A Short Selection of Holiday Cookbooks

Nigella Christmas by Nigella LawsonAs the holiday season approaches and families make plans to be together, thoughts turn to food. Holiday cookbooks abound, and the below reviews barely scratch the surface of the selection available at your local library.

“Nigella Christmas” by Nigella Lawson. New York: Hyperion. Copyright 2009.

One of the reasons Nigella Lawson, famed British chef and Food Network star, gives for writing this book is to help people who often feel overwhelmed by the holiday season. With that thought in mind, she covers “manageable mass catering” for holiday parties, including cocktails and mocktails, canapés and candy for holiday gatherings. She also introduces the phrase “the welcome table”, which she describes as a table full of food where people make their own plate throughout the course of the party, alleviating the need for a “sit down supper”. Recipes range from the traditional Christmas ham to the exotic Christmas Coleslaw, and there are surprises on every page.

The main event – Christmas itself, is covered in a special red-edged section of the book. In addition to multiple turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce recipes, there are recipes for several different vegetable sides, desserts, and even suggestions for what to make with the leftovers. The author also gives alternatives to the traditional turkey, both meat based and vegetarian.

With edible decorations and gifts rounding out the selections, this is a holiday cookbook that covers all the bases.

“Christmas Cookies: 50 Recipes to Treasure for the Holiday Season” by Lisa Zwirn. New York: Harper Collins. Copyright 2008.

Christmas Cookies are a staple in most homes, and are often the first opportunity children have to engage in baking with their parents. Lisa Zwirn dedicates this book to her mother who taught her how to cook, and to her husband and sons, who love to eat (especially cookies). The author uses a wide definition of “Christmas Cookies”, proclaiming the only real delineation between a Christmas Cookie and all other cookies is that the recipe is traditionally baked and served at Christmas. She lists other reasons as well; flavors, shapes and colors that are indicative of the winter holidays also make a cookie something special for Christmas. Before the author even gets into the recipes, extensive sections on the basics of cookie making, giving cookies as gifts, how to host a holiday cookie party (including swaps, cookie decorating and cookie making parties) and key ingredients and tools for the baker get new cooks off to a good start and offer tips that are of use to seasoned bakers as well.

The heart of this book is in the recipes, however. The author breaks them down into familiar categories: drop cookies, rolled cookies, slice and bake cookies, hand-shaped cookies, filled and sandwich cookies, bar cookies and no-bake treats. An index of recipes by flavor as well as a few more lists of recipes with specific criteria (cookies without nuts, make-ahead and freeze cookie dough) give readers a number of points of entry into the marvelous world of Christmas Cookie baking.

Deana Cunningham is the Branch Manager at May Memorial Library. She can be reached at dcunningham@alamancelibraries.org.