I've been drooling over three dessert cookbooks for the past few months and am eager to tell you about them. All three come from well-known pastry chefs, but each has a unique perspective and range of recipes.
Bill Yosses, author of The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion (W.W. Norton, $35), has a distinguished pastry pedigree that includes work with Pierre Hermé, David Bouley, and Thomas Keller. These days he has an even more famous boss in his position as executive pastry chef at the White House.
Yosses' extensive experience is evident on every page of The Perfect Finish, which was written with Melissa Clark of the New York Times. I liked the book's organization into useful sections like "Come to Brunch," which features simple but delicious recipes like blueberry angel food muffins; "I'll Bring Dessert," portable but impressive goodies; and, "Restaurant Desserts You Can Make at Home," which gives the formula for Yosses' famous warm molten vanilla cakes (an ivory version of chocolate lava cake).
Standout recipes include the chocolate and caramel tart with sea salt, chocolate chunk cookies with Nutella, candied bacon peach cobbler (the bacon's in the biscuits), and an orange-glazed olive oil cake that requires you to simmer whole oranges with sugar and then puree them in the food processor to give the cake a singular oomph.
Warren Brown, United Cakes of America (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, $30), may seem simpler than the others merely because it sticks to one subject. Don't be fooled: there's just as much technique and artistry here. I made the Illinois cake, devil's food with Italian buttercream frosting, because Brown promised the intense chocolate flavor of a brownie in cake form. In an epic baking failure, I bungled the Italian meringue step in both the cake and the frosting. Despite my missteps, the cake's dark chocolate richness delivered. Luckily, I found a video of Brown making the Italian meringue buttercream frosting, which enabled me to figure out exactly what I need to do differently next time. (The frosting still tasted great.)
This compendium of cakes has a lot to offer, especially for adventurous bakers who want to broaden their repertoire and flex their technique muscles. Though there are easy recipes in the book (cupcakes and pancakes to name a few), Brown takes his cakes seriously, and many of these cakes require a lot of steps and patience.
If you're willing to take the time and effort, you will be well rewarded. Lane cake from Alabama (a boozy pudding-filled cake), Basque cake from Nevada ("think of a crisp, buttery-crusted turnover with a creamy rum-laced filling"), Smith Island cake from Maryland (a six-layer yellow cake with chocolate buttercream filling and dark chocolate frosting), and even jalapeño cheddar cheesecake from Arizona await.