Each year, hundreds of cookbooks are published but there are some that stand out more than others. The following are my favorites of 2012. Cooks — and cookbook lovers — on your list will likely be thrilled to find one of these wrapped up with a shiny bow. Think about pairing them with complementary equipment or ingredients, like a new skillet to go along with Modern Sauces by Martha Holmberg or a big ceramic bowl for mixing bread dough with Nick Malgieri's Bread.
Whether you're buying for an experienced cook or a beginner, for a dessert lover or someone who wants to eat more healthfully, you'll find an appropriate book on my Top 10 list. Listed are the suggested retail prices but you can find most of them for much less at big box stores or from Amazon. Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor
by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan, $50)
I'll go out on a very sturdy limb here and say this deliciously beautiful book will be a James Beard award-winner next spring. Legendary and revolutionary chef Thomas Keller (mostly of French Laundry fame) turns his attention to his childhood favorites, if his childhood favorites were made by a four-star Michelin chef. It's a big book, both in size and ideas, and the adventurous cooks you know will love the recipes for Keller's vision and version of Oreos and Ho Hos (and with Hostess going out of business, they'll need that now.) Lots of tips from executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, the culinary talent behind Keller's Bouchon bakeries.
Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking
by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubert (Gibbs Smith, $45)
Here's another cookbook that I predict will grab awards next year. Nathalie Dupree, the grand-mama of Southern cooking, has amassed some 750 recipes — with 650 variations! — from what's considered the only original American cuisine. This book represents nearly 30 years of Southern cooking experience, starting with the authors' collaboration in 1985 for Dupree's PBS series, New Southern Cooking. Cobblers, biscuits, greens and all manner of Southern favorites get their due here, with lots of color photos and helpful tips and instructions. It almost feels as if Dupree is right alongside you in the kitchen. Dupree's Southern Biscuits, published last year, came from the research for this archival cookbook.
by Shauna Sever (Quirk, $22.95)
If only you could lick the pages of this slim, one-subject volume. Bread pudding, cream pie, shortbread cherry squares and salted vanilla chip oatmeal cookies, oh my. Author Shauna Sever writes the dessert blog (shaunasever.com/blog) and has a dessert catering business in San Francisco. If you think the subject is too narrow (what about chocolate?), just know that vanilla ice cream is the No. 1 seller in the United States. Give this with a really good bottle of vanilla extract and maybe a Bundt pan to make her Twinkie Bundt Cake, another nod to the endangered American classic.
Hungry Girl to the Max: The Ultimate Guilt-Free Cookbook
by Lisa Lillien (St. Martin's Press, $22.99)
Lisa Lillien is another blogger who has jumped back old school to print and a TV cooking show thanks to her Internet success at hungry-girl.com. The Hungry Girl has put together a massive 650-recipe, paperback cookbook that promises recipes packed with flavor but light on calories. This is the cookbook to buy if you've got a 20-something cook on your list. Lillien is very popular with younger cooks, especially women. She tackles ethnic cuisines, decadent desserts and silly stuff, too, including eight variations on "Lord of the Onion Rings." You won't find a recipe that has more than 350 calories a serving.
Tyler Florence Fresh
by Tyler Florence (Clarkson Potter, $35)
Okay, so maybe it's the photo of the hunky Food Network chef on the cover with a fuzzy little chick perched on his shoulder that drew me to this book. But the photos inside are just as luscious, though in a culinary way, most of them closeups of sexy food arranged directly on shooting surfaces, no plates or anything. Very sensual. Tyler Florence's move to the ingredient-abundant San Francisco bay area has influenced his cooking mightily. Gone are much of the favorites of his Southern upbringing in favor of Endive and Watercress Salad With Pear Puree, Blue Cheese and Hazelnuts and Pain Perdu Roasted Figs, Maple and Ice Cream. This is a chef-y book, for sure, but one that will be appreciated by his fans and lovers of classic recipes with updated twists.
The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life
by Anna Ginsberg (Andrews McMeel, $24.99)
I will condone you buying this cookbook as long as you already have a copy of my Cookielicious (Seaside Publishing, 2010). Now that we've got that straight, go out and buy this book for the cookie baker in your life. Author Anna Ginsberg, yet another blogger (cookiemadness.com), has gathered a year's worth of delicious and totally doable cookie recipes. Sandwiches, bars, drops, layered numbers and even frosted sweets are among the offerings. Each recipe has a photo so the baker knows what to aim for. Package it with a couple of cookie sheets and a roll of parchment paper.
The Epicurious Cookbook: More than 250 of Our Best-Loved Four-Fork Recipes
by Tanya Steel and the editors of Epicurious (Clarkson Potter, $27.99)
Since the early days of recipes on the Internet, Epicurious has been a trusted, go-to source. The website mostly compiles recipes from Bon Appetit, Cooking Light and the now-defunct Gourmet, but a slew of reader reviews are one of its best attributes. The paperback cookbook collects 250 of the site's best-loved recipes, including Short Ribs Tagine With Honey-Glazed Butternut Squash, which sounds like the perfect holiday entertaining dish. Beautiful photography plus comments from home cooks about the recipes provide real-world suggestions.
My Key West Kitchen
by Norman Van Aken and Justin Van Aken (Kyle, $29.95)
Before celebrity chef Norman Van Aken conquered Miami, he was tramping around the Keys, where he found his passion for cooking and the ingredients that make South Florida famous — key limes, conch, grouper and all manner of Cuban food. He gives credit where credit is due, too, saying that his Milk-Braised Pork Tacos With Quick-Pickled Red Onions originated from a recipe by Italian cooking doyenne Marcella Hazan, who now lives in Longboat Key. Van Aken's love affair with Key West is evident and the photos by Penny De Los Santos, a 2003 photo intern at the Times, will make you want to head into the kitchen . . . or gas up the car for a Keys road trip. Wrap it up with a bottle of key lime juice.
by Martha Holmberg (Chronicle, $35)
I wrote about this cookbook in early November in a story about pan sauces, but that topic takes up just two pages of this lovely 255-page book. Martha Holmberg is the former food editor of the Portland Oregonian and a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France, so she is well-equipped to guide a home cook through making a variety of sauces, from sweet to savory, and including vinaigrettes. This cookbook is for a more experienced cook or a Food Network devotee who is eager to try some of the techniques picked up watching the tube. The photos are inspirational but what I really like is how Holmberg writes simply about upping your game. Another award-winner, mark my words.
Nick Malgieri's Bread: Over 60 Bread, Rolls and Cakes Plus Delicious Recipes Using Them
by Nick Malgieri (Kyle, $29.95)
Baking master Nick Malgieri is the former executive pastry chef at Windows on the World and now director of the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. He has spent most of his career watching dough rise and his 10th cookbook breaks that experience down for home cooks. The book is crammed with bread recipes and technique tips, but it also includes ways to use the bread, besides slathering with butter and eating warm. Jewish rye is the base for open-faced Danish sandwiches and brioche dough is used for Neapolitan Easter Bread With Salami, Cheese and Eggs. I find Bread to be less intimidating than some baking books and think it will be welcomed by both enthusiastic newbies and experienced cooks who'd like to tackle something new. Lots of helpful photographs, too.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on Twitter at @RoadEats.