A collection of desserts generally (though not always) emphasizing unusual combinations and stylish effects. The title is off base, since this covers a variety of desserts in no way limited to baking or characteristically ""American."" This San Francisco pastry chef gives a modest, carefully chosen selection of well-loved pastries (napoleons, apple turnovers), baked puddings, and cookies, as well as longer sections on cakes (from strawberry-orange to Black Forest), desserts of the pie-cobbler-crisp family, and fruit tarts. There are also chapters on poached fruit and frozen desserts; the whole is prefaced by several chapters on basic doughs and cake batters, pastry creams, dessert sauces, and glazes. Dodge enjoys startling juxtapositions like honeydew melon with serrano chilis, and he rarely leaves one central element--say, blueberries in a tart or carrots in a carrot cake--unaccompanied by some other loud note of flavor and effect, like papayas, pineapple, and coconut, or a sauce. Information on ingredients and techniques is kept rather short. There are approaches that may lead the inexperienced into trouble--for example, energetic whisking and high heat for cÃ‰me anglaise--and not everyone will see the sense of buying a propane torch to finish off a meringue pie. On balance: a pleasant choice in the up-to-date-dessert department, with more to offer the veteran than the novice.