"A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies"
By Dede Wilson (Harvard Common Press, 2003, $14.95)
This title has been a trusted reference in my kitchen library for more than a decade. Wilson briefly shares the story behind more than 75 festive, familiar favorites and then skillfully provides what every home baker wants: a foolproof, crystal-clear, nobody-does-it-better recipe, and a no-nonsense photo of the finished product. With Wilson's guidance, I've never baked a better Russian Tea Cake, Peanut Butter Chocolate Kiss, Spritz, Nutmeg Log or Pecan Thumbprint, and her rendition of crackle-topped, powdered sugar-dusted Kris Kringle's Chocolate Krinkles merits Hall of Fame status.
By Mindy Segal (Ten Speed Press, 2015, $24.99)
Leave it to a James Beard award-winning pastry chef (she's the talent behind Chicago's top-rated HotChocolate) to push the boundaries of the genre beyond the simple snickerdoodle, although she's got a bang-up recipe for that classic, too. Segal delves into ingredients and techniques usually reserved for other sweets higher up the food chain (her meticulous approaches to rugelach and kolaches are worth the $24.99 asking price all on their own). Two other assets: photographer Dan Goldberg's food porn-esque images, and Segal's bevy of insider's baking tips.
"Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies"
By Alice Medrich (Artisan, 2010, $25.95)
Medrich uses her eighth cookbook to pull classic cookie recipes apart and put them back together. By dialing up the texture quotient (hence, the title) and cutting back on the often-scandalous amounts of butter and sugar that constitute most cookie-baking, Medrich creates dozens of the exacting, gotta-bake recipes that we've come to expect from this tireless baking innovator. The "melt-in-your-mouth" chapter is a must-read, and anyone who has encountered them will agree that "Maya's Lemon Thins" are easily three of the dictionary's tastiest words. No wonder "Chewy" won the coveted IACP Baking Book of the Year award.
"Simply Sensational Cookies"
By Nancy Baggett (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, $29.99)
The introduction immediately hooked me: "I've been making cookies for as long as I can remember," wrote Badgett. "I don't think there's any other kitchen activity that's more fun or that creates more fond or lasting memories." Agreed. The appealing, easy-to-follow recipes (more than 200, enough to dazzle even the most jaded cookie exchange participant) keep me coming back. The prolific Badgett has tackled cookies in several previous outings — her "The All-American Cookie Book" from 2001 sticks out in my mind as another keeper — but the crowded shelves of my cookbook library will always have a berth for "Simply," at least until it falls apart from overuse.
"Betty Crocker's Cooky Book"
By Betty Crocker editors (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1963, $24.95)
Half the fun of paging through my late mother's well-worn copy of this beloved 1963 classic (reissued in 2002) is to marvel at Edward P. Diehl's vivid midcentury art direction. But there are also 450 uncomplicated recipes packed into its 150 spiral-bound pages — the book was created to encourage uses for General Mills products, primarily Gold Medal flour but also Trix, Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs and Wheaties cereals — and chances are there's a handful that will spark happy holiday memories. Mine? The Toffee Squares, which appear on a splotched, dog-eared page 39. Mom dutifully baked them every December for at least a quarter-century; I'll definitely be following her example this month.
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