The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941-2009

In Book Reviews, Cookbooks on November 8, 2010 at 12:11 am

A Walk Through Part Of American Culinary History

The Gourmet Cookie Book is a collection of cookie recipes from each year between 1941 and 2009.  As a cookbook, it stands out simply due to its sheer number of recipes.  But this cookbook has an interesting twist to it:  in some ways, it’s also a history book that examines the tastes of Americans in the past 68 years.  The editors combine recipes with information about the time each one was published to create a cookbook that educates about American culinary history as much as it shares great recipes and teaches how to bake.

Particularly interesting are the recipes themselves, not only because the cookies sound delicious, but also because the editors printed the recipes as they were printed in Gourmet Magazine.  The reader quickly realizes that it was commonplace  in the early years this book covers to know what temperature to bake cookies at and how much of important ingredients, for example flour, are needed to make cookies.  The recipes are startlingly vague on these details compared to recipes of today, which spell out each and every ingredient and step in minute detail.  To enable people who don’t have the baking acumen, the editors have included the specifics we modern cookie makers have come to depend on for those recipes.

The reader learns about each decade through the recipes.  The 40s were a time of war and rationing was common, so the recipes reflect that with ingredients like sugar being replaced with honey.  The postwar years of that decade saw a return to the use of sugar now that rationing had ceased.  The recipes from the 50s reflect the feeling in America that prosperity was here to stay.  Recipes for cookies like Palets de Dames containing rum soaked currants and Lace cookies show that Americans tastes had moved past the more rigid days of the decade before.  The 60s recipes show how technology and consumerism were beginning to take hold, even in the realm of cookie recipes.  Ownership of refrigerators and freezers was commonplace by this decade, and the recipes reflect this, with frozen ingredients now becoming more popular.  In addition, the recipes Gourmet offered in this decade were more international, a reflection of Americans’ more global interest.  The 70s are marked by the introduction of the food processor, that device that makes so many baking tasks require merely a push of the finger.  The international flavor of the recipes of this decade continues from the 60s, with recipes for cookies from Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands, and Ireland figuring prominently. The 80s recipes show the decadence that the country was embracing, with cookies such as Bourbon Balls (with real bourbon), rich Pecan Tassies, and Mocha Toffee Bars featured.  The 90s saw more richness and an interest in Italian food, and this is shown in the recipes for biscotti, which became very popular in this decade.  By the turn of the millennium, cookie recipes had become elaborate and detailed.  A comparison to the early years featured shows the recipes of this decade are at least two times as long and detailed, sometimes even three to four times as long.  The classics are still around, and what is old is new again.

The Gourmet Cookie Book is a wonderful cookbook.  I bake cookies each year to give to friends, and I can say that the recipes in this cookbook would be perfect for holiday gifts.  In addition, as an historical look at the eating habits of Americans over the years, the book succeeds as well.

The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941-2009 was provided for review by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, through NetGalley.


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