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For the Kitchen Bookshelf : Cookbooks. Big books, little books, showy cocktail table books . . . all arrive in time for holiday shopping each year. The Times' Food staff took a look at some of this year's offerings, many of which will make excellent gift choices for last-minute shoppers. Here's a rundown on some we found interesting.

December 21, 1986|JOAN DRAKE

Desserts by Nancy Silverton (Harper & Row: $22.50, 357 pp., illustrated).

This is not only a collection of the California pastry chef's recipes, but also a detailed explanation of dessert-making basics. Silverton communicates the experience gained while head patissiere of Spago restaurant to the home cook through detailed recipes, with numerous pointers regarding colors, textures, aromas, flavors and temperatures to ensure successful results.

This detail makes some of the recipes lengthy, but Silverton counters with the suggestion, "If they are broken up into component parts, which can be made well in advance, the final assemblage can be done quickly and with relative ease." Illustrations add clarity to the directions and techniques.

Although Silverton claims "there's no such thing as a list of secrets for successful dessert making," the chapter on trade secrets includes tips on ingredients and techniques that are likely to enlighten more than the novice baker. Spago favorites--individual apple tarts and prune-Armagnac ice cream--are included in the book, along with French- and American-style recipes and hybrids of the two.

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