For those of us in the "eat dessert first" category, there's a sensational sweet treat created by Sherry Yard, the talented, innovative executive pastry chef at Spago. A practical paean to premier pastries, The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts(Houghton Mifflin, $35, 448 pages, ISBN 0618138927) is built around 12 "Master" Recipes, each explicating a technique that allows you to make a host of related recipes. For example, "Master Ganache" (chocolate and cream) turns into Truffles, Frozen Chocolate Parfait, Chocolate SoufflŽ and Deep, Dark Chocolate Tart; "Master P‰tŽ ˆ Choux" miraculously morphs into profiteroles, Chocolate Banana Beignets and Cherry Almond Fritters. Once mastered, the master recipes reveal a whole world of divine desserts for you and your lucky friends and family to revel in.

Feeding your inner Cookie Monster is a snap and a pleasure with Carole Walter's Great Cookies, wherein she, too, reveals her "secrets," these for perfect cookies every time whether they be dropped, piped, pressed, rolled, hand-formed, cold cut, molded, filled or frosted. The cookie compendium continues with bars from beloved Brownies to exotic Coconut-Crusted Key Lime Napoleons rugalah, strudelettes, biscotti in myriad variations, meringues, macaroons and an international array of global goodies including Sicilian Wine Cookies, Athena's Baklava and Petite Lavender Madeleines. Cookies are fun, festive and de rigueur during the holidays to serve and to give as gifts.

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