Whether you're happy spending hours on a complex dessert or can barely find the time to whip up a batch of brownies, there are books this season to please both kinds of bakers. For the expert -- some might say obsessed -- baker, there are three fine volumes from which to choose. For those who are happy just to find a terrific cookie recipe, we have four books for you to consider.
FOR EXPERT BAKERS
"Chocolate Obsession," by Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35): Two of San Francisco's finest chocolatiers have teamed up in this beautiful book that offers an inviting collection of desserts both haute (Earl Grey tea ganache) and homey (rocky road brownies). What transforms the recipes are the fabulous ingredients and the meticulous techniques.
"A Baker's Tour," by Nick Malgieri (Harper Collins, $34.95): Malgieri is not only an expert baker, he's an expert teacher -- both of which are obvious in this step-by-step book, his seventh. He has taken a collection of recipes for breads, desserts and fried, filled pastries from around the world and adapted them for the American cook. The recipes aren't easy, but Malgieri expertly guides you through them.
"Martha Stewart's Baking Book" (Clarkson Potter, $40): What makes Stewart's books so compelling? It's not the recipes -- there's nothing really new here -- it's the photos. They're instructive, gorgeous and tantalizing. Even if you're not sure you can really make pate a choux, the photos make you think, "Oh sure, I can."
FOR BASIC BAKERS
"Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Baking" (Simon & Schuster, $26): A chapter on poundcakes is just one of the gems of this book, which supplies ample helpings of Southern culinary history and enticing recipes for updated classics. Both a food historian and a fine cook, Fowler has an eye for interesting recipes. Bourbon-brown sugar poundcake, a variety of chess pies and a pecan upside-down cake that's a cross between cake and pull-apart monkey bread are just a few examples.
"ChocolateChocolate," by Lisa Yockelson (Wiley, $45): This is chocolate obsession for the time-strapped baker. Yockelson includes umpteen variations of brownies, bars, cookies and cakes, using every possible permutation of chips and chunks of chocolate. Her instructions are detailed, and the book is filled with useful tips and information on different kinds of chocolate. If there was a Hall of Fame for homey cakes, her moist Coca-Cola cake would be a shoo-in.
"The All-American Dessert Book," by Nancy Baggett (Houghton Mifflin, $35): Beautiful photos and a wide range of recipes make this perhaps the best buy of the baking books. Baggett has canvassed the country, seeking first-rate versions of many American classics. She's also revived some forgotten favorites, including puddings and custards, as well as candies such as marshmallows and caramels. There's even a chapter on food gifts the family can make together.
"Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook," by Kathleen King (St. Martin's Press, $25): We really, really wanted to love this book. After all, a good portion of it is a repeat of King's out-of-print book from her original bakery in Southhampton, N.Y. We also love the cookies and cakes we've ordered online from her new bakery, Tate's. And her simple recipes are so appealing (Nutella sandwich cookies, mocha pecan muffins, her famous thin, crisp chocolate chip cookies). But then we found the toffee pecan cookie recipe that failed to list pecans among the ingredients. (By the way, it's 1 cup of chopped pecans.) We still recommend the book -- just be aware of this one problem.