Whether you're buying gifts for a culinary novice or an expert, an ideal present is as close as the nearest bookstore. The Times' Food staff looked at a sampling of the cookbooks released in time for this holiday season and offers the following reviews to assist last-minute shoppers. Some of these books get down to the basics, some deal with ethnic cuisines while still others are as much a feast for the eyes as for the appetite. These--or the host of other cookbooks you'll find on sale at local stores--will not only delight the recipient but might ensure the giver some memorable repasts during 1988.
Jim Fobel's Old-Fashioned Baking Book, Recipes From an American Childhood by Jim Fobel (Ballantine Books: $17.95, 207 pp.)
Fans of grandmother's cooking will appreciate Jim Fobel's recipe collection from his childhood years in a small Ohio town. The author, a regular columnist for Chocolatier magazine, is a former test-kitchen director for Food & Wine magazine and author of "Beautiful Food."
Fobel has translated recipes for favorite family baked goods, some of which came from disintegrating scribbled notes, into clear, easy-to-follow formats. The lineup includes cakes, pies, quick breads and coffee cakes, yeast breads, cookies and bars, frostings and glazes. There's a whole chapter on old-fashioned desserts that features the best of many versions of traditional or classic fare. Aunt Charlotte's apple crisp sounds delicious, as does his grandmother's apple pudding with walnuts and his mother's favorite buttered bread pudding, which is reminiscent of French toast, Fobel writes.
He adjusted many of the recipes to reduce the amount of sugar without sacrificing flavor and texture of the original dessert. Aside from recipes, there are baking tips, ingredient discussion and a handy table of equivalents. Each recipe chapter is preceded by charming family portraits.