Alice Medrich's latest book is a disappointment. This is surprising, considering her previous books, Cocolat and Chocolate And The Art Of Low-Fat Desserts, both won prestigious awards. Cookies And Brownies (Warner Books, $240) is a slim volume - with fewer than 50 recipes, not including variations. A quick browse shows all the usual favourites - shortbread, chocolate chip, macaroons and lemon bars. A closer look reveals interesting techniques - she melts the butter for some cookies, and underbakes her brownies, then freezes them, to make the inside soft and fudgy. But ultimately, the size of this book works against it. Medrich doesn't go into detail about why particular techniques work in some recipes but not others. She does not explain why the butter is melted for shortbread and chocolate chip cookies; she only says 'it works better'. But she recommends using softened butter for the butter cookies - this recipe calls for exactly the same ingredients, in almost the same proportions, as the shortbread. Why use melted butter for one recipe and softened butter for the other? A curious cook would appreciate an explanation, in order to know when to apply the techniques to recipes that are not included here. Once you get past this book's irritating title - No Need To Knead (Hyperion, $250) - you will find simple recipes that work. The reader will also have to ignore Suzanne Dunaway's propensity for cutesy revelations about herself: 'As an adult, which is a questionable statement in itself, I delight in eating with my hands and licking my plate - literally - and all those things children are not supposed to do.' Please. The blurb 'Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes' is slightly deceptive. Some breads require starters, which must be made the day before, and Dunaway strongly recommends that the doughs be refrigerated overnight, to develop flavour. But she gives alternate steps to mix, shape and bake the bread quickly. The recipes are not all Italian, nor are they all for bread. Dunaway includes Russian blini, Southern beaten biscuits and cornmeal spoon bread, and Boston brown bread and baked beans. Some of the breads require special baking pans, but most can be made with basic equipment, and without the use of a heavy duty mixer. Dunaway's doughs are 'looser' (wetter) than more traditional recipes, and have a shorter mixing time. Those who can overcome learned tendencies for long kneading of firm doughs, can make Dunaway's delicious breads with surprising ease. Le Cordon Bleu Dessert Techniques by Laurent Duchene and Bridget Jones (Cassell, $340) is full of step-by-step colour pictures and detailed instructions. The recipes range from the extremely simple - poached and baked fruits - to the more complex, including puff and strudel pastries. There are also many professional touches that only the most serious cook with a well-equipped kitchen may find easier to attempt. For some reason, the Basic Techniques section does not stress steps that are essential to the success of good desserts: the right way to measure, the importance of using butter at the correct temperature when making pastry, the caution that should be taken when working with caramelised sugars, and how, when working with egg whites, even a minuscule drop of fat can prevent the whites from whipping up. This is not realy a book for beginners, but more for cooks with a basic knowledge of desserts who can use it to expand their repertoire.