Reading List: Coffee-table Books and Cook Books That Will Inspire You To Cook More This 2020
Experiences, emotions, and perspectives that are germane to just about everyone will speak to you from the universal themes underpinning these four delightful tomes; flipping through each painstakingly produced page is guaranteed to spark great joy.
Whether you are after displaying a handsome conversation starter on your bookshelf, looking to whip up a nostalgic recipe, testing your baking skills or, hey, even teaching yourself a thing or two about the origins of local dishes and delicacies such as tiyula itum (lemongrass and burnt coconut beef stew) or sapin-sapin (a varicoloured rice dessert), there’s bound to be something—creation, expression, education—for everybody.
There are two common denominators here; to begin with, there is the undeniable love Filipinos have for food, and, secondly, that these four coffee table and recipe books are all proudly Filipino-produced. Here’s a brief synopsis of these labours of love, Baking at République, Kain Na!, A Piece of Cake, and Also Filipino: 75 Regional Dishes I Never Had Growing Up, all published in 2019.
Baking at République
If you’ve sampled some of the divine treats on which the empire of Wildflour Café + Bakery, Little Flour Café, and Wildflour Italian has been built, then it’s safe to assume you’ve been harbouring a sinful taste for Margarita “Margie” Manzke’s sweet sorcery.
When her addictive powers combined with those of seasoned restaurateur sister, Ana de Ocampo, these crowd-pleasing café-cum-bakeries became the answer to all our carb-craving prayers. But stateside, Manzke is also the co-owner of République bakery (which sees a line of customers spill out onto the sidewalk every day, antsy for a taste of the more than 50 varieties of pastry that emerge fresh from the oven), as well as two restaurants in Los Angeles.
If this isn’t reason enough to buy into the hype, Manzke is a four-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Pastry Chef award, has been named best pastry chef by LA Weekly and has appeared on the cover of Los Angeles magazine for the “Best Desserts in LA” issue.
So, after all these successes and accolades, whatever does one do next? Why, publish a dessert cookbook, of course!
In collaboration with Betty Hallock, a former staff writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal, Manzke pieced together her magnum opus comprising chapters dedicated to key dough and baseline batter-making, with 100 recipes that put the lessons to work, and more than 125 drool-worthy images by Kristin Teig to inspire your inner Martha Stewart.
Published by Penguin Random House, this gorgeous hardbound showpiece is perfect for the aspiring home cook or pastry chef. Manzke’s knack for bringing out flavour combined with her easy-to-follow albeit clever techniques for creating bakery-quality results in a home kitchen is hard to beat. From her chocolate chip cookies to her halo-halo, you’ll find it hard to resist recreating the wizardry that unfolds at République.
Kain Na!: An Illustrated Guide
Kain Na! (Let’s Eat!—a term very much a part of the vernacular, because, well, Filipinos love to eat) is a comprehensive guide and a beautiful way of celebrating the rich and vibrant diversity of Philippine cuisine. The gist of the book, released by independent local firm, RPD Publications, is to present dishes (both the more familiar and the unsung) in how they are prepared and consumed throughout the archipelago, kindling an awareness of as well as an appreciation for our country’s unique flavour profiles, aromas, and textures.
The Philippines is a melting pot of both Eastern and Western cultures, and through Kain Na!, one will also recognise the impact of colonisation as seen in the featured Chinese- and Spanish-inspired fare.
For those who have yet to get acquainted with what Filipino cuisine is all about, Kain Na! takes you through key cities and far-flung provinces as a scrumptious introduction to Filipino food. Thoroughly researched and penned by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, one of the country’s foremost food writers and historians, in collaboration with Singaporean baker and author, Bryan Koh, the work of art is divided into twelve chapters. Over and above the educational aspect, each page is lavishly illustrated with Mariel Ylagan Garcia’s tantalising watercolour illustrations, rendering the guide a visual feast.
From delicious start to finish, each highly entertaining chapter tells of a specific culinary aspect of Filipino culture: almusal (breakfast), lutong bahay (home-cooking), meryenda (snacks), lutong kalsada (street food), panghimagas (dessert), pulutan (bar chow), pang-pista (food for festive occasions), inumin (drinks), sa panaderya (baked goods from local bakeries), kakanin (native rice cakes), mga sawswan (sauces and condiments), and mga sangkap (ingredients).
Then, for easy digestion, each identified dish comes with its phonetic pronunciation, a paragraph describing the food, and, at times, with a brief explanation of its origins or the etymology of its name. Let's eat!
A Piece Of Cake
As the cover promises, A Piece of Cake is “A guide to new classics and modern desserts for home bakers and pastry chefs.” What you'll find within: 50 concepts. Two executions each. 100 reasons to get started with your next dessert masterpiece. Plain and simple (but genius!), that is the sweet collaborative pitch of chefs Miko Aspiras and Aileen Anastacio’s dessert cookbook, which is already on its second print run.
Anastacio took on the classics, applying a modern take to beginner-friendly classic desserts for everyday bites and special occasions; Aspiras went with the experimental, developing pastries that call for an advanced skill set and seasoned tastes. “We started with a base recipe in mind and made sure that those components for each dessert were present in both recipes,” explained Aspiras, adding, “My idea was to feature recipes in two executions: homey and approachable, and the other, modern and avant-garde.”
While it might have been tough trimming town the yummy options to just 50, as per Anastacio, “We were able to narrow it down to both our personal favourites, what we learnt from school, what we created through years of experience, and we also added a lot of Filipino dessert favourites since the book is also all-Filipino made.”
And what of their favourites? “I love the coconut cake, lemon meringue pie, and s’mores pie recipes,” reveals Anastacio. “I have a lot,” Aspiras jumps in, adding, “But my top three would be the New York cheesecake, tiramisu, and canonigo. As for Filipino dessert lovers, “Some of the Pinoy favourites we included are the sansrival, dayap cake, polvoron, leche flan, and we also featured a recipe for ensaymada with a twist using manchego instead of regular cheddar cheese and we added some jamón serrano. Miko made his ensaymada with squid ink, cheese filling, and bacon mashed potatoes,” shares Anastacio.
The now Sydney-based Aspiras is the executive pastry chef at the Hilton and remains a partner of the Tasteles Food Group responsible for Scout’s Honor, Le Petit Soufflé, Freezer Burn, Poison, and The Workshop and in 2018 was T.Dining’s Best Pastry Chef. Anastacio manages her companies C’est Si Bon, Corp. and Marmalade Kitchen, Inc., and is the published author of Home Café and Home-made for the Holidays.
In this collectible volume, you’ll find the winning combination of their seasoned and distinct styles in baking masterfully translated into foolproof recipes, tips, and tricks that are sure to guide you in making your new favourite dessert. A slice of sansrival, perhaps?
Also Filipino: 75 Regional Dishes I Never Had Growing Up
In this 194-page read that comes off more like an investigative joy ride rather than a straightforward Filipino cookbook, author Angelo Comsti, while still very much in his foodie element, delves into the delicious unknown. Sure, the world has come to know sisig quite intimately and then there’s the almighty adobo (case in point: we no longer have to italicise the exotic-sounding adobo as per the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries), but it is the stories surrounding our little-known dishes that he found intriguing. And who wouldn’t?
His fifth cookbook to date, Also Filipino, as the title suggests, puts forth 75 thoroughly examined recipes representing 22 provinces that are guaranteed to pique your curiosity. Seeking out these gems, not only to cure his own insatiable inquisitiveness but to spread the good word, Comsti traversed the archipelago, slurping and chomping his way up North to Batanes and then all the way back down to Tawi-Tawi.
Accompanying the list of ingredients and the step-by-step techniques required to recreate each curious creation are short stories that thoughtfully expose the dishes’ origins and how they are traditionally served. Whenever applicable, Comsti also attached a personality or a family to an heirloom recipe.
But why stop at 75? “It was all I could gather given the time frame,” justified Comsti of the RPD Publications' release, and whom has already given us four bestselling cookbooks, Home-made for the Holidays, From Our Table to Yours, and Fuss-Free Filipino Food.
Concluded Comsti, “There is more to Filipino food than adobo, sinigang and leche flan. Growing up, that was my idea of our cuisine. The stuff I basically grew up eating at home. But as I travelled around the country, I realised that there is a lot more to Pinoy food and that it is quite diverse and varied. And since we’re hot on the topic of inclusivity, why not broaden our food knowledge and get to know the food of our people?”
- Images (Baking at République) Kristin Teng
- Images (Kain Na!) Lito Sy
- Images (A Piece of Cake) Justin Cruz
- Images (Also Filipino) Angelo Comsti