Since I am studiously avoiding actual work today: the carpets remain un-vacuumed, the coffee distributor remains un-called, and I am sick of pricing new products (did you know how expensive cardamom is per teaspoon?), I am free to run on and on about baking theory.
I see that everyone in this thread so far is discussing French Pastry from the home kitchen. Lo many years ago (okay not that many years but you get the idea) I too was a serious home baker.
Armed with the inter-net (the inter-net today is a far different beast, e-bay was still a new idea!) I set out to create fabulous confections from my home kitchen. Lots of trial, even more error. Some okay stuff but not classic French pastry. So I took the plunge and joined a cookbook club. Several books were absolute duds. Some assumed I already possessed knowledge and skills that I so did not have.
One book stood out as the perfect meld. Not so serious as to intimidate me but great instruction and theory for a springboard into bigger things but also enough to have me turning out puff pastry, croissants and pate a choux in no time. How To Bake by Nick Malgeiri. (Not limited to French Pastry by any stretch, the title explains it all.)
Anecdotal evidence of its value:
I was asked to help with a rather important to-do at my husband’s place of employment. Artists coming in from all over the world for awards, VIPs, the whole nine yards. I did an array of tartlets, petites fours, etc. All either from How To Bake or inspired by the skills I garnered from it.
Primped, primed and poised as a volunteer helper I poured punch for members of the International Olympic Committee and did my best to perform my wifely duty of helping the event run smoothly. I noticed amongst the well-tailored guests a rather rumpled looking man in a golf shirt, shorts and cruddy sneakers scarfing down my pastries like he hadn’t eaten in a week.
Thinking an unwanted interloper had evaded the greeters, I quickly flagged my husband down to alert him. Turns out Mr. Rumpled was rumpled because he had just flown his private jet in from Paris with only enough time to get from the airport to the event. He was the biggest big wig there.
He was so pleased to meet the person who had prepared the pastries and informed me around a mouthful of tartlet that having just left Paris he could attest to the fact that mine were as good or better than the “real thing”. Which of course led to me getting “The Big Head” and deciding that I wanted to learn more, do more etc, etc.
I then picked up a copy of Simple French Desserts by Jill O’Conner. Very pretty book and there is a review of this book on this site. I like her Honey Madeleine recipe. But keep in mind desserts and pastries are not synonymous. But it is geared to the home cook and is very informative.
Hope that helps. And use the Amazon link from this site.