On Monday, December 21 the library’s cookbook club met for dessert with The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941-2009 by the editors of Gourmet magazine, published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Gourmet magazine was first published in January 1941 when its founder, Earle MacAusland launched his epicurean magazine just as World War II loomed on the horizon. The magazine ceased publication in November 2009, citing declining advertising sales and a readership shifting focus. Former New York Times food critic, editor Ruth Reichl was on tour promoting the Gourmet Today cookbook when the news was released.
The Gourmet Cookie Book was published in 2010 after the magazine publication ended. The final recipe in the book for Grand Marnier Glazed Pain D’Epice Cookies was to be published in the December 2009 issue, if it had gone to print.
A New York Times article from 2009 provides an understanding of the mood of the readership, when word got out about the magazine’s closing, “Killing Gourmet and keeping Bon Appetit, which had more readers and stronger ad numbers, may have made business sense for Conde Nast. But to the food elite, especially of an older generation — it felt like a gut punch.”
Even such important chefs like Alice Waters, found Gourmet an early influence.
The book is beautifully photographed, with a two-page spread devoted to each recipe. The recipe is on the left page and a full page photo is on the right. The cookies are presented on either a black, white, or red background which is then used in the table of contents to create a visual geometric pattern of the decades. Some in the group found this approach to be too plain and simple, but most thought it was the simplicity that made it a visually stunning book to flip through the pages.
When you get to the recipes, the editors have included a short history of cookies through the decades, which provides details that really bring the cookies to life and help to understand cultural influences of the time that were shaping Americans cookie palate. For example, in the 1960s, “The dramatic growth of consumer jet travel sent Americans off to discover the world in the first half of the decade, and tastes began to change…the recipes grew more sophisticated, and unusual ingredients were swirled into the cookies. Suddenly they included pine nuts, candied orange peel, and cottage cheese” from page 43.
For readers of Gourmet, and anyone who is a history buff who likes to bake cookies, this cookbook is a real treat.
Club Rating: 3.6
“The photography was stunning. Most of the recipes sounded good. Amazing that many recipes we made looked just like its picture.” -A.W.
“The increased level of detail in the later recipes was helpful. Interesting historical perspective regarding the magazine issues, which explains how recipe development evolved.” -M.H.
“Well written, very clear directions. The selections, however did not particularly appeal to me.” -E.C.
“At first, I didn’t like the pictures of the recipes (didn’t look appealing), but I liked the little stories with each cookie. After eating, I liked a lot of the cookies and it was interesting to see many are variations of the basic baking ingredients.” -T.H.
“Loved the way the recipes are organized and presented.” -A. C.
“Loved the history, not really a cookie girl.” -H. M.
11 out of 14 club reviewers would recommend this cookbook to a friend.
- date bars p.10 (1945)
- gingerbread men p.40 (1959)
- cottage cheese p. 48 (1962)
- ginger sugar cookies p. 55 (1965)
- florentines p. 60 (1968)
- speculaas p. 68 (1971)
- irish coffee crunchies p. 80 (1977)
- souvaroffs p.96 (1984)
- pecan tassies p. 99 (1985)
- mocha_toffee_bars p.102 (1987)
- aunt sis’s strawberry tart cookies p. 116 (1993)
- anise-scented fig and date swirls p. 122 (1996)
- skibo castle ginger crunch p. 128 (1999)
- cranberry turtle bars p. 134 (2001)
- polish apricot cookies p.140 (2004)
*Linked recipes denote the favorites.