Some artists use paint, some clay; Margaret Braun works in sugar. Braun creates vividly hued cakes extravagantly adorned with edible pearls, scallop shells, tassels and swags, and topped with chalices or crowns. (Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick commissioned one for their wedding.) Braun's new book, Cakewalk, reveals her inspirations, from Antonio Gaudi's architecture (F&W once sent her to Barcelona to create a cake) to the Argo cornstarch box. An entire 60-page chapter focuses on decorative elements—doves, paisley—with photographs superimposed on illustrations in a fun, eye-popping way. Lucid, step-by-step instructions bring Braun's cakes (almost) within reach of ordinary cooks, who shouldn't have any trouble with her chapter on simple, homey sweets, like her grandmother's cherry crescent cookies. Paging through Cakewalk while nibbling one of those cookies might be less ambitious than constructing one of Braun's King-Arthur-on-Ecstasy cakes, but as armchair adventures go, it's hard to beat.

—Pamela Kaufman