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Title: The Best Recipe: By the editors of Cook's Illustrated
Publisher: Boston Common Press
Published: 1999
Price: U.S. $29.95, Canada $39.95

I spent two months drooling over the book on various shelves...it features a cool, blue background, with a perfect looking flan in the foreground.

The name of the book sounds rather terribly self-indulgent, but they take great pains to explain what they mean.

Apparently whenever the folks at Cook's Illustrated want to cook something, they first lay out what the defining characteristics of that dish are.

Brownies? Thick, fudgey, gooey chocolate that's not quite cake, not quite fudge, all delicious. But what could we improve?

And that's always the question. What could be improved about any given dish...flan, brownies, chicken and dumplings, steak, etc.

Each recipe in the book is prefaced with a page or two explaining the process they went through to arrive at their solution, things they tried, what worked, what didn't, and often why. Not only do they test things out in the kitchen, but they consult culinary chemists on why foods react under certain conditions...

In other words, these folks are like engineers of cooking. If they say it's the Best, it's only because it's the best thing they could come up as a group after a battery of tests and try-outs. So perhaps the title should have been The Best We Could Find...

This is what they have to say on the subject:

  • "One might comment that any cookbook titled The Best Recipe has a great deal to prove. On the face of it, the notion that any one cookbook has the "best" recipes seems far-fetched, even outrageous. Yet, in choosing this title, our intent was to convey the process by which the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine develop recipes. We start with a stated goal - the "best" meatloaf or the "best" chocolate pudding - and then proceed to a blind taste test in which a half-dozen or so recipes are sampled from various cookbooks. We then set out what, for us, is the ideal version of the recipe under consideration and proceed to develop it through a long, arduous process of testing and research. This does not mean that reasonable folks can't disagree on what defines the ideal chocolate chip cookie or the perfect roast chicken or that we always achieve our goals. Yet this group process does rule out methods that are less successful and recipes that are less than foolproof. In fact, this process has led us to the conclusion that much of cooking is indeed objective. One can say something definitive about roasting temperatures for different cuts of meat; one can clearly taste the difference between butter and vegetable shortening in cakes and cookies. These discoveries are the foundation of good cooking, on which one can layer elements of personal taste."

  • So far, every recipe I've made from the book has been delicious. Often different from what I'm used to, such as in the case of the banana bread, but still well worth doing. A further warning: This is not a book for people looking for health food...it's a full cook book, making rich stuff, and is only for those who want to muck about with the type of thing that will have you washing all of your heavy pots a couple of times...in other words, fun.

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