Read up on some of 2012's most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.
Today:Fiveandspice brews and bakes her way through The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee.
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The one worry I had as I ordered my copy of The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee was that I would find it to be what a coffee book could so easily be these days: an esoteric, even judgmental, treatise on coffee roasting and brewing, interesting only to those who obsess over finding ingredients you’ve never tasted and discussing obscure Swedish punk-rock you’ve never heard of. Happily, it was nothing of the sort. At times, admittedly, the book seems like a parody of itself. James Freeman’s prose ranges from dramatic (“roasters choose to animate their terrible feelings of anxiety, dread, and responsibility and face the daunting task of roasting coffee”) to philosophical (“the act of ontological transformation initiated by drinking coffee”), but what saves it from being ridiculous, and in fact makes it charming, is that it’s obviously 100% earnest as well as informative. Freeman describes growing, processing, and roasting coffee in terms more often found in suspense novels because that is how exciting and awe-inspiring he finds it. Who can blame him, then, for wanting to share this enthusiasm and love with others? I quickly found myself as intrigued by the natural history of a coffee bean and the people who grow them as I’ve ever been by any story.
But the proof is in the pudding. Or coffee cup. There was a great deal of muttering and quiet cursing as I followed Freeman’s pour-over instructions, weighing out my beans and taking simmering water’s temperature at 6am. “This should definitely be left to baristas,” I thought as I watchfully kept the height of the water at the appropriate level in the filter. But when I finally tasted my cup of coffee, all muttering stopped. It was exponentially better than the coffee we normally brew in the morning. As promised, it was a whole different beverage. I’ve repeated the process almost every morning since, and I’ve had similar success with the French press method from the book.
I spent even more time with the recipe portion of Blue Bottle, charmingly grouped into categories like “with your morning coffee” and “perfect for dunking.” The sunny photos and Caitlin Freeman’s simple, chatty descriptions of why she loves each recipe easily convinced me that I wished to try every last one. Pixie Tangerine Chiffon Cake? Strawberry Buckle with Lemon-Pistachio Streusel? Yes please! Every recipe I tried was a hit. The Rosemary Shortbread was buttery and crumbly, the Saffron Snickerdoodles caramel-y and fragrant, the waffles fluffy and rich. The Catalan Eggs, poached eggs with braised greens and tomato sauce, earned a spot in my favorite breakfasts patheon.
All that said, the real review is this: I bought this book as a Christmas gift for the coffee drinkers and bakers in my life. They were all thrilled.
Have you cooked from this book? Tell us what you think in the comments!
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The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!
I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (www.vikredistillery.com), where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.