Yes, The Best Cookbook in the World is a real award for The Artful Baker: Extraordinary Desserts From an Obsessive Home Baker. And you can win a copy of this $50 book by leaving a comment below.
Cenk Sonmezsoy, a Turk who started his Cafe Fernando food blog in 2006, won Best in the World at the 2015 Gourmand World Cookbooks awards. It was for the Turkish edition of The Artful Baker. A few months later, the same cookbook won Best of the Best from the same organization. Judges picked his cookbook as the best book in 20 years of first-place winners.
Now there is an English edition of The Artful Baker, so you can get it and see why he won these awards. After reading this book a few times and talking with Cenk about how he wrote and produced it, I’m astonished by his dedication to getting everything”right” — and not just the recipes.
Let’s back up a little. Cenk (pronounced “Jenk”) came to San Francisco to get his MBA. When he returned to Istanbul, he started his food blog. His book is about that time in his life, from San Francisco to Istanbul, and what he made. (We got to know each other online back then and have kept in touch.) Today this self-taught guy is an award-winning blogger, recipe developer, and author who works as a photographer and food stylist.
What distinguishes him, besides talent, is his vision and obsession with achieving it. He will imagine a Matcha & Pistachio No-Bake Cheesecake, for example. He will not stop testing until he achieves exactly what he saw, smelled and tasted in his mind. Then he will take hundreds of photographs until he finds exactly the right shot. He will obsess about every detail of the shot.
“I’m just relentless,” Cenk admits. “That’s my nature. Every detail has a meaning. I wanted my signature to be on everything.”
The Artful Baker is not a Turkish baking book. The style is mostly American and European. Some recipes have Turkish and Japanese ingredients, such as the Sour Cherry and Almond Upside Down Cake and Pistachio and Matcha Sables.
Early on as a blogger, Cenk picked his baking heroes. He learned from Dorie Greenspan, Nick Malgieri, Rose Levy Beranbaum, David Lebovitz, and Pierre Hermé. With Pierre Hermé, Cenk studied him as an artist.
I’ve tasted a half-dozen of his baked goods. They are riffs on classics. My favorite, which I baked, is Tahini & Leblebi Swirl Brownies, featuring roasted chickpea flour. The rich brownies were a flavor bomb, and the recipe was easy to follow. Not everything in the cookbook is ambitious, of course. There are lots of cookies, loaf and bundt cakes, even muffins. And a whole chapter on brownies. But as you might suspect, nothing is ordinary.
Now on to the art of the book. Not just the show-stopping photography, props, and food styling, but the actual design. How did he come up with such different photography?
“I’m in my 11th year of blogging,” Cenk says. At first I imitated the people I adore. I’ve studied the way they use light, shadow and negative space.
“I took thousands of photos. After a while I developed my own sense of style and it became my signature,” he explains.
Then there’s the actual design of the book. His American publisher, Abrams, involved him in every step of the way, including production and material choice.
“I designed the book itself,” says Cenk. “Abrams involved me in the covers, the way blurbs are presented, and they sent me samples of linens and the material for the title.”
Cenk also attended the first print run of the Turkish edition. “I slept at the printers for the first edition to make sure I saw every page of the entire book. It took about 72 hours,” he explained, as thought this was normal.
“I like to do everything myself because I know what I want,” he says. “I don’t want to leave it to other people, because then I’d be harassing them about every detail and making their lives miserable. This way the only one tortured is myself.”
So, if you’d like to see this amazing book for yourself, leave a comment below. I will pick a winner at random by November 29, 2017. I’m sorry but Abrams will only ship in the USA, so you must be a resident to win.
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(All photos courtesy of Cenk Sonmezsoy.)
(Disclosure: The publisher sent me this book, and I am mentioned in it. This post contains an affiliate link.)