Whether there’s a birthday looming or you’re seeking gifts for under the Christmas tree, French food books will warm the hearts of the foodies in your life. For lovers of French food, you can’t go wrong with a book on the subject. As you might expect, the list runs long so to help you narrow down the options, we’ve compiled 11 of the best. We did try to stop at 10 but when we’re talking food, the sky’s the limit!
11 French food books
Read on to discover 11 coffee table, or bedside table, French food books that are bound to please even the most discerning French foodie.
Quintessential French cooking
Legendary French chef Michel Roux combines the best of French cooking in a comprehensive selection of easy-to-follow recipes. The ingredients are refreshingly easy to source too so these dishes can be created in any domestic kitchen. Roux also adds variations on the theme and bite-sized anecdotes on the recipes or the ingredients.
His choice of recipes is based mostly on his wish to include classic French dishes with a touch of modernity. So, you’ll find terrine de pâté de campagne sitting pretty with bouillabaisse, for example. Roux also mixes “the grand and the humble” in his overview of French cuisine. Cream of mushroom soup (Roux includes the Parisian version of this comfort food) therefore rubs shoulders with the much more sophisticated tournedos Rossini. As French food books go, this is a must for any aspiring French cook.
New take on the table
Keeping this list in the family are wife and daughter of Michel Roux in their new book on modern French cooking. Giselle draws on recipes from her childhood and her experiences as wife of one of the best chefs in France. Daughter Emily offers recipes from her formal culinary education and travels round the world. The result brings together an unusual mix of French and international, classic and modern.
On the French side, you’ll find snails and Niçoise salad as well as staples such as Dauphinoise potatoes and French onion soup. International influences creep in via the Thai recipes, the lobster ravioli and a tiramisu with strawberries. Wife and daughter have added their own comments to the recipes giving them a personal touch, which together with the stunning photos make this a must-buy cookbook.
Round the regions
When two heavyweights in French cuisine come together to produce a book about French regional food you know you’re onto a good thing. Chef Robuchon, who has a collection of no less than 25 Michelin stars, and Bienassis, an expert in culinary heritage, have compiled possibly the ultimate guide to regional cuisine in France.
The glossy coffee table book takes you on a tour of 27 regions – some of which are further divided into sub-regions – and brings the best of their cuisine to the pages. Maps pinpoint the culinary highlights, which run to pastries, cheeses, wine and local produce. There’s also a good smattering of regional recipes so you can make your own speciality from just about anywhere in France.
Beyond the recipe book
As anyone who has spent some time with the French knows, food is not just about satisfying your hunger pangs. If anything, for the French, the physiological needs come second to the cultural experience and history of eating.
In their compilation of articles about French food, Schehr and Weiss understand the deep significance of being à table for the French. As they explain in the introduction, “eating a French meal implies much more than filling a physical need”. The 16 articles look at the origins of classic French dishes, the role of food in society and how it’s portrayed in the arts. With titles such as “Monsieur Marcel’s Gay Oysters” and “Existential Cocktails” an eclectic round-up of French foods is guaranteed.
In real life
American born Loomis has wholly immersed herself in French life and French food since she was an apprentice at La Varenne École de Cuisine. Since then, she has made her home in Louviers, converted a dilapidated convent, opened a cookery school and written both fact and fiction on the topic of food in France. While her candid memoir On Rue Tatin (now also the name of her blog) placed food at the heart of her efforts to settle in her new home, her latest tome brings us to the heart of her home – the kitchen.
Alongside 85 mouthwatering recipes, tips and tricks, we meet her friends and her favourite French places. What’s most reassuring is that not everyone she writes about loves cooking, but they do love food. We read how they’ve found ways to serve delicious meals at home with minimal effort inspired by the still fresh memories of their favourite dishes. A genuine reflection of the innate place food has in the homes and culture of France.
Feast of fromage
It often takes a non-native to provide the real perspective on a country and in the case of French cheeses it’s Japan’s Kazuko Mazui. French food books dedicated to cheese rarely come as refined as this. Her fromage knowledge is second to none and the fact that her book has been translated into French gives an indication of just how much she knows about the subject.
French Cheeses is published by DK so you know that photos will take centre stage. This book comes crammed with mouth-watering delicious pictures of cheeses, so realistic you’re almost surprised not to smell them too. Mazui gives the lowdown on 350 cheeses: their origin and appearance, plus what they smell and taste like at different stages of maturity. And just as importantly, what to pair each cheese with.
What’s on the menu
We’ve all peered at a menu in France and often drawn a blank when it comes to understanding just what we’ll be eating. With this book, we no longer need to be lost in translation because it takes over 7,000 French culinary words and explains them in plain English. But not only that. This dictionary goes far beyond just the English equivalent: you get a list of ingredients and insight into how the dish is cooked.
The seemingly incomprehensible kig-ha-farz served in Brittany is a case in point. French Menu Companion explains what’s in the ‘porridge dumpling’ (milk, egg and buckwheat), tells you how it’s cooked and what you can expect on the plate to accompany it. A must for frequent travellers to France who would love to know exactly what’s on the menu.
No list of French food books would be complete without at least a small nod to the end of the meal. Cheryl Wakerhauser provides much more than a nod; she opens up a world of cakes, tarts and petits fours, all modelled on the classic French tradition of pastry making but with a modern twist. Just the photos make opening the book worthwhile and by the introduction your mouth will be really watering.
This cookbook isn’t for the novice in the kitchen – you do need a basic grounding – but helpful hints plus a long list of techniques offer more than enough assistance. You’ll discover how to make the perfect caramel and chocolate ganache, and how to glaze like a pro. And then you’re ready to create a Pistachio Picnic Cake and Blue Cheese Truffles good enough to open your own patisserie.
French food books and macarons are probably ten-a-penny, but look no further. If you fancy creating your own macarons, this is your book. While Jill Colonna doesn’t pretend it’s easy, she breaks the recipe down step by step and turns it into a do-able creation. She’s certainly had plenty of practice after more than 20 years in the capital of macarons, Paris.
Colonna includes the classic flavours you’ll find in any French patisserie – vanilla, pistachio, rose and praline. She then takes macaron making up a level to some more challenging chocolate creations. She even gives you some ideas for creating savoury versions – her Thai green curry macarons guarantee an interesting start to any party. And there are tips for pairing this delicious bite with wines and teas.
Despite their mundane black appearance, truffles are anything but simple. They hide a world of flavours, aromas, stories and folklore, all of which is revealed in this book. As a long-time resident of Provence, the world capital of truffles, American Patricia Wells certainly knows what she’s talking about. And this book does exactly what it says on the cover: “recipes and stories that capture the essence of the black diamond”.
Wells takes a long look at the finding of the elusive truffles and offers a few anecdotes on the myths behind them. She then dives deep into cooking with truffles with over 60 recipes, all of which showcase the unique flavour. Some recipes require skill and time to prepare while others such as the truffled Croque Monsieur take a humble snack to gourmet heights. There’s also a useful guide to pairing truffles with wine, which could make this the queen of French food books for us!
Dinner parties to remember
The French are world experts at hosting meals chez them, an art they seem to carry off with effortless ease and perfection. This little book reveals the secrets behind a dinner party to remember and for all the right reasons. Written by sisters Anne and Bahia de Montarlot, this is your reference book to discover how to be a great host and most of all, enjoy the evening.
Taking the trio of ambiance, psychology and organisation, the de Montarlots break a dinner party into easy-to-follow chunks. From the flowers and music to the who sits where, no aspect of organising is left uncovered. They also offer tips on identifying what sort of host you are. Sample dinner menus and amusing anecdotes – it’s always comforting to know you’re not the only one having disasters – complete a useful book that turns a stressful event into a fun evening.
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