ALAN GINSBURG (the economist, not the poet) had the attention of the entire room. You could have heard a paper napkin drop. He wasn't unappreciative of the attention. But he knew when, and how, to surrender the limelight.

With the stroke of a kitchen knife, he boldly began the destruction of a work of art. It was an orange cake. Under the gauze of candied orange peel and a protective shield of chocolate icing, springy layers of genoise pastry revealed. Thick ribbons of butter cream separated the layers. Pieces of fresh orange gleamed like jewels.

It was his cake. He had made it. And as the crowd surged forward, plates in outstretched hands, Ginsburg was happy. Why? Because behind the facade of a dedicated civil servant (director of elementary and secondary education in the office of the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare) lurks a dessert addict, a man who used to prowl the streets of New York City in search of the perfect pastry or the transcendent torte.

By all acccounts, Ginsburg is an intense person who thrives in a highly competitive atmosphere. But he makes desserts with the innocent passion of a small boy building model airplanes or cars, and he eats them, too. None of this "i really don't enjoy food after i've cooked" attitude from Alan Ginsburg. He claims a full share of his creations (and more, if there are leftovers) and says, modestly, "I'm lucky. I've got a high metabolism."

Friends had come to his Cleveland Park home that day for a dessert festival, the kind of party he likes best. He began conducting these extravaganzas about five years ago, at Christmas time. Now, several times a year, he will be called on to perform for a birthday or a farewell party at the office for a colleague.

"I make other things. I do appetizers like crepes and a boned duck stuffed with pate, but I think I have a better feel for dessert, a better sense of taste than with other kinds of cooking. Also, the chemistry of baking fascinates me, maybe because I used to be a physics major. And I like them better."

There were five different desserts on the table, along with a bowl of whipped cream, cheese and wine. A sixth -- strawberries with zabaglione -- made its appearance later. There were backups, too, for although Ginsburg said only 30 or so friends were in attendence, anyone pinned behind the dinning room table would have doubled

"We don't eat this way regularly," Ginsburg said, waving his knife like a wand over the desserts. "I think we'd kill ourselves. I like to eat salads normally. But anything in moderation is fine."

Ginsburg said he was inspired to become a hobbyist baker when he moved to Washington about 10 years ago and left behind the specialty bakeries of New York. "I'd go into stores for ideas,"he said, "to see what they were doing with decoration. There just wasn't anything here like the pastry shops there, so I tried to recreate desserts myself. "Using Julia Child's books and the visual aide of her television programs and Paula Peck's book of specialty desserts, he taught himself. He has now reached a point where he can describe his baked Alaska as a "trivial" effort and modify recipes to suit his own taste. "I will play with the recipe a little bit," he said, "do the same thing over several times and try variations."

One of the most popular desserts at the party, a chocolate mousse, is a recipe for which he claims no personal credit. "It's Julia Child's" he said "I've never been able to improve on it."

Cooperative dinners, in which the Ginsburgs joined other couples, provided him more mouths to fill and therefore a wider scope. "We have a group that gets together for a big meal on New Year's," he said, "and every couple of months during the year. But we're all so competitive, we were overdoing the food. So we limited it to appetizers and desserts with wines, and that works well."

Alan Ginsburg isn't "into special ingredients," though he does prefer imported cocoa, For most recipes he shops at the supermarket. But he does believe in special equipment. "One thing people forget when they begin to bake is that most people who write cookbooks have good equipment. It's difficult to match their proportions and replicate a recipe exactly using an ordinary mixer. A KitchenAid will beat egg whites higher or make a better-textured batter." But he warns that expense alone won't guarantee success. "I had a gorgeous mixer," he said. "It's so beautiful it's on display in the Museum of Modern Art, and that's where it should stay."

Like Napoleon triumphant, Ginsburg looked out over the nearly clean platter of orange cake, the remains of a meringue layer torte filled with three different butter creams, a small arc of what had been a cream puff ring, the disappearing baked Alaska, and a few strands of whipped cream that lay where the chocolate mousse had stood.

But like the emperor, he was a troubled man despite his success. His mind was on his competitors. He pointed out a woman standing across the room, a friend and co-worker. "My goal," he said with a sigh, "what I really want, "is to make a better napoleon than Gail Wilensky." ZABAGLIONE (4 servings) 6 egg yolks 6 tablespoons sugar 4 tablespoons sherry 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup whipping cream 3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Into a round-bottomed stainless steel bowl put: egg yolks, sugar, sherry, and vanilla extract. Place bowl in a skillet containing simmering water and cook, beating constantly with a wire whisk or a rotary beater, until mixture is very thick. Remove from heat and let sauce cool.

Whip cream until stiff. Fold cream into the egg mixture with orange liqueur. Serve in glasses or cups, or over fresh strawberries. ORANGE BUTTER CREAM TORTE

Place a genoise cake layer (recipe below) on a serving platter. Sprinkle with the orange liqueur-flavored sugar syrup (recipe below). Spread layer with half the butter cream (recipe below).Cover butter cream with chopped fresh orange slices. (Remove all whitee parts and any tough membrane from the orange segments prior to chopping.) Place second layer on top of orange slices. Repeat application of syrup, butter cream and orange slices.

Chill cake for at least 1 hour. Spread top and sides with chocolate glaze (see recipe under Coffee-banana Cream Puff Ring). Sprinkle glazed orange peel over top of cake. Genoise Cake 9 large eggs 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 1/2 cups sifted flour 3/4 cup butter, melted and clarified 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour three 9-inch layer cake pans. In a large bowl combine eggs and sugar. Stir for a minute, or until they are just combined. Set bowlover a saucepan containing several inches of hot water. Water in pan should not touch bowl; nor should it ever be allowed to boil. Place saucepan containing bowl over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until eggs are lukwarm. Heating the eggs helps them whip to greater volume. Stir eggs a few times to prevent them from cooking at bottom of bowl.

Remove bowl from heat and begin to beat with an electric mixer. Beat at high speed for 10 to 15 minutes, until egg mixture becomes light and fluffy, much like whipped cream. Sprinkle flour, a little at a time, on top of the whipped eggs. Fold in gently, adding slightly cooled, clarified butter and vanilla. Folding can be done with electric mixer turner to lowest speed or with a spatula.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake in preheated oven 25 to 30 minutes or until cakes pull away from sides of pans and are springy when touched lightly on top. Remove from pans immediately and cool on cake rack. Glazed Orange Peel 5 thick-skinned oranges(use orange segments for filling) 1 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup water

Remove the outer colored part of the orange skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut into narrow strips about 1 1/2-inches long and 1/16-inch wide Simmer in water for 10 to 12 minutes or until tender when bitten. Drain. Refresh in cold water and dry with a paper towel. Boil the sugar and water in a small saucepan to 230 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in the drained peel. Let the peel stand in the syrup for at least 1/2 hour. Drain when ready to use. Orange Liqueur Syrup 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup water 3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Dissolve sugar in hot water. Stir in orange liqueur. Orange Flavored Buttercream

Prepare buttercream as described in Mocha Meringue Cake (recipe below), but do not flavor. Add 1/4 cup of orange liqueur as flavoring. MOCHA BAKED ALASKA

Place one 9-inch chocolate genoise cake (recipe below) on a metal platter or other serving plate suitable for insertion into oven. Cover cake to within 1 inch of edge with coffee ice cream filling (recipe below). Let harden in freezer.

Cover ice cream with meringue mixture (recipe below under Mocha Meringue Nut Cake). Spread meringue over ice cream with a spatula.. Make certain ice cream is covered compoletely, since the meringue insulates it from the oven heat. Sprinkle top of meringue with about 1/2 cup of sifted confectioners' sugar. Set in uppermiddle level of preheated 450-degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes to brown meringue lightly. Return to freezer if not served immediately. Ice Cream Filling 3/4 of half gallon of coffee ice cream, softened 1 1/2 ounces (1 shot glass) of coffee liqueur

Place ice cream in bowl of an electric mixer and beat until smooth. Add coffee liqueur and beat until blended with ice cream. Refreeze until nearly hard and then top chocolate cake with ice cream. Chocolate Genoise Cake

Make genoise recipe described in orange butter cream torte, but substitute sifted cocoa for half the flour.

This recipe is sufficient for 3 cakes. Reduce ingredients proportionately

For a lesser number. Cakes freeze well, however. MOCHA MERINGUE NUT CAKE (10 servings)

Place a meringue layer (recipe below) on serving platter and spread with the coffee butter cream (recipe below). Top with second meringue layer and spread with cognac cream (recipe below). Spread approximately 1/3 cup of apricot jam on third meringue layer. Place on top of second layer, with jam side facing down. Frost sides and top with chocolate butter cream and sprinkle top heavily with confectioners' sugar.

Carefully peel waxed paper from bottom of chocolate wafers and decorate the sides of the cake with these circles, all the way around. Mergingue 2 1/2 cups blanched almonds 1 1/2 cups sugar 8 egg whites Pinch of salt 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place blanched almonds on a cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until brown, shaking occasionally. Let cool. Grind nuts until very fine in a food processor or blender.

Reduce oven to 250 degrees. Beat egg whites until stiff (reserve yolks for butter cream), adding a pinch of salt and cream of tartar when the egg white mixture is foamy. Gradually fold in the sugar-nut mixture to the egg whites. Heavily butter 2 baking sheets. Mark 3 rectangles about 12-inches long and 5-inches wide. Spread these rectangles thickly with the meringue-nut mixture. Bake in the low oven for about 45 minutes, or until crusty on top, but still some what pliable.

Carefully remove rectangle using a long thin knife to separate meringue from cookie sheet. If meringues have spread during cooking, cut to appropriate size. Congac-Coffee-Chocolate Butter Cream Filling 1 cup sugar 1/3 cup water 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar 8 egg yolks 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut in pieces 1 tablespoon instant coffee 1 tablespoon congnac 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

In saucepan combine sugar, water and cream of tartar. Boil rapidly to 238 degrees on a candy thermometer. Gradually beat the hot syrup into 8 egg yolks, and continue to beat until the mixture is cool and thick.Beat in bit by bit unsalted butter.

Meaure 1 cup of the butter cream and flavor it with 1 tablespoon of instant coffee dissolved in a tablespoon of water. Take a second cup and flavor it with cognac. Melt semi-sweet chocolate with 1 tablespoon water and stir into remaining butter cream.

Chill all cream until firm enough to spread. Chocolate Wafers

Melt 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate over hot water. Cut circles 2 1/2 inches in diameter from waxed paper and spread these rounds with a thin coating of the melted chocolate. Place rounds on a cookie sheet and chill in refrigerator. Coffee-banana cream puff ring (10 servings)

Set oven temperature at 375 degrees. On a lightly greased baking sheet, form a 9-inch ring of cream puff dough (recipe below), about 2 inches wide and 3/4-inch high, using a spatula to shape ring. Brush all over with 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes until ring is puffed and brown. Insert a small sharp knife into 5 or 6 places in the sides to release steam. Reduce oven to 325 degrees and continue baking 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until cake seems crisp and dry. Remove from oven and cool on rack.

Split cream puff ring in half. Frost top half with chocolate glaze (recipe below). Just before serving, pile high bottom half of ring with coffee flavored whipped cream (recipe below). Slice 2 large ripe bananas over cream. Replace top. Cream Puff Dough 1 cup unsalted butter 2 cups of water 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 6 to 8 eggs

Combine butter and water in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is boiling. Turn heat to very low.

Add flour mixed with salt, all at once. Stir vigorously until a ball forms in center of pan. This takes several minutes.

Remove from heat. Add 6 eggs, 1 at a time, beating hard after each addition. This beating can be done in an electric mixer or a food processor. The final 2 eggs should be lightly beaten and added gradually until the paste is just stiff enough to stand in a peak when a spoon is withdrawn. Coffee Flavored Whipped Cream 3 cups whipping cream 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Using a well-chilled mixing bowl and beater, beat cream until stiff. Beat in confectioners' sugar and dissolved coffee.

Option: To prepare whipped cream ahead of time, add gelatin during beating as follows. Soften 1 1/2 teaspoons of gelatin in a small metal cup containing 3 tablespoons of cold water. Let soften. Set cup over low heat until gelatin dissolves.When slightly cool, beat dissolved gelatin into the cream just as the cream begins to thicken. Chocolate Glaze 1 cup dark, unsweetened cocoa, sifted Pinch of salt 2/3 cup whipping cream 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a heavy sauce pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and thick, about 5 minutes. Let mixture stop bubbling. Add vanilla.

Use while hot to glaze cream puff ring.