The Cake Bible
By Rose Levy Beranbaum
This is the first cookbook I remember obsessing over, long before I took any baking classes or thought of becoming a pastry chef. I'd haul it around with me to read on the bus and pore over it before going to sleep. The author, Rose Levy Beranbaum, wrote her master's dissertation on whether sifting dry ingredients had any effect on the quality of cakes (she received an A+), and in this book she examines, just as thoroughly, other important factors that affect baking.
All of this would be pretty dry if she weren't so good at explaining the experiments she went through and her reasons for choosing the methods on which she settled. Beranbaum has done a lot of the hard work so we, the less inquisitive, don't need to (although that still doesn't prevent me from tweaking her recipes slightly; I like my cakes to be less sweet).
The recipes in this book range from very simple one-pan cakes that, at most, receive just a dusting of icing sugar or a brush of flavoured syrup, to elaborate constructed cakes with multiple components that take days to prepare. They include lemon poppy seed cake; orange glow chiffon cake; perfect all-American chocolate butter cake with burnt orange silk meringue buttercream; Swiss black forest cake; triple chocolate cake; and pistachio and rose wedding cake.