Huckleberry: Zoe Nathan's Warm, Beautiful, Messy Celebration of Breakfast

September 12, 2014

You know how some people are obsessed with stamp collections or fantasy football teams? Well, we're obsessed with cookbooks. Here, in Books We Love, we'll talk about our favorites.

Today: A sunny breakfast book that will soon be covered in flour, from a bakery in California. (Psst: We're giving away a copy!)

Huckleberry  Huckleberry

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There are a few ways in which a cookbook can stand out from the pack. A big name helps. Clear, inviting photography is very successful in yanking our eyes away from other titles. Personality, though, might be the most compelling reason to love and pay for a cookbook right now, especially when it will be joining the ranks of your existing collection.

I am not talking about TV personality-personality. I am talking about the way that reading a person’s story endears you to their book and their food, and makes the idea of cooking feel new. It’s like going to a dinner party and being smitten with the way a person cooks: how they quietly serve salads that make your eyes wide or slyly set a bottle of amaro on the table when bellies are full but nobody is ready to leave. Or maybe they just have a kicky apron and they wear it well.

Such is Zoe Nathan’s Huckleberry, a breakfast book that has you cheering for Nathan and her story and her food before its first recipe; you’ll be hugging it, unironically, by the end. It’s full of photos that toe the food porn-line but dismount squarely on the classy side, Mary Lou Retton-Style. Her recipes feel familiar (many a muffin, scone, cake, fruity baked thing, and brunchy egg dish), but they’re somehow more. They are unfussy but still special, still at home in a book whose fore-edge design is a bright canary yellow with white polka dots. “It’s like the food you make at home, but better,” Nathan recently told me.

This is a Cherry Tomato and Goat Cheese Cobbler!

The ideas of “home” and “family” are themes that weave through the entire book: Nathan’s father was one of her first line cooks; she owns Huckleberry with her husband, Josh Loeb; she has a very nurturing streak though she’s not afraid to yell at unruly customers or at bakers who show up late. “Writing the book kind of coincided with me starting to have a family and wanting to create a home beyond my restaurant,” she says. “I love the idea of kids growing up with it.”

The introductions to each chapter follow the progress of a morning at Huckleberry: First up come muffins at 3:30, then biscuits and scones at 4, and so on. It walks us through what the early morning of a baker looks like, which is especially illuminating for those of us who have always fantasized about the job, about being awake before the rest of the world and starting our days shaping and mixing and smelling the sweet smell of dough turning into loaves. Nathan encourages that fantasy -- she loves this life, despite its toils -- but also explains that driving past “rosy girls and guys my age who are wrapping up their nights while I’m beginning my morning…can honestly make [me] feel like a real dork sometimes.”

More: Read our community's tips for perfectly flaky biscuits.


Nathan and her whole staff take that start of the day very seriously: “I hope to start people’s days with this sense of absolute abundance -- with too much color, a little too loud, a little too much -- to make people feel loved and cared for and go out in the world,” she explained.

Many cookbooks born out of recipes or cafés feel like an act of preservation, first and foremost: “This is the food I serve; people like it; here are my recipes.” But the purpose of Huckleberry is more benevolent, and more earnest. Just as Nathan wants her customers to leave satisfied and happy and high on Blueberry Cornmeal Cake (one of the most-requested recipes in the book, she says), she wants bakers to feel empowered:

"I would love to, like, demystify baking a little bit and take the pressure off and just have people enjoy themselves and get messy. Entertaining and baking have become so pressure-filled -- I would much rather have people feed themselves and enjoy themselves and have a sense of humor, to throw away their kitchen timers and smell their cookies and smell their pies [to know that they’re done]. It makes you much more present. For me, it’s like yoga."

Whether you call it yoga or a morning fix or an act of love, you’ll find yourself covered in flour more frequently after picking up this book, in pursuit of Maple Bacon Biscuits or Walnut-Jam Scones or Nathan’s dad’s famous pancakes. And that’s exactly how she wants things. “I just hope that the book is a mess -- there’s no better compliment than picking up [your book] at someone's house and it’s covered in stuff and your kid has spilled hot chocolate all over it.”

More: Read Alice Medrich's 3 tips for chocolate ganache success. Then pour ganache all over your favorite book!

Chocolate Ganache

That beautiful mess is something that Nathan embraces both at home and at her bakery, and now, in her book. Her son, Milo, is already an avid cook, willing to peel carrots and eager to bake muffins for garbage men and then hand them out on chilly early mornings. Her bakers blast Dolly Parton; she’s a fan of old-school hip hop. The Fresh Blueberry Brioche -- whose maw you see gaping on Huckleberry’s cover -- spills out of itself, abundant in all the best ways. “I wanted that on the cover because I wanted people to know that that sexy, imperfect look is what you’re gonna find in this book,” explains Nathan. Her food is “super approachable and really delicious first, before trying to look stuffy and perfect.”

The headnote for that brioche ends:

“Don’t slice it, just drop it in the middle of your table and have people rip it apart right from the oven. That’s love.”

We have one very beautiful copy of Huckleberry to give away! To enter, tell us in the comments: What is your favorite breakfast to make for other people? We'll pick a winner next Monday, September 15th.

Update: Sheila Litman is our winner! We hope you enjoy your copy of Huckleberry.

Biscuit photo by James Ransom; all other photos by Matt Armendariz 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • hchambers86
  • kfles
  • Donna Judd
    Donna Judd
  • Nan Moran
    Nan Moran
  • Susan N.
    Susan N.
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



hchambers86 September 15, 2014
A savory dutch baby - it looks impressive but is so full of love, comfort and nutrition. I love nestling half avocados in the batter and filling them with an egg so the dutch baby rises up around them!
kfles September 15, 2014
My husband and I love to make a big skillet of hash for friends. We just use some potato, hopefully some bacon or sausage, plus whatever's in the fridge. That plus fried (and now poached! so proud) eggs to order--always a good answer to that weekend morning headache...
Donna J. September 15, 2014
I love to bake quiche. Served with seasonal fruit salad with a maple syrup/ cinnamon topping.

Nan M. September 15, 2014
Cornmeal pancakes
Susan N. September 15, 2014
It's not a fancy breakfast, but I love making pumpkin chocolate chip bread for friends and family. I make it year round, but I'm glad that it's finally September so it's slightly more acceptable to make pumpkin things without receiving weird looks.
Judy September 15, 2014
Family favorite is buttermilk waffles with fresh berries, whipped cream and of course local maple syrup.
Kallie H. September 15, 2014
This summer I perfected a peach and huckleberry coffeecake to use up the pounds of fresh fruit we always seemed to have around. It's especially lovely with a cup of tea and a boiled egg.
Cheryl September 15, 2014
It's a toss up between huevos racheros and an overnight french toast casserole. Yum!
cookinginvictoria September 15, 2014
We like to make for family & friends multigrain buttermilk waffles flecked with toasted walnuts or pecans, dressed up with either local berries (if in season), a spiced apple or pear compote, or my spiced maple nut butter. Maple syrup is always on the table with lots of crispy bacon, French press coffee, and freshly squeezed fruit juices.
sara_lenton_ September 15, 2014
I suppose I usually make pancakes for people, and that was my first love, but Creme Brulee French Toast (from epicurious) is way easier since you can prep it the night before and just pop it in the oven, and it's a major crowd pleaser. Serve it with fresh fruit and whipped cream.
Shannon M. September 15, 2014
Cinnamon Buckwheat waffles with homemade apple-ginger syrup. Sometimes I get crazy and put bacon in the waffle.
Diana September 15, 2014
Scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, avocado mash, bacon.
enbe September 15, 2014
Tofu scramble, raspberry coffee cake, and a bountiful fruit salad
Yuri September 14, 2014
A simple congee cooked with sweet yams served with spicy pickled mustard greens, pickled radishes, spicy fermented tofu, pork floss, and a tea egg. And if we have some at the moment, Taiwan style sweetened soy milk to drink.
Chrissy September 14, 2014
I love making French Onion Soup inspired quiche, along with a sweet loaf of something with an equally sweet spread, homemade sausage or crispy maple bacon and spiced, brewed coffee. Now I'm hungry...
noisette September 14, 2014
Homemade seeded bread, herbed goat's cheese, smoked salmon, za'atar scrambled eggs and fennel fruit salad. To finish, stuffed dates and a pot of milky tea. The best!
Marcia S. September 14, 2014
A nice baked french toast using thick slices of French bread and fruit, maybe blueberries or peaches!
Sheila L. September 14, 2014
I love waking up with my grandchildren in the house as it gives me the excuse to get out the griddle or waffle iron and make some indulgent pancakes, crepes or waffles. We all get involved and the table is laden with jams and syrups. We laugh a lot and get sticky. It is the best start to my day.
Marian B. September 15, 2014
wow, this makes my heart warm. thank you for sharing!
Merideth September 14, 2014
My favorite breakfast to make for people is cinnamon rolls
kresimir September 14, 2014
Croissants au chocolat