Don’t call them books for dummies--but judging by a few of this fall’s new cookbooks, it seems that cookbook buyers may need some help in cooking skills 101. It could just be that cookbooks that lay out nearly every single step in photographs—from putting pork chops into a pan, to pouring dried pasta into a pot of boiling water—look nice. But there may be a movement afoot, one in which cookbook publishers are taking American home cooks by the hand and presenting them with instructions on the basics. Your mother or grandmother may have learned the basics of chopping an onion, but did you?
Former Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl told the Chicago Daily Herald recently that cookbooks increasingly need to be ultra-specific, “telling [readers] what ‘till golden’ means and what sort of pan they should use. Many older recipes were, like, four sentences, because they assumed you knew everything.” And in an interview with PW in May, Good Housekeeping food director Susan Westmoreland said she’d been reading old issues of the magazine as she worked on the new edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook (which Hearst will publish in October). “So much knowledge is assumed,” she said of the old recipes. “It will say, ‘Bake in a hot oven’ or ‘Bake until done.’”
What readers have instead are at least three cookbooks coming out this fall that provide step-by-step instructions and multiple photos for each recipe. First, DK Publishing is bringing out The Illustrated Step-by-Step Cook in September. It has more than 300 recipes with more than 1,000 photos. It’s a style the publisher is used to; most of DK’s books are heavily illustrated. Step-by-Step Cook has pictures of how to make coarse crumbs out of the dough for a strawberry hazelnut tart (pictured); how to fill parchment paper packets with halibut for Asian halibut en papillote; and literally hundreds more.
Also in October, Phaidon has plans to publish What to Cook and How to Cook It: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Illustrated Cookbook by British food writer Jane Hornby. It has only 100 recipes, which Phaidon calls “classic,” but more than 850 color photographs showing the ingredients, quantities, kitchen equipment, and cooking steps. There are images of frying an egg for a full English breakfast (pictured), making a well in the batter for pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup, and much more. “I hope that when you cook from this book, you’ll feel as though I’m right there with you, pointing you in the right direction,” says Hornby in the book’s introduction.
Then, in November, Clarkson Potter will release Rachael Ray’s Look + Cook, with 225 all-new recipes and 600 four-color photos. Some recipes have as many as eight photos. While so many photos do provide visual appeal, there’s an obvious instructional element in Look + Cook that wasn’t present in Ray’s previous books. Clarkson Potter senior editor Emily Takoudes said Ray “has never before had so many photos in any of her cookbooks…. She really wanted to connect with her book-buying audience in a new way, to make cooking even more accessible to them by literally offering a way to look and cook.” The first 100 recipes in the book have four to six process shots and one shot that Takoudes calls the “ta-da!” shot showing the finished dish. Ray will also demonstrate how to make 30 more of the book’s recipes in videos posted on her site.
Including so many color photographs in a cookbook isn’t cheap, nor is it easy (Takoudes said the shoot for Look + Cook took an entire month). It remains to be seen whether the effort is worth publishers’ while. Ina Garten, whose Barefoot Contessa cookbooks follow a much more traditional recipe/photo format, told PW, “I find pictures distracting.” Then again, Garten may not need her hand held quite as tightly as the average American home cook.