Like almost all other Culinary Institute of America books, this volume, `Baking and Pastry Mastering the Art and Craft' is primarily written as a textbook for culinary professionals. Even as a textbook, I would not recommend this book to non-professionals as a means of learning how to bake. For baking hobbyists who simply want to learn more in a systematic fashion about baking, I would strongly recommend that they get a copy of Sherry Yard's new book `The Secrets of Baking' and read it from cover to cover.
This does not mean this is a poor book. Only that it is pretty seriously oriented to teaching professional pastry chefs. And, there are ways in which professional chefs do things, which are not and should not be done by the home baker who prepares baked goods for their family and friends. The most obvious symptom of this fact is that most recipes are scaled to make many more pieces than a home baker is likely to want, unless they are baking for a church bake sale.
This also does not mean that the book has no value for the home baker. If you are a serious baker for your own consumption, this book is an excellent reference for just about any pastry preparation of which you can think. Not only will it have authoritative recipes for staple preparations such as batters, Panna cotta, sabayon, crème broulee, caramel, buttercream, chantilly cream, lemon curd, glazes, royal icing, pate brisee, pate a Choux and dozens of other standard recipes, it will have recipes for some preparations for which you may have a difficult time finding any place else. My favorite discovery is a recipe for strudel. I have made strudel with frozen philo dough, but I am not very happy with the result. But, I really like good strudel, so now all I have to do is find a counter large enough to prepare it.
Another serious asset in this book for the home baker is its explanation of why baking processes work the way they do. The explanations are very practical, generally easier to understand than the explanations you may find in a book by Harold McGee. The only puzzle I found in the book's background information is the fact that they said that whole wheat flour has a higher protein content than general purpose flour, yet GP flour must be added to whole wheat to provide enough gluten to produce a good rise from yeast. I suspect the answer is that much of the protein in whole-wheat flour is of a type that simply does not form glutinous strands. But, that has nothing to do with your baking techniques.
As a serious textbook, I would strongly recommend that anyone who is seriously considering a career as a pastry chef read this book from cover to cover, skipping particular recipe details on this first pass. This read will certainly show that professional baking requires a lot of practice and a lot of knowledge and a lot of work.
Getting back to the home baker, I would generally refer to this book whenever I simply could not find a recipe in any other source or a recipe is not working out for me, or I remember preparing something from an issue of Gourmet from three years ago and I forgot the recipe. These are all situations where I would run to this book before consulting anything else. I would also consult this book for tips if I am creating a new recipe and I wish to use a standard streusel topping in the recipe. Once I was more experienced with artisinal breads after going to school with either Peter Reinhart or Nancy Silverton, I would be more than happy to consult this book for the recipe for one of the very many types of breads in the book. It seems to pretty much cover everything from brioche to pretzels.
This book does not have everything, but then, no book on baking has everything. It has no recipes for a Hungarian nut cake or funnel cake or snickerdoodle cookies or Russian Easter bread. But it certainly seems to have just about everything else. It is an especially good resource for pastry plating. If you are a serious entertainer as well as a serious baker, there will be things for you in this book which you may not find elsewhere, even in Martha Stewart's better books.
One thing I would not do is take a recipe from this book to replace a recipe with which I am already happy. The carrot cake recipe in this book is pretty unexciting, as it contains neither pineapple nor `cookie spices' to jazz it up. The buttermilk biscuit recipe is pretty routine too, using both butter and shortening. I made this kind of biscuit for several years, until I tried an all butter recipe (plus White Lily flour) which gives me a much flakier result.
Recommended for the serious baker. Highly recommended for the budding professional. Recipes tend to be a bit more complicated than some, but no more complicated than the best you will see from Sherry Yard or Nancy Silverton.