By Regan Daley, Artisan, 2001. Paperback. $24.95; 692 pages
If you like Alton Brown (science Brown, as opposed to goofball Brown), this is your book. In the Sweet Kitchen contains 368 pages of baking science, principles, ingredients, and techniques (e.g., 500 words on baking powder) before it gets to the 287 pages of recipes. You'll find what you need to know about cowberries and tamarillos, dextrose, suet, and the phenomenon known as chocolate bloom.
This is a dense book, with only a token eight pages of color photos (why bother?). Yet, if you expect a plodding collection of recipes, you'll be surprised. Daley shows her mastery of many classic desserts ("Damn Fine Apple Pie" is just that) before venturing into dishes like Caramelized Parsnip Layer Cake or Nectarine Custard Tart. The tone is one of gentle reassurance, infused with a bit of humor: In a section titled "Mixing, Portioning, Scraping, and Spreading Tools," the first entry is "Hands!"
GIVE THIS BOOK TO: Bakers with an academic bent. Also for patient beginners and intermediate bakers with lofty ambitions.—Vanessa Pruett