Kelly Strom | How to bake sweet treats for the holidays

Kelly Strom | How to bake sweet treats for the holidays

"Cooking and baking is both physical and mental therapy" — Mary Berry

A well-known writer of over 70 cookbooks and a co-host of the "Great British Bake-Off," Mary Berry knows of what she speaks. To me, running your hands through a flour mixture, or kneading dough, is akin to planting a garden.

There is the physicality of participating in creating something, there's a science to making the right mixtures of ingredients, and then there's the pleasure at the end, of seeing or tasting something magnificent.

During this season of fantastic baking, I've compiled a number of new cookbooks in our collection that might aid you in your holiday preparations. In "So French So Sweet: Delectable Cakes, Tarts, Cremes and Desserts" by Gabriel Gate, the reader is presented with a lovely selection of sweet treats.

There is a good variety of options of each variety, with a helpful index to look up recipes or ingredients. Unfortunately, there is not a picture for every recipe, but there is a listing for Tarte Tatin that looks amazing. The author notes that "the Tatin has to be one of the most well-loved French desserts." Count me in.

In "Pie" by Sara Foster, the focus is obviously directed at one variety of dessert. The book is divided into types, such as fruit/nut pies, savory pies, tarts and icebox pies. The introduction includes some really great tips, which I appreciated.

I struggle with creating the perfect crust, and wish at a younger age I had paid more attention to Aunt Dixie's technique! The recipes in this guide sound great, but I wish there had been more photographs!

Brittany Bennett used the clever organization of dividing her recipes by season in "The Taartwork Pies Cookbook." I love being able to turn to a particular section and find an assortment of pies ideal for that time of year.

The pies here take traditional recipes a step or two further with unique combinations and ingredients. The Herbed Apple Pie was magnificent, and I'm intrigued by the Maple Pumpkin Pie, the Chili Cherry Pie with Chocolate Crumble, and the Beet Red- White Chocolate Pie. If you really want to impress your guests this month, try some of these recipes!

One more pie book! You will love the gorgeous photographs in "Lomelino's Pies" by Linda Lomelino. My mouth watered just browsing through the book, and the list of ingredients piqued my interest.

The Peach Pie with Cognac looks really good, but what is Muscovado sugar? A quick check on Wikipedia tells me that it has a strong molasses content and "contains higher levels of various minerals than processed white sugar. Its main uses are in food and confectionery, and the manufacture of rum and other forms of alcohol. The largest producer and consumer of muscovado is India."

Flip a few more pages along, and I was so completely captivated by the recipe for Gluten-Free Galettes with Nectarines and Raspberries that I copied the instructions and plan to make it this weekend!

If you'd like your desserts to be a little more whimsical and less serious, you must check out "Make It Easy, Cupcake!" by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. The focus in this book is less the recipes, although they are included, but more so the designs.

Just paging through the pictures caused me to shake my head and wonder at the creativity of the authors. The cheerful and fanciful cupcakes look fantastic, and I particularly admired the themes of Swan Lake, Football Heads, Reindeer and Gingerbread Men. If you are attending a holiday party and need to bring along something, you'll find lots of impressive ideas here!

Lastly, "Genius Desserts" by Kristen Miglore lives up to its name. The beautiful photos are artsy and engaging, and the recipes look fantastic. The book is divided by type of dessert, and includes cakes, cookies and everything in between. This is another cookbook that would be useful for finding options to really impress someone.

Being a chocolate lover, I was particularly enamored of the Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte and the Chocolate Cloud Cake. Honestly, with names like those, how can you NOT be eager to bake them?

'Tis the season for lots of baked goods, and probably excess poundage to go along with it! But hey — it would be worth it to get your hands on some of these amazing desserts. So treat yourself!

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, ebooks, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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