The Most Essential -- and Most Beloved -- All-Purpose Cookbooks

November 28, 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: We polled our editors and readers about their favorite all-purpose cookbooks -- here are our favorites.

Cookbooks  Vegetable Literacy

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All-purpose cookbooks save our butts. Specifically, they save our butts when we come home with pounds of just one vegetable and need a straightforward use for it. They save our butts when all we want is a good chocolate cake. They save our butts when we want roast chicken, or apple pie, or gratin, or anything, really, that won't have us running to the store with a long list of jars we need to make one little recipe.

So, while it's exciting to talk about our newest obsessions, cookbook-wise, we're looking to our own shelves -- and to our community -- to round up our favorite all-purpose cookbooks, those we turn to week after week for sound advice and expansive knowledge. Here are the "basic" cookbooks that our editors and our readers love the most:

Next up, we'll be discussing the best baking cookbooks -- tell us all about your favorites in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Demington
  • Luke
  • Cassandra Rayne Gross
    Cassandra Rayne Gross
  • dagmaraelza
  • Myrna Gottlieb
    Myrna Gottlieb
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



Demington July 11, 2015
Don't forget Ken Hom and Madhur Jaffrey!
Luke February 16, 2015
The New Best Recipe from the editors of Cooks Illustrated is a hands down winner and I'm shocked to see it omitted from this list. It's both reliable and educational and has saved me many times.
Cassandra R. December 6, 2014
I completely agree with Julia Child's "The Way to Cook." As a Culinary Institute of America trained pastry chef, this one keeps me grounded in the savory. I can't live without it.
dagmaraelza December 5, 2014
You can't go wrong with Shirley O. Corriher, Bakewise, and Carole Walter, Great Cookies
Myrna G. December 3, 2014
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts, Julia Child The Way to Cook, Michael Field's Cooking School, and Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbooks are my old reliables. Of the newer books, I like many of Ina Garten's recipes (just made French chicken pot pie with puff pastry crust from her latest cookbook (using all-butter puff pastry from Trader Joe's); it was a huge success. I also like many of the recipes from Martha Stewart's Everyday Foods because they are simple to prepare and tasty. Right now I am most enthusiastic about Sami Ottolenghi's Jerusalem.
Rick A. December 2, 2014
Anything from Jacques Pepin he is the master
Mubb December 1, 2014
My recent go-to is Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. Sensible & exotic, doable and delicious.
Iowalee December 1, 2014
How can you overlook the Red Plaid from Better Homes and Gardens. This is a basic for the beginning cook and the more experienced cook. They keep up with the new food trends and still have the basic recipes we all need.
jamcook December 1, 2014
I Have SOO many baking books ! I have a kind of a middle of the night baking book purchase problem. Many of them turn out to be just for reading. When I actually go to bake something, I turn to my old favorites. Maida Heatter,(all her books) Beard on Bread, Dolores Casella's A World of Baking, and A World of Breads. The NY Times cookbooks. Carole Walter for Pies and Coffee cakes. This time of year I love Roses Christmas Cookies , ( I just had to buy a new one because my first one fell apart.) the Welllesley Cookie Exchange cookbook and the King Arthur Cookie Book. Some of these are out of print, but you might be able to find them online or in used book stores
btglenn November 30, 2014
I still prefer my "old" cookbooks to many more recent ones, although I read practically all the well-reviewed ones, and still buy new ones as budget permits:
Craig Claibornes NY Times cookbooks, also his Southern Cooking
Jacques Pepin's Everyday Cooking Also James Beard"s Fireside Cookbook for simple everyday meals
A cookbook published in 1940 I bought used is my go to for American cookery along with James Beard: The Greater American Cookbook edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, Director: Culinary Arts Institute along with a list of associate Editors for the ten principal sections, each devoted to a characteristic style of American cookery. Something you usually don't find in cookbook organization. While this book was published in 1940, used copies are available
La Cuisine de France by Mapie, the Countess de Loulouse Lautrec translated by Charlotte Turgeon which I much prefer to the more complex recipes of Julia Child.
My favorite book on French cuisine is Simple French Food by Richard Olney covers what is known as couisine bourgeoise - with beautifully written detailed descriptions for their preparation. I especially like his section on vegetables, eggs, and fish for generally easy to prepare recipes with ordinary ingredients that are not always used in our American kitchens.
Elizabeth David: English Bread and Yeast Cookery and Bernard Clayton's complete book of Breads
Most contemporary recipe writers are more aware of healthy cookery and present accordingly compared to the past. There are those who focus too much on what they consider the current politically correct "healthy food"and loose what should be all things in moderation.
I think that too many current recipe writers are overly specific in listing the type of ingredients to be used, and list ingredients that may be difficult to find in an attempt to be original, rather than enhance the dish.

Amy December 4, 2014
I agree completely with your last two paragraphs, and many modern cookbooks are worse for it! Will check out some you have listed that I'm not familiar with - thanks!
I agree about Maida Heater but would also add anything by Carol Walter, Rose Levy Bernbaum or Alice Medrich. Follow these 4 women and you will be the best baker.
Elaine S. November 30, 2014
Any of the Maida Heater books. I have never had a recipe fail. The directions are clear and make sense.
Rumbum November 30, 2014
But in the category of general cookbooks, one omission is Madeleine Kamman's opus, The (New) Making of a Cook. Weighing in at 1200+ pages and covering almost anything you can think of, though of course light on Asian cuisines (it does however include a recipe for Thai Flavored Bavarian Cream - who knew??), this is a very serious contender for best all purpose cookbook. But I have to say, and this is not a gratuitous genuflection in the direction of Food 52'ers, The Essential NYT Cookbook is the one I would have above all others, as an American with good basic skills to start with.
diane November 30, 2014
Any of the Maida Heatter baking cookbooks but especially the Chocolate one!
Rumbum November 30, 2014
Ditto!! That is a true classic. I've made umpteen of those recipes and among the most spectacular is: New Orleans Chocolate Cake. It takes some hours, but can be broken up over a day or two easily, and it is without doubt, THE BOMB! I make it once a year, served on the afternoon of January 1, with Champagne, to my best friends. The New Year is already a huge success at about + 16 hours.
Brenda B. December 1, 2014
ALL of Maida's books! I have made literally hundreds of her recipes...she feels like family to me.
RHo November 30, 2014
The Gourmet Cookbook as well as Gourmet Today by Ruth Reichl.
Valerie November 30, 2014
Smitten Kitchen what are you doing on this list....hmmm
Joan H. November 30, 2014
Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marian Cunningham, The Complete Book of Pastry by Bernard Clayton
Mary B. November 30, 2014
Elizabeth Baird's (and Daphne Rabinovitch's) Canadian Living cookbooks are essential. Also Julian Armstrong and Ricardo for flavours of Quebec. Of course, Way to Cook. Nigel Slater's Tender has become my go-to veg book; Martha Stewart's books are underappreciated for basics and clear technique; Cake Bible for baking basics; Joy of Cooking really depends on the edition — some of the 80's editions are real stinkers.
Anna November 30, 2014
The Cake Bible, by the inimitable Rose Levy Beranbaum. It has never, ever let me down all these years.
catalinalacruz November 30, 2014
Yes! If one is going to bake a cake, go with the recipes that produce the finest cakes possible.
SaltedCarolyn November 30, 2014
The Silver Palate is my go to. For baking I am a fan of The Simple Art of Baking by Flo Braker is a must have.