Specialty cookbooks are fine, if you want to dig deep into, say, French macarons. But an excellent, wide-ranging baker's book is a beautiful thing, and this season offers several worth considering.
Chocolate gets its due in "Seriously Bitter Sweet" (Artisan, $25.95) by dessert czarina Alice Medrich, who takes on the growing variety of chocolates available now and why considering cacao percentages can improve your baking. Cocoa nibs get a whole section of more savory treatments. In all, this book shares more info about chocolate than you imagined there was to know. Photos, of course, are gorgeous.
Convention and invention are served by "The Model Bakery Cookbook" (Chronicle, $35) by Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen. This is home baking with inspiration, from citrusy scones and grainy breads to fruit tarts and buttermilk cake. The prize is the recipe for their renowned English muffins.
At the other end of the rolling pin is "The Art of French Pastry" (Knopf, $40) by award-winning pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, whose recipes are as precise as you'd expect. The book doubles as a master class in the science of ingredients, the purpose of technique and the importance of matching the right equipment to the task. Hundreds of color photos inform and inspire.
Among the old guard, "Better Homes and Gardens Baking" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $29.99) is as reliable a resource as they come with iconic recipes and variations, such as ginger-pear scones. A notable feature: Many recipes include "make it mini" directions for converting a large dessert into individual or smaller scale servings.
For the ever-curious, "The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book" (America's Test Kitchen, $40) never fails with its endless testing, explanations and novel techniques, such as microwaving bananas to drive off moisture when making banana bread. The photos are black-and-white — no bells and whistles for these guys — but the distinctive CI illustrations are what we love.
There is one specialty book that cannot be denied: "The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book" (Grand Central, $30) by sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen is a treasure of more than 60 mouthwatering pie recipes. Plum-fig, grapefruit custard with Campari, pistachio coconut cream, malted chocolate pecan — the inventiveness is backed by skills honed at their New York City pie shop and rooted in their South Dakota upbringing where their mom owned a cafe. Creative crusts, shaping innovations and other tips make this a valued book for pie lovers.