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Your Favorite French Cookbook and Why

I have more French cookbooks on my bookshelves than I could possibly ever hope to cook through. Yet, I feel compelled to collect more and more. Here is a list of my cookbooks:

Simply French
The Flavor of France by the Chamberlains
The Zuni Cafe
Sunday Suppers at Lucques
Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume I
Around My French Table
La Tante Claire
Cooking With Daniel Boulud
Michel Richards home Cooking with a French Accent
Patricia Wells at Home in Provence
The Cooking of South West France
Cafe Boulud
La Toque

Never Cooked Out of:
On Rue Tatin
Cuisine Naturelle
Madeleines In Manhattan
French Women Don't Get Fat
Baking With Julia
The French Cookie Book
Roger Verge's Vegetables in the French Style
The Cook and The Gardener
Bistro Cooking

I have made many recipes out of a few of these books; a few recipes out of most of these books; and none out of the remainder. If I had to whittle down my collection, I would be hard pressed to say which ones I would keep and which I would toss.

I would love to know which French cookbooks in your collection are your favorites and why? What are your favorite recipes out of these books?

Here are a few of my favorite recipes:

Chicken In a Pot (Michel Richard)
Roasted Chicken (Simply French)
Mustard Chicken (Simply French)
Potatoes Dauphinoise (Simply French)
Tomato Goat Cheese Spread (Provence)
Beef Bourguignon (Julia)
Entrecote (Flavor of France)
Apple Cake (Dorie)

Let's help each other make better use of our books. If nothing else, starting this thread will give me a quick reference guide to my go to recipes from each book.

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  1. A few or your faves are mine too:
    Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume I
    Great recipes for roast veal, rabbit, pork, well jut about everything.
    ( I also have Vol 2 but haven't cooked much from it)
    Around My French Table
    Cooked several tagines from this book and reported on Piccwicca's thread.
    Looking forward to April when it will be COTM
    The Zuni Cafe
    Sunday Suppers at Lucques

    If you've never cooked from these books Do It.
    Baking With Julia
    BWJ has some wonderful, simple recipes for food to serve with the baked goods...salads, sandwiches, etc. I don't bake much anymore but frequently refer to the adjunct recipes.
    Bistro Cooking
    If this is the Patricia Wells book, we cooked from this book when it was COTM and liked everything we made. Here's the archive link for the book:

    1 Reply
    1. re: Gio


      Which are your favorite recipes in Zuni and Sunday Suppers?

      I love Zuni's buttermilk mashed potatoes p. 233
      and in Sunday Suppers, I have a long list:
      Burrata salad, p. 135 (great, alt. with Big Nights, Small Bites recipe)
      Torchio with cavolo nero, p. 308 (so, so great!)
      Kabocha squash/fennel soup, p. 323 ( I do not puree it)
      Chestnut stuffing for thanksgiving, p. 371 (my go-to Thanx recipe)
      Sables, p. 236 - not quite as good as when I buy them at her restaurant

    2. Hmm ... well, I bake from "Baking with Julia" all the time, but I don't really consider it French. I've made the yogurt tart, the scones, the challah and various other breads ... it's one of my go-to books. I haven't had Around My French Table" too long, but what I've made, I've liked (like the baked stuffed pumpkin.)

      What else do I have?
      Mastering the Art of French Cooking (love)
      French Farmhouse Cooking (use occasionally)
      Bistro Cooking (use occasionally, good chicken recipes)
      Barefoot in Paris (don't use at all)
      My French Kitchen (great chocolate recipes)
      Provencal Light (don't use)

      That's all I can think of off the top of my head ... but part of the thing is that there are very few cookbooks that I cook from often. Some (not me) might say I have too many cookbooks. I use my baking books most often, and most of them aren't specifically from one country.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Chocolatechipkt


        Which chicken recipe in Bistro Cooking would you recommend?

        1. re: dkennedy

          I love the chicken sauteed with shallots/poulet saute aux eschalots (like chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, but shallots instead. And pay attention to the volume of the shallots [2 c] versus the number, as they vary in size and 60 can be a bit overwhelming just to think about.)

          Also good:
          Bistro d'a Cote's Chicken in Wine Vinegar
          Chez Rose's Chicken Fricassee with Mushrooms
          Coquilles Saint-Jacques a la Provencale l'Ami Louis (not chicken, but I love scallops -- and combined with garlic, tomatoes, basil and thyme is yummy)

          1. re: Chocolatechipkt

            Thanks Chocolatechipkt. I just ordered this book so it is not yet on my shelf but I followed the COTM discussion and decided I needed to acquire it.

      2. I wouldn't say that Sunday Suppers at Lucques was French personally.

        2 Replies
        1. re: greedygirl

          I see your point GG.

          I wasn't sure if I should include Zuni and Sunday Suppers as part of my French collection or not.

          Suzanne Goin is classically trained, and having eaten at her three restaurants Lucques, Tavern and AOC several times, I would have to say her cooking is in the French style if not French per se. I would probably label it more of a crossover cuisine. In any case, I use it as part of my French collection so that is how I identified it.

          The same is true for the Judy Rodgers, I think her cuisine is more of a blending of French and Italian, but when I think of Zuni Cafe, I think of classic techniques and training, which makes me think "French".

          1. re: dkennedy

            What's interesting is that here in the Bay Area (and on the SF Bay Area board), Zuni Cafe is thought of as a quintessentially local, California restaurant, just as Chez Panisse is, despite the latter's cuisine being based on French technique. But those characterizations are about the food, while you seem to be grouping your books in terms of technique, which is fair enough.

        2. In Simply French, you must try the Confit of Fresh Chestnuts, Walnuts, Fennel, and Onions. It's extraordinary. I make it with the bottled French chestnuts. Glazed Spring Vegetables is also outstanding, and very elegant if you can find the whole baby vegetables. The Provencal Roast Tomatoes couldn't be simpler and couldn't be better when fresh tomatoes are in season. I LOVE that book. Haven't cooked from it in a while. COTM anyone?

          1 Reply
          1. re: JoanN

            Thanks Joan, I am making a note. Yes, I think this would make an outstanding COTM selection.

          2. Top of my list is "French Cookery School" by Anne WIllan, who used to run the La Varenne Cooking School. The thing I like about it is that is teaches you techniques, not just recipes. Each sectioin covers a specific subject (e.g. roasting), then goes on to give you recipes.

            I used this book to learn how to cook from zero. It taught me how to make soufflées, puff pastry, choux pastry, etc.

            If I had to live with just one cookbook, this would be it.

            2 Replies
            1. re: souschef

              I like Willan's La Varenne Pratique, which is more of a reference book than a cook book. It is well illustrated, even though it is 20 yrs old.

              Laura Calder (CC French Food at Home) studied with Willan.

              1. re: paulj

                I do have La Varenne Pratique and From My Chateau Kitchen, in addition to her "La France Gastonomique", Like them all.

                I did know that Laura Calder studied with Willan, and she is my favourite FN chef, not just because I enjoy French food, but because I like her personality. Also, she does not do the "How easy is that?" (and variations) sickly-sweet nonsense that I find irritating coming from Ina, Giada, Rachel, and Paula.

                BTW I use the handle "souschef" but I'm not a chef of any kind; I'm an Elecrical Engineer.

            2. Interesting that you've never cooked from Bistro Cooking. (I'm presuming you mean the book by P. Wells?) For years that was my go-to cookbook, and I've made just about everything in it.

              I love Anne Willan's "From My Chateau Kitchen" it's great to read as well as cook from. and her recipes always work. As well, everything is measured in both American and european measures.

              Love Simply French, Simple French Cooking, Entertaining in the French Manner, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, All have recipes that I love and have had great success with. Not sure I'd call it French, but the Julia Child and Company books from way back when are wonderful, and never out of date. ;)

              1. I am not a professional chef, and French cookery is something I do some of the time only. I truly like Jacques Pepin's Everyday Cooking and La Technique.

                1. dkennedy:
                  Here are a few of my favorite french cookbooks, followed by recipes that have been successful.

                  "Jacques Pépin Celebrates" - Braised Duck with Glazed Shallots and Honey Sweet Potatoes

                  "Chez Jacques" - Roast Rabbit with Mustard Crust

                  "The Paris Neighborhood Cookbook" by Daniel Couet - Spice Fried Cod with Coconut, Chili, and lemon (from the African Quarter; not french at all, but wonderful)
                  Also, his Chèvre Chaud, an hors d' oeuvres on baguette slices with baked goat cheese, orange flower honey, tarragon, etc.

                  "Simple French Cookery" by Raymond Blanc - His Coq au Vin is perfect (and I've made many versions)... you actually toast the flour to a nice brown, as an example of how details make all the difference. Also, his Roquefort, Walnut and Chicory Salad is a real winner. I also like his Chicken Fricassée with Vinegar and Herbs.

                  "The French Market" and "My French Table," both by Joanne Harris & Fran Warde. Love the Seared Scallops with Steamed Potatoes... bacon, tarragon, white wine vinegar...yum! There are so many recipes in both of these books that I've tried; lately it was Cassoulet Toulousain, which was a hit. I love their Skate with Caper-Herb Butter and the Trout with Fennel, as well.

                  Although I have a copy of Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table," I've only cooked a few recipes so far-- just made the Olive-Olive Cornish Hens which was really good, you put green olive tapenade under the skin of the spatcocked birds, and it really is wonderful.

                  I better sing off for now, I feel like I'm writing my own book.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Dansky


                    Thanks for sharing your favorites. I am always surprised when I see a list of cookbooks that not only do I not own, but that I have never heard of. The Chevre Chaud sounds super yummy, when I read your description I started salivating!

                    1. re: dkennedy

                      Thanks, dkennedy. It sure is fun to find new culinary adventures, isn't it?

                  2. I love my hardcover copy of The French Chef Cookbook from 1968 with artwork and photos by Paul Child making it special, especially photos of Julia from her show.

                    I totally learned how to cook French food from it. My favorite recipes are:

                    Chocolate Mousse (IMHO this is still the best recipe and I have tried many others.)
                    Queen of Sheba - Reine de Saba Cake
                    Crepes Suzette
                    Buche de Noel
                    Pastry Cream
                    Cream Puffs/Eclairs
                    Daube de Boeuf A La Provencale
                    Poulet Poche Aux Aromates
                    Canard A L'Orange
                    Non-collapsible Cheese Souffle
                    Steak Au Poivre

                    Julia made these classics approachable, even as a teen I could make these recipes. When I got married I made a recipe from the book for fresh strawberry filling for my wedding cake. I brought the filling in to the bakery and they used it. So delicious, will never forget it.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: TrishUntrapped

                      That's the one I use the most too. The pots de creme au chocolat are my fallback dinner party dessert (dead simple). Always use the crepe recipe from it and you're right, the reine de saba cake is great.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        Hmmm....may have to acquire a copy of this book.

                        1. re: dkennedy

                          It should be available for almost nothing.

                    2. Mastering The Art Of French Cooking Vol 1 for sure. And I second pinehurst's rec for Pepin's La Technique.

                      1. I'm surprised noone has mentioned it here yet.

                        The French Laundry

                        If you're looking for something simple, this isn't it, but anything you make out of it will be extraordinary. Even if you don't cook directly out of it the pictures and inspiration are worth a trip to the library.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: schoenfelderp

                          Schoenfelderp, when thinking of French cookbooks, I certainly wouldn't include The French Laundry among them - it is a beautiful book and full of amazing recipes, but not quintessentially "French" other than its reference to the business that used to be in its location: an actual French laundry known for cleaning clothes.

                          Like others, I also don't think of Baking with Juila as French - it sits on my shelf with other baking and dessert books, but not the French ones.

                          For me, my go-to French cookbooks include Paula Wolfert's Cooking of Southwest France, Saveur Cooks Authentic France and James Villas French Country Kitchen. I also refer to the Williams Sonoma Paris cookbook because it was written by Marlena Spieler.

                          1. re: CarrieWas218

                            I have gotten a lot of use out of Wolfort's SW France cookbook since it was a COTM club selection. It really helps me motivate when people describe their favorite dishes.

                        2. I most often cook from "The Cuisine of Alsace" by Pierre Gaertner, first US edition published in 1981, and from "French Provincial Cooking" by Elizabeth David, first published in 1960. My father's side of the family is from Alsace originally, immigrating to the US about 150 years ago, I've visited this are of France twice, and love it there. I like the food of this area for this sentimental attachment and also because it is very good.

                          From Gaertner, I particularly enjoy cooking Noisettes de Chevreuil -- small medallions cut from the tender backstrap of a game animal, currently I employ elk backstrap; Choucroute Garnie a l'alsacienne (wash the kraut, squeeze it dry, braise for several hours with chunks of unsliced bacon); Morue a la Menagere (cod casserole -- US edition has mistranslated 'morue' as <mackerel>, but the correct translation is <cod>); Truite aux Amandes; and Tarte Flambee.

                          Elizabeth David features a very informative and evocative essay on the cooking of the French provinces that is worth the reading, particularly for a beginning cook. There are many, many recipes that I like in this book. Poulet Saute aux Olives de Provence; Poulet a l'Estragon (I modify the recipe by roasting, adding chopped fresh tarragon into the liquids in the roasting pan, adding pre-reduced white wine and cognac, and then adding the heavy cream -- versus stuffing a wad of tarragon inside the cavity of the chicken when roasting -- I didn't find this rendered much flavor of tarragon into the sauce); Champignons Fines Herbes; Bananes Baronnet (simple dessert -- sliced bananas, tossed with a bit of kirsch and heavy cream and powdered sugar -- very nice); many beautiful vegetable soups including Creme Flamande, Creme a la Vierge, and Potage Crecy.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: icookstuff

                            I don't know the first one (and what do you do to the venison or game meat, I'm looking for a fancy recipe for my husband's upcoming birthday) but 100% concur on Elizabeth David, the world is a better place for her having been in it.

                            1. re: buttertart

                              The backstrap (long, roundish muscle on the outer back -- tenderloin is on the inner back, inside the rib cage) (about 2 LBS is sufficient for 4 adults with side dishes) is cut into 3/4" thick slices and marinaded overnight in 1/2 cup pinot noir, 6 crushed juniper berries, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 bay leaf crumbled, about 1/4 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper. The next day, the steaks are drained and marinade liquid discarded. The steaks are dried, salted and peppered, and dredged in flour. The steaks are then cooked rapidly in a skillet with clarified butter over high heat (clarified butter does not burn so readily as unclarified butter -- make clarified butter by melting the butter, skimming the scum off the surface, and pouring off the clear yellow liquid leaving the milky curd at the bottom -- the clear yellow liquid is clarified butter). About 90 seconds per side is enough. Remove the cooked steaks to a warm platter and keep warm. You may need to cook the steaks (aka medallions aka "noisettes") in several flights, adding clarified butter as needed before adding the next flight of steaks. When done, make a sauce in the skillet from 1/2 cup pinot noir wine, 1/4 cup cognac, 1/2 cup of game broth (or substitute chicken broth), 6 crushed juniper berries, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 bay leaf crumbled. Reduce this to maybe about 1/3 cup of liquid (I pre-reduce these liquids before beginning cooking the steaks in the first place). When the liquids are reduced, add about 3/4 cup of heavy cream. Boil this until the sauce achieves the thickness you prefer. I prefer to cook the cream rather longer than shorter -- I have often stopped short of this point out of haste and impatience, but find further thickening improves the results. As a last step, add salt to taste to the sauce. I then serve the steaks and sauce separately, drinking the same Pinot Noir wine with the meal. I may include spatzle dressed in butter as a side dish. I also like poached pears (or more often canned pear halves) stuffed with lingonberries.

                              I discard the marinade liquid because protein leaches out of the steaks as they marinade, and as I boil these liquids to reduce them the protein forms a thick scum that causes the sauce to be unpleasantly grainy in appearance.

                              This is a delicious treatment for backstraps or tenderloins. I haven't done this, but I bet this works well for beef also. The steaks should be pink on the inside.

                              This recipe differs in various ways from the recipe found in Gaertner.

                              1. re: icookstuff

                                This is just the ticket for my wine- and venison-loving husband, many many thanks for taking the time to post it.

                                1. re: buttertart

                                  I'm new to Chowhound. I looked to see if there was a facility for messaging you off-line but didn't see one. I have a couple of additional game recipes to share with you. If there is such an "off-line" messaging faciltiy integrated into this web site, let me know how to access it. Otherwise, I will start a new separate thread titled something like "venison recipes." I don't want to hijack this thread with lengthy recipes. One recipe is for a venison scallopini preparation another is for a venison ragout preparation. Of course, these recipes work with a variety of big game animals including venison, elk, pronghorn antelope, moose, caribou.

                                  1. re: icookstuff

                                    Venison recipes is a great idea for a thread, and this way everyone can share in the bounty. Might help some whose freezer is still full of last fall's deer (lucky them), too!

                          2. In our small collection of cookbooks, there are only two French ones (neither of which get used that much - it's just not a cuisine that really resonates in this house).

                            Elizabeth David's "French Provincial Cooking" which, like all of her books, now has quite an old-fashioned feel to it.

                            Keith Floyd's "Floyd on France" which, like most of his books, is much more Floyd than French

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Harters

                              Old-fashioned yes, but charming. Elizabeth David opened my eyes to a lot of things.

                            2. I think there are a number of books on the list which might be inspired by French cuisine (and others) but are not really French cookbooks, e.g.The Zuni Cafe, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Cafe Boulud, Baking With Julia

                              1. DKennedy,
                                I am curious as to how your list of favorites includes 3 Chicken recipes and not one fish recipe.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: DougRisk

                                  Hi Doug,

                                  Sorry, I never saw this post until today. As to why 3 chix recipes and no fish - I don't really know. I enjoy fish but I have very few go to fish recipes. I tend to try new ones every time. The three chix recipes I referenced above are recipes I make over and over again. Would love to acquire some go to fish recipes.

                                2. I'm not sure I have a favorite.

                                  In English:
                                  The Cooking of Southwest France (Wolfert)
                                  Bistro Cooking (Wells)
                                  Saveur's Cooking Authenic French

                                  On Kindle:
                                  Essential Pépin
                                  French Food at Home (Laura Calder)
                                  Home Cooking with Jean-Georges

                                  In French:
                                  Guide Culinaire (Escoffier)
                                  Leçons de Cuisine, Ecole Ritz Escoffier 2005
                                  Les Fonds et Les Sauces
                                  Les Recettes Préférées des Françaises
                                  Carnets de Recettes de Nos Terroirs Alsace
                                  La Cuisine Alsacienne
                                  Saveurs de France L'Auvergne
                                  Cuisine de Bretagne
                                  Cuisine Provençale D'Hier et d'Aujourd'Hui
                                  Cuisine Gourmand - les Pâtés
                                  Bocaux et conserves maison

                                  1. Paris Boulangerie-Patisserie by Linda Dannenberg.

                                    1. Not to quibble... Well, yeah. Okay. To quibble, you have a lot of cookbooks on your list I would not consider French cooking. Or even haute cuisine, which is/was sort of French cooking at the elite global level. Anyway, quibbling put to rest, in my cookbook library I have about 15 "hard core" French/Haute Cuisine cookbooks, and truth be told, I'm too damned lazy to go to the pantry and copy down all of the titles so I can type them in here. Lazy me! And for further clarification, I don't consider my cookbooks by James Beard or Michael Fields or Mark Bittmann, or other such writers to be either French or Haute Cuisine. They may be respected, but I consider them "generalists." So finally, here are some of my favorite (and one UNfavorite) French/Haute Cuisine cookbooks:

                                      Julia, of course! I have Vols. I and II of MTAOFC as well as The French Chef Cookbook. She began broadcasting a year or two after I came back to the U.S. after living in Turkey for four years, three of which were spent under the expert tutelage of a master chef who decided to retire by going into private service. I lucked out!!! I had three years of six days a week private instruction in classic French and Turkish cooking. The result of which was that I started watching Julia to see what she would do wrong.... Not much!!! Good show! '-)

                                      Larousse Gastronomique - one of the world's greatest reference works on classic French cooking with some pretty darned good recipes in it too! Mine is quite worn and scruffy.

                                      The Escoffier Cookbook, Auguste Escoffier - another great classic reference work that I use frequently. Hey, without it, how would I know whether the truffle slice goes on top of the foie gras or the other way around when I make Tournedos Rossini?

                                      The Encyclopedia of European Cooking, Spring Books - I feel confident this is out of print, but well worth the used book quest. It is divided into chapters for almost every country in Europe, and the cooking of France chapter is especially good. When I need to refresh my memory on how to make a great Boeuf Burguignon, this is where I go. Page 231!

                                      Everyday French Cooking, Henri Paul Pellaprat - one of my favorite French cookbooks. I especially like several of his chicken recipes. I don't know if this is still in print, but if it's not, it's very well worth a dig in a used book store, on-line or brick and mortar.

                                      The Coinnoisseur's Cookbook, Robert Carrier - If not specifically French, this is certainly Haute Cuisine! I love Robert Carrier. In this specific cookbook, I particularly love the entire segment he has dedicated to Christmas! Pates to Christmas goose, it's wonderful.

                                      The Great Chefs of France, Blake/Crewe (editors) - This is the real thing when it comes to French Haute Cuisine. There are some excellent recipes here, but also some truly delicious reading. A vicarious tour of great chefs and their art.

                                      Cuisine Minceur, Michelle Guerard - The definitive anti-haute cuisine cookbook that took the fat content down a notch or two, even from the new lighter "nouvelle cuisine" and did even more simplifying. I bought this book in 1976, when it was a hot topic in haute culinary circles. Guerard (or at least his translator) called it "The Cuisine of Slimness." IMO, the best part of the book? The photographs. They are a lesson in garniture and how to make deprivation look attractive. Most of the recipes are pretty good, but I was hot into haute when I bought this, and it was like ordering a salade composse and getting a celery stick in the center of a white plate. Not my style. But I did learn from it.

                                      If I weren't so lazy, I'd tell you more. I highly encourage all of you to go digging in used book stores, on or off line. Just yesterday I bought Marcella Hazan's "Marcella's Kitchen" for thirty five cents! (The shipping was $3.75) Hard to beat that!

                                      EDIT: Just for fun and to let those who are unaware of the great world of free eBooks, here's a copy of "Twenty Four Little French Dinners and How to Cook and Serve Them" by Cora Moore, written in 1919, and amazingly, the recipes are short and sweet If you want to keep a copy, just save to your hard drive. Enjoy!