The "essentials" offered by Williams-Sonoma, a name long synonymous with the best in cookbooks and cooking equipment, in their lavishly produced Essentials of Baking (Oxmoor House, $34.95, 320 pages, ISBN 0848727797) are anything but bare. Nothing in the baking process is left to your imagination: ingredients, tools and techniques are detailed and illustrated; the well thought-out recipes for all kinds of breads yeast, flat and quick pies, cakes, cookies, crackers and beyond (think custards, soufflŽs, sauces, toppings and fillings) are explained step-by-step and the luscious, lush color photos throughout are instructional and absolutely inspirational. Another grand compilation of recipes for both sweet and savory baked goods comes from James Barrett and Wendy Smith Born, who share recipes from their super-successful Philadelphia bakery business in The Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook. Along with the basics are fabulous finds such as Caramelized Onion-Thyme Bread, Blood Orange Eclairs and fresh ideas for the spreads, salads and sandwiches that have added to the bakery's popularity.

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