 of 3 things I miss about the city after 8 years in Montreal.

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about 1 year ago kak6154

Can't say that I disagree, per se, but owning a cpy of the Canal House Cooks Every Day, I can tell you I'm not sorry that I bought it. I LOVE it!

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about 1 year ago EmilyC

Great, great review -- very informative and fun to read. It makes me want to buy three cookbooks -- Canal House, Bouchon Bakery, and The Art of Living According to Joe Beef!

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about 1 year ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Oh wow. I vaguely wanted Bouchon before, but now I may need it. Great review.

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about 1 year ago creamcheese

Really enjoyed the review of these books. The respect and enjoyment found for each was easy to see!

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about 1 year ago Miss_Mary

On a side note, are any other Canal House subscribers annoyed that we only received one issue in 2012 instead of three? And to make matters worse we weren't offered a discount on this book that came close to Amazon's low price?

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about 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

This review makes me want to buy both books! Nicely done.

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about 1 year ago thepeche

A very thoughtful and respectful review. Thank you.

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about 1 year ago Bevi

Thanks for the well written, informative and fair review that was written without artifice or snark. My only complaint is I am sorry these two books had to go up against each other. I love them for different reasons, and wish they both could have made it to Round 2.

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about 1 year ago micook

I bake a lot and have to say this is one of the best books I've ever used. I've made cookies, scones (bacon cheddar!), the plum tart, the basic bread, the garlic breadsticks ( about the only thing less than fantastic; maybe it was something I did) and the results have been terrific. The sweet tart dough is noticeably outstanding. Precise to the point of craziness (.9 grams), yes, but baking is about precision. The notes about setting up, including the rocks in the oven for the bread, would be useful to anyone, particularly beginning bakers. Really, despite the coffee table format, this is a really useful, thoughtful book.