'The Bon Appetit Cookbook' features the best of the best recipes -- 1,200 of them.
By LAURA S. MEYN
It used to be that Bon App & eacute;tit magazine came out with two hard-cover cookbooks a year: One was the "Flavors of Bon App & eacute;tit" series, which highlighted the year's best recipes, and the second was a special topic determined by the editors.
Before my husband and I left Los Angeles for Youngstown (in late 2001, for his job at YSU), my job was as an associate editor at the magazine, and among my duties was editing the annual "Flavors" book. Not long after I left, the cookbook projects in progress were wrapped up, and future projects seemed to be shelved.
Fast-forward to 2006 and we finally know why: Bon App & eacute;tit has come out with a monster cookbook (it boasts more than 1,200 recipes), which they have aptly named "The Bon App & eacute;tit Cookbook." This definitive volume celebrates the magazine's 50-year anniversary -- and more important, those 50 years of fabulous food. Its weight in your hands is enough to promise its relevance for many decades to come. While those old annual books might stay on your shelf for the rest of your life, this new volume will be something your grandchildren will squabble over.
Behind the scenes
From my experience editing cookbooks, I could tell you many behind-the-scenes details about balancing the selection of recipes, the problems of securing rights from fussy chefs, and the way to strong-arm a trendy San Francisco restaurant into last-minute reservations during the book's cover shoot. But working for the magazine is what gave me real insight into what goes into these cookbooks.
Simply put, every recipe that ends up in a Bon App & eacute;tit cookbook began life as a recipe in Bon App & eacute;tit magazine. And the venerable test kitchen -- housed right there in the editorial office -- painstakingly tests every recipe.
It works like this: When the recipes are ready for scrutiny, the food editors ring a bell and the other editors scurry down to the kitchen. The recipes of the day -- perhaps cheesecake, a Thanksgiving turkey, even a newfangled martini -- are tasted, and comments are given thoughtfully and expertly. If something isn't quite perfect, ideas for tweaking it are discussed and the recipe is tested again.
This new cookbook comprises the best of the best -- recipes that not only originally passed muster, but recipes that after publication were requested again and again by sentimental readers and used again and again by staffers.
People will tell you that baking is a science, but I've learned that food always has an emotional component, too -- why else would we all be so interested in an old recipe for a certain rum-spiked pumpkin pie when the new issue features another pumpkin pie recipe that might be even better?
We cooks can float for days on the praise we get for that specific recipe we're known for among family and friends, and we hold on very tightly to what has worked well in the past.
So what sort of food is in this latest Bon App & eacute;tit volume? Nothing new -- just that rum-spiked pumpkin pie, of course, and roughly 1,199 other tried-and-true recipes.