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Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook - Martha Stewart I've owned this book for several years, and it has quickly become one of my favorite baking books (Believe me, I own quite a few). The recipes run the gamut from simple breakfast muffins to rustic cobblers to elegant napoleons. There is even a recipe for a three-tiered wedding cake! Some recipes are quick and easy, while others tend to be very complex and involved, offering options for both the novice and advanced home baker, and allowing the user to grow with the book, trying more difficult recipes as one's skills expand. However, even the most complex of the recipes are laid out and explained clearly. In addition, there are beautiful photos on nearly every page (and most pages have more than one!), showing both finished baked goods and illustrating techniques.

I've made quite a few of the recipes in this book and thought I'd share a few of my favorites. There are four cupcake recipes in this book, of which I've tried three. The Maple-Walnut Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream (p. 164) are really excellent. Make more candied walnuts than cupcakes - you'll just want to grab a handful and munch on them while you're garnishing. The Carrot-Ginger Cupcakes (p. 166) were really light and fluffy, although they very mild and not all that carrot cake-y, so that may not be to everyone's taste. But the instructions for making marzipan carrots (with photos!) make them so easy. I've made the One-Bowl Chocolate Cake on p. 168 as both cupcakes and a layer cake, and it's a great go-to basic chocolate cake recipe. The Marble Cake with White Chocolate Glaze (p. 65) is super easy yet impressive - the perfect thing to have with coffee when a friend stops over.

Martha's Classic Apple Pie recipe (p. 228) is simple and excellent, and her Pate Brisée (p. 224) is my go-to recipe for pie dough - it works every time. The Tarte Tatin (p. 265) is about as easy as a "company" dessert can get, looking both rustic and fancy at the same time (and it tastes amazing - like candied apples on pie crust; how could you go wrong?) I've made the Fruit Curd Tartlets (p. 258) with both lemon and lime curd (both on p. 390), and while the tartlet molds I used were really small (about 1" - don't do it to yourself!!!) and a huge pain in my ass, everyone loved them and they were gone in a flash.

This book makes even difficult, pastry chef-caliber techniques like laminated doughs accessible. I made the from-scratch Puff Pastry on p. 359, and while it took the better part of a day and used a crapload of butter, the difference from frozen, pre-packaged puff pastry was so amazing that I don't ever want to buy it again. I also tried my hand at the Danish Dough (p. 334), and made the Prune Pinwheels and Apricot Bow Ties (p. 336 & 338, respectively). The absolute winner of the book, though, is the Chocolate Babka on p. 352. Coming from a Russian/Polish Jewish background, I've eaten a lot of babkas, but this one was PERFECT. Loaded with chocolate, covered in streusel.... you need to try it. Granted, the recipe calls for 2 rises and with several different components it takes a bit of time to complete, but it also makes three loaves and they freeze beautifully. Eat one, store the other two in the freezer, and you'll have something perfect to bring to a potluck or housewarming at a moment's notice.