Science, soul and savvy are among the reasons to check out recent books about baking.
• “BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking” by Shirley Corriher (Scribner, $40) is the long-awaited treasure for those who want a little science with their scones. In this follow up to her award-winning “Cookwise,” Corriher applies her biochemistry degree to cakes, popovers, cookies and pastries. She explains the proportions in cakey and fudgy brownies and shares an ice-water technique for the flakiest puff-pastry. Best of all, she writes with enthusiasm and encouragement through more than 200 recipes, troubleshooting likely perils. If there’s a downside, it’s in having too few photos, and uninspiring ones, at that.
• “The Art & Soul of Baking” by Cindy Mushet and Sur La Table (McMeel, $40) isn’t for the faint of heart, which may be the primo selling point for the bring-it-on baker. Mushet shares what the pros know about buttercream, how to avoid crystallization, that you get the most cocoa flavor by blending the powder with boiling water. The 250 recipes are extraordinarily detailed and the photos both beautiful and instructional. Whether you’ll opt to melt butter by applying a propane torch to the side of your mixing bowl is up to you. But at least you’ll know how.
• “The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book” ($34.95) Here are the numbers: 700 recipes, 800 photos, 7 billion hours of testing, more or less. This ring-binder cookbook (so convenient) casts a Betty Crocker vibe across a range of recipes such as butter horn dinner rolls, pinwheel icebox cookies, and angel food cake. Looking for the definitive Napoleon recipe? Pancakes? Sourdough bread (albeit with purchased starter)? They’re here, along with a shaded box of tips on almost every page. And all those photos are rarely of a finished product, but all about illustrating the process. This book is like having a dozen really smart grandmas at your elbow.