If you enjoy making desserts and would like to move beyond simply following recipes to having a real understanding of how baking works, why not turn to a cookbook that explains the techniques and science behind batters and doughs?
For mastering desserts of all kinds, Chowhounds sing the praises of Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts. Organized by groups of related sweets ranging from custards to cakes, it supplies master recipes and shows you how to use them in many ways. It "really teaches you technique and recipes at the same time," says thimes. And rainey feels that Yard's book provides a foundation that invites "experimentation and expansion rather than reliance on repeating the same recipe ad infinitum."
Several hounds also recommend BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes for its focus on the science of baking. greygarious thinks it's a good choice for someone just starting out. "A novice baker is bound to have failures, which can be discouraging and puzzling," she says, but author Shirley O. Corriher explains why things happen, and "how to prevent a recurrence."
If pastry is your focus, janniecooks recommends Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible, which covers the gamut, from pie to croissants, and includes plenty of information on ingredients and equipment. "There may be newer baking books out there, but this one is a real winner," janniecooks says.