Regan Daley's guide to baking and sweets won the International Association of Culinary Professionals' Book of the Year award in 2001, and it's not hard to see why. It's a friendly, comprehensive introduction to baking with entire chapters devoted to fats, dairy products, leaveners and eggs, among other essentials. And that's before you even get to the recipes!
Daley is a Toronto-based writer with a culinary degree and experience cooking for some top restaurants, but she likes to think of herself as a "glorified home baker" who wrote the book she wanted and couldn't find, one that approached baking from the viewpoint of ingredients and flavors.
The book starts with the chapters on ingredients, techniques, and equipment, then looks in great detail at flavorings in the sweet kitchen, with another chapter on substitutions. At times it does begin to feel a little over-exhaustive, like it belabors the basics. Yet I turn again and again to some helpful reference points, like charts to troubleshoot cake problems or to determine cooking time for a sugar syrup.
The real stars of this book are the recipes. Daley brings a fresh imagination to her recipes that complements her methodical yet thorough coverage of baking details, and she is especially good at blending fruit and spices along with the other flavorings. Many of these recipes are wonderfully suited to the winter holiday season, like a Gingerbread Soufflé with White Chocolate Creme Anglaise, or my absolute favorite, Sticky Spiked Double-Apple Cake with a Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce. This thing, it is just amazing in its sheer brandy-soaked deliciousness. People lick the pan. Seriously.
As a reference on baking and all things sweet - not to mention some truly inspiring recipes and photos - this should certainly sit on your shelf, especially during the holidays.