French Cooking at Home - 10 Best French recipe books
Updated: Apr 20, 2021
French food and cookery is renowned the world over. The classics are popular whether reimagined or reproduced at home. Are you striving for that perfect hollandaise sauce or eager to try out new flavours from France? Not sure which books give you a reliable overview of French cooking? So where do we start for inspiration? Are there tips for getting that pastry just right? Whether a beginner, enthusiastic foodie or an experienced home cook you'll find something here. In today's blog post we're going to explore 10 of my favourite French recipe books for every cook.
Here are the 10 best French recipe books (in no particular order) for putting French food on your plate, learning more and perfecting your skills...
1. Let's Eat France!
If you you are a keen cook but you also love finding out about the history of food, learning about particular dishes like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, hundreds of cheeses and why they taste so good, plus the myriad ways of making a croque monsieur (yum! Miam!) then this (and I cannot emphasise this enough) is THE book for you.
I was gifted this book in a competition and I was astonished when the enormous book arrived. It is the best thing I've ever won (so far...there's always that holiday to the Ile-de-Ré, right?)! 😊
So it's no surprise that I absolutely love this book and that's because you can learn from it and cook from it. Sometimes I want to sit down with a cookery book and read it like I'm having a chat with the chef / author and learning all about the background to their life or way of cooking. Sometimes, I just makes things up and cook from my knowledge and heart. You know, sometimes it's just great to have put dinner on the table for my family at the end of a long day.
This books fits more into the sitting down and thinking category and it is no less a book for that. In fact, you can dip in whenever you're thinking about a recipe or wanting to do some armchair travel to France and all those lovely markets.
You can also pick a region or a specific place you might be planning to visit (or are wistfully remembering) and look up the food and dishes. This book has a lot going for it, including an entire page on figs. I mean, really, I did not know there were so many varieties. 😋
If you're looking to improve your mayonnaise - making or want some tips on how to make the very best X type of dish, then you might prefer something with a little more cooking advice.
For a more chef-teacher approach full of handy tips and hints on getting great results, keep reading this list and find out what's next...
Let's Eat France! allows you to explore, cook, dine and dream in one very fine volume. Maps, charts, great illustrations, tips, history, recipes and French culture in one very visual book.
Available at your local bookshop (you might want to call them first) and of course online at the following links (affiliate links used where possible, which help to support the blog and podcast and don't cost you a penny.)
2. Simple French Cookery with Raymond Blanc
The master chef cooks up a storm at his beautiful restaurant at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire, England and he is surely one of the greatest French imports the UK has been lucky enough to receive. He is a legend.
He is also a patient and particular teacher and having seen many of his series on the BBC, he is a passionate food hero - loving the organic, homegrown potager and long-forgotten varieties of apple and other fruits and vegetables. He is the teacher you wish you'd had for cookery! (You can find his amazing new book here. A fascinating piece of food history.)
So with that talent for explaining things easily and showing you how to do things, Raymond Blanc is a no-nonsense chef with no pretensions, a lot of good humour and some excellent books!
My favourite book is Simple French Cooking and I also love Kitchen Secrets too, which accompanied an excellent series of the same name. You might be lucky to find a few videos on YouTube of some dishes or episodes. I have cooked the Provençal lamb from Kitchen Secrets and the champagne sabayon was the first I ever made and it was a success, thanks to Raymond's careful instructions.
Maman Blanc's vegetable soup is truly a delicious feast for the senses (secret - use a lot of homegrown chervil and buy organic vegetables locally if you can) and if you want to impress (yourself or someone else), try out the champagne sabayon. It's worth the effort. It's a delight with a raspberry and chocolate dessert or pudding.
This book is full of many handy tips. It has everything for impressive first courses, simple lunches, dinner party meals, delicious desserts, puddings and teatime cakes. I also find that the clear instructions for side dishes and accompaniments means you can easily recreate these and serve with a different main course depending on what you have in the fridge at the time. Hard to choose between the two, so here's two Raymond Blanc recommendations instead!
3. Rick Stein's Secret France
Here's a more recent book from 2019's television series, but Rick Stein's France is not just a tie-in, it's a great standalone book full of experiences and information about the family-run restaurants and places in each region of France that featured in the television show. It's a Francophile chef visiting the regional and exemplary dishes of the many regions of France. It's regional cooking and exploration at its best.
If, like me, you enjoy Rick Stein's laidback approach and manner, then you will enjoy the series. Whether or not you've seen the series, this could be a great book for your cookery bookshelf. (Is it a bookshelf or now a growing bookcase? 😉)
What I enjoyed most about this book is that it has the background of cooking the dish, trying the dish as a restaurant diner and some tips on making it at home. The food photography is also good. This is one for the confident cook, insofar as there are no step-by-step photographs or anything like that.
The stand-out recipe so far has been the duck cottage pie and we hope to cook a few more as the year goes on. The recipe for coq au Riesling is Alsace's answer to coq au vin and I am totally inspired and can't wait to find a good bottle of Riesling to make it with!
In Aus/NZ the book is available at Booktopia here.
4. Pastry by Richard Bertinet
For a foodie Francophile, this is the pastry bible for starting all types of pastry from scratch. Richard Bertinet is a French chef, settled in the UK for decades and with a highly successful bakery and Cookery School (find out more here).
He has an easygoing and clear style so that you feel confident to give most things a try. Maybe a croquembouche pièce montée? Well, maybe not, but I'll bet you'll be making the homemade brioche, tartlets with every filling from lemon to frangipane in no time.
This a sweet-tooth diner's delight but even if you prefer to be a pastry chef and not a sweet pastry eating gourmand, this book has lots to offer. There's a great range of savoury and sweet recipes, so it's not just for the traditional patisserie we associate with France. There are actually quite a few British classics in here too, as Bertinet has been resident in the UK for a long time, so this is a pastry book (not just French pastry creations). So you can make a Cornish pasty, a pork pie as well as chouquettes, éclairs, cheese puffs (gougères) and Normandy apple tart.
My favourites are definitely apple tarts (my purchase of choice on many a school trip to France), onion tartlets and pistachio and raspberry tarts. I also like the basics so you can make almond cream, every kind of pastry and get some tips on preparing and glazing fruit.
I love how relatable the book is and Richard has his stories of childhood goûter, rituals with grandma, and all those delicious food memories like a Proustian madeleine. A great book for fairly confident cooks who haven't done much pastry work but are eager and willing to learn.
5. Secrets of Macarons
Let's face it, macarons have been having quite a moment in the limelight for a while. They are bitesize morsels of sweet heaven for many. Locals and tourists alike enjoy buying their favourite macarons at the famous shops such as Ladurée, Pierre Hermé and many other great patisseries.
But what if you just can't get to one of those beautiful shops or you don't want the hassle of waiting for a delivery from the online shops? (I heartily recommend Pierre Hermé delivery in the UK's only store, in London, I received impeccable macarons in a fun tin, which my little one loved.)
Of course, you want to make them at home! So, this is where this little gem of a book comes in. It's a small format hardback full of useful information. If you have the patience and aren't too hungry, you might like to read it cover to cover like I did. I like to get the background before plunging in, so this book has all the details like weighing eggs, their freshness, how to treat the mixture etc and is so helpful.
It is not for the fainthearted, if you are a perfectionist pastry lover, but this book will help you. Have a go!
You might like to checkout this helpful equipment here (not an affiliate link): https://www.souschef.co.uk/products/silicone-macaron-stencil-kit
6. The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
My copy of this book is looking a little tatty around the dust jacket and well-loved on a few splattered pages. That is how I know that this is a much-used and much-loved book on my French cookery bookshelf. I really like this book for its range, versatility and its freshness of taste - the classics are not merely reproduced, but lighter options are provided and fun presentations are created. Vacherin "hot dogs" anyone? (that's the cream and meringue pastry not the cheese!)
Many a delicious picnic has been created from the inspiration I gained form this book. I tried the savoury cake and just used what I had to hand - the first time we used some Polish kabanos sausage, ham and pistachio and the second time I used sun-dried tomatoes, basil and cheese. Both were delicious and a big hit with my family for a summer picnic.
My go-to chocolate fondant recipe is the one from this book. Oh my, I must make this about every 2 months. 😋 The moelleux is the best recipe for a reliable chocolate fondant which is cooked, gooey in the middle and has an excellent flavour. They freeze exemely well and cook from frozen, so if you know you'll need some great puddings on hand, then I think this is a winner! I usually just make the standard chocolate moelleux but the salted caramel filling looks pretty delicious too... Rachel mentions that she got the recipe from Eric, who's the chef behind the cookery school in Paris and Uzès "Cook'n With Class" - find them here.
My favourite savoury dish is the boeuf bourguignon with the revelation of baguette dumplings. But as I have said, the picnic foods including the savoury cake are so good! Perfect for preparing a delicious picnic for eating in the garden or on your balcony if you're staying at home.
7. At Elizabeth David's Table: Her Very Best Everyday Recipes by Elizabeth David
Not marketed as a strictly French cookery book, this is a distillation of the great cook, Elizabeth David's best everyday recipes with tips on bread making and eating fast and fresh. I suspect this is why I like the book. Her down-to-earthness and passion for good food that's fresh and flavoursome.
I can dip in to read her lovely prose, I can dip in to look at the gorgeous food photography or I can actually cook something with one of the recipes. It's a gem of a book.
If you have all of her books then you might find some inspiration and repetition, but I like this edited collection for its concise variety. I can usually source the ingredients easily in-season, which I like very much and I can pause, take things slowly and enjoy cooking from this book. A chef always needs a glass of wine in hand, right?
A beautiful hardback book, beautifully printed and produced this is as at home on the cookery bookshelf as the coffee table. I love the traditional, authentic quiche Lorraine (no cheese!), turbot with cream and herb sauce and the sautéd chicken with olives and tomatoes.
8. My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz
I enjoyed the whole chatty premise of this book, having followed his blog, various articles and book samples from David Lebovitz for some time.
I finally got around to buying the book and I loved it. It makes me feel more connected to Paris somehow, and Paris has never been my home, so it is a certain vicarious thrill to feel included in the food you might cook for your friends there, like David. It is very much food without too much fuss - just classics brought up-to-date with flair. A lot like Rachel Khoo's book in this list.
Of course, he was a successful chef in the US before he moved to France and so I bear this in mind - is it going to be really "cheffy" and tricky to make? This concern was soon pushed to one side on reading the book. I like that it's accessible, it's food you would eat at home. If you're a fan of his blog, it's written with the same kind of humour, stories and personality. It's perfect for armchair travelling and dreams of eating too!
It's something of a modern classic, well-reviewed and much-appreciated by the home cook and the armchair traveller in equal measure.
A love-letter full of humour and pride as an expat chef in Paris who's clearly found "home". You can read a great summary of the book in this review at The Guardian.
As an aside, David Lebovitz's latest book on cocktails looks like a lockdown hit! You can find Drinking French here.
9. The Little French Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
As every Francophile knows France is sooo much more than just Paris. Now, I know, the Paris-lovers out there might find the very combination of just and Paris in the same phrase a little peculiar. Is this not one of the greatest and most-visited cities in the world? Now, just to set the record straight here, I love Paris. I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the fall... ahem, you know what I mean. I love Paris as much as the next Francophile.
I also know that living in the capital city of a country is not the same experience and not the full picture of that country. I've lived in a few capitals and I think that holds in true in most of them, most especially London. As a London city-dweller, like a Parisian, life is often at speed, metro-boulot-dodo commuting, full of bars, clubs, galleries, parties and life lived in close proximity to millions of others most of whom you never make eye contact with, especially on the trains, and you keep going.
Well, the truth is, that in France there is an entire land mass of 551,500 square kilometres (metropolitan France), 3,427 kilometres of coastline, several mountains ranges, long, winding rivers and gorges, museums of every size and stripe, regional foods, accents and languages as well as beauty at every well-planned turn.
So it was this kind of enthusiasm for breaking out of the city life that I picked up Rachel Khoo's follow up to the Little Paris Kitchen (the TV series of which I loved) and saw that she too liked to explore la belle France in every corner. She seems to have been very excited about the process of exploring all the regions too and I think this enthusiasm of an "outsider" is helpful for those outside of the hexagon.
I recommend this book as a more recipe-focused guide to regional French food than Let's Eat France (number 1 on this list) and one of a more expected recipe book style - some prose, plenty of food and chef photographs (Rachel by the beach, scenery and Christmas markets, etc) and a great range of recipes to try out. That's why I had to include it - and include Rachel Khoo on this list twice!
Rachel Khoo is a trained Cordon Bleu chef and she lived in Paris for around 10 years before writing this book, which delights in exploring regional classics with her modern take and fresh updates.
I found some of the recipes perhaps a little specific in the required ingredients - for example the delicious Melon Charlotte is made with fleurs de Provence and you might find that a tricky ingredient to source. Of course, if you live there, then not so much, but I am sure you could try it out with a fresh shop-bought melon and some crystallised edible flowers from your local deli or online source and still make something impressive and delicious. I like this collection of edible flowers: https://www.souschef.co.uk/collections/edible-flowers.
So you might have to think a little creatively to get what you need. The point of regional cookery is that it is exciting to eat foods which are from that area, and some of which are completely seasonal and often not exported.
This is an inspiring journey around France and French food with a modern twist, full of handy tips and really edible food.
This is not stuffy, hyper-traditional food and of course it doesn't not contain an exhaustive collection of regional French food (can there really be one?). It does contain some recipes that might just become a staple in your household (Brittany Bouillon anyone?) cookery. It will definitely inspire your armchair travel planning - the little tips on good markets, the quality of breakfasts and food encountered on the journey is interesting and helpful. Rachel's beautiful, whimsical illustrations and maps are throughout the book.
A recommended gift to yourself or a Francophile foodie or armchair traveller you know.
10. The Essence of French Cooking by Michel Roux
With the sad demise of this great chef, Michel Roux, in 2020, it seems somehow appropriate and necessary to include this book on the list (you can find the NYT obituary here.)
Quite without its context, this books stands alone as a beacon of French classic cookery, personal and interesting writing and beautiful photographs. I absolutely love this book and even I were eating salads for a month, I'd be reading this in the evenings like a coffee table book of beautiful places. 😉 This book is beautiful as well as truly interesting. I love how Michel Roux explores how France, in all its beautiful variety, produces such an enormous range of great food and wine.
If, like me, you find that your parents still have their copies of those patisserie and cookery classics by Albert and Michel Roux sitting on their bookshelves, then you'll be familiar with the idea that to take up the challenge of this level of cookery is not to be taken lightly. I remember my mother making some enormous 1980s cream confection by the Roux brothers, for a party and it taking hours, perhaps even days, as each step had to be meticulously undertaken. To get a sense of their 1980s chef stardom in Britain, have a look at this amazing footage on YouTube. 😝 I adore the total natural conversational freedom of the programme.
I think this book is much more up-to-date and much simpler to use. Yet still with the absolute focus of regional country cooking at a high level. The beautiful presentation and enthusiasm for regional cookery comes through on every page.
This is the book you read, feel enriched for having done so and then steel your resolve and pantry for the preparations to commence.
That's not to say things are complicated, in fact everything is clear and well explained, but you need to expect that for a recipe you might have several base elements to prepare in advance in order to make the dish.
This is a beautiful book to own, a book full of the wise knowledge of a great chef, so sorely missed by so many. An interesting review of this book by a chef was found here, which I enjoyed. Always interesting what a chef makes of a chef's cookery book. You don't have to be a chef to enjoy this book, but some of the patient skill-mastery will help!
Available at Amazon and from many secondhand booksellers (readers in Aus/NZ might find it tricky to get hold of and so you might have to find a copy and ship it.
At home, I've tried out quite a few recipe books over the years. I always return again and again to my favourites.
How about you - do you have a favourite?
Have you had more time to cook during 2020?
Are any of these books on your top 10 French cookery books list?
I was so grateful for so many chefs sharing their fine recipes on social media too. I like the MICHELIN Guide using #michelinguideathome: lovely illustrations, great recipes made exquisitely by many talented chefs around the world. I felt so grateful for the charitable actions of so many chefs in providing food to the carers, doctors, nurses and hospital workers in France and the UK.
Stay well and enjoy your travelling through cookery! You can find more recipe inspiration on my Pinterest board too.
Other books I'm looking to buy, revisit or borrow: