2008_01_lamingtons.jpgIt’s rare when a book causes the sudden desire to collect large quantities of AP flour, unsalted butter and sugar, but that’s what Greg Patent’s A Baker’s Odyssey might do to you. Other traditional bake-books operate within the wholly confined orbit of strudel and streusels; A Baker’s Odyssey has strudels galore but is also about forgotten or esoteric American immigrant recipes, so it also covers kulich and chin chin cookies, shoofly pie and puran poori. Recipes involve techniques and ingredients that have sort of fallen by the wayside in an age of 30 minute meals: The book’s cannoli shell dough is made with Madeira, and ANZAC cookies are made with Lyle’s Golden Syrup.

Like many other recent cookbooks, A Baker’s Odyssey also comes with a DVD, this one featuring Patent in an austere paneled kitchen doing a few straightforward dessert demos. In one segment he dons huge purple rubber gloves and tosses Schwäbisch pretzels into a shallow bath of lye solution (which causes browning and crispiness), while nonchalantly commenting that he’s placed some newspaper under his setup because “lye will stain wood.” Buy a jar now, and you may even have enough leftover to fake a quick batch of thousand-year-old eggs in time for Chinese New Year next month.

The only thing missing from the book is a miniature companion booklet, complete with descriptions and glossy photos of pastries, which would make an indispensable field guide to the miniature universe of the city’s ethnic baked goods. Locally, it’s interesting to see the difference between Lebanese baklawa and its Turkish counterpart, traditional lamingtons vs. Tuck Shop’s mammoth variety, the graibi’s separated-at-birth-like resemblance to Nomad’s tcherek, and to know you can always find an 18-tier, paper flag festooned kransekaker in the heart of Bay Ridge. This book is nonetheless a great reference for all the sweet things you may find out there.

Wiley, $34.95, 369 pp.

Photo: Australian lamingtons from A Baker’s Odyssey