Impress last-minute guests — or satisfy your own sweet tooth — with quick and delicious cookies, mango parfait, cheesecake tarts and more! In her new cookbook, "Dessert Express," Lauren Chattman shares tips and recipes for creating decadent desserts without slaving in the kitchen. An excerpt and recipes.
Express routes to quick desserts
As I developed the recipes for this book, I realized I was consistently relying on a few shortcuts to arrive at a wide variety of desserts in 30 minutes. Here are some of my favorite express routes to satisfying anybody’s sweet tooth. You can see how they work in my recipes, and you may want to try them to speed up some of your own recipes:
It takes less time to make 16 green tea and white chocolate truffles than it does to make 60. Likewise, making 12 fig shortbread bites is quicker than making three dozen. Anytime that it made sense to cut the yield of a recipe to make it more manageable, I did so, often with significant time savings.
Not only did I shrink yields, I often miniaturized the desserts themselves. A full-size Bundt® cake can take an hour and 15 minutes to bake. Divide the batter into six small portions to make mini Bundt cakes and you can have them in and out of the oven in 20 minutes.
Turn up the heat
It stands to reason that cakes and cookies will bake more quickly at higher temperatures. So I gravitated toward baked goods that would do well in hotter ovens. Thus, an apple pizza made with sturdy frozen pizza dough bakes at 500 degrees for 15 minutes, as do fruit shortcakes, which take a mere 12 minutes. I did sometimes miscalculate, burning a batch of cocoa madeleines in a 425-degree oven before baking them to perfection at 375 degrees, and winding up with “blackbottom” rather than blueberry upside-down cakes after baking my first batch at 450 degrees. But in hopes of shaving minutes off of baking time whenever possible, I continued to push the envelope with items that usually bake at a relatively low temperature, nudging the thermostat to 375 degrees for Mini Goat Cheese Cakes when most cheesecakes bake at 325 degrees or lower.
Often, I’d prepare a dessert in well under 30 minutes, only to find myself waiting impatiently for it to cool down to a comfortable temperature for eating. So I did the same thing I do when I want to chill a bottle of white wine in minutes: I got out a big bowl, filled it with ice and water, and submerged the bottom of the hot pan in an ice bath to quickly bring down the dessert’s temperature. Everything from mini goat cheese cakes to tapioca pudding to Greek honey and sesame candy got this treatment when the clock was ticking.
Sometimes, using the freezer made more sense. Small items like chocolate-covered grapes and Almond Joy® bonbons needed just 5 to 10 minutes of chilling before they were ready to serve.
Think outside the box — or the oven
If it was impossible to bake a batch of cookies in the oven in under 30 minutes, I’d try to bake them somewhere else. A waffle iron can cook cookie dough in a minute and a half. Drop dough into hot oil and you can have cloudlike deep-fried ricotta fritters in about 3 minutes. Baked fruit turnovers take forever, but turnover-like Grilled Goat Cheese & Nectarine Sandwiches made in a frying pan become crisp and golden in 5 to 7 minutes. To save time, I tried other unconventional cooking methods, like making Rocky Road Brownies and Maple Caramel Baked Apples in the microwave and Peanut Butter Cup S’Mores in the broiler. Strawberries with Warm Rhubarb Sauce & Amaretti® was designed to resemble an oven-baked crisp, although it never goes near an oven. Instead, it consists of uncooked strawberries topped with sweetened stewed rhubarb and sprinkled with crisp crushed cookies.
Use convenient ingredients
I have never used a commercial pie crust, a box of instant pudding, or a tub of nondairy whipped topping in my desserts. The artificial and inferior flavors these products bring to any dessert cancel out any time-saving benefits gained. There are, however, a number of convenient ingredients with integrity that do give my recipes a jumpstart. Here are my favorites:
Chocolate: For chocoholics, chocolate eaten out of hand is the ultimate quick dessert. But its versatility in helping to create new desserts is unparalleled. Melted, it can coat small bunches of grapes; combined with peanut butter it becomes an outstanding sundae sauce; whisked with some heavy cream and a little bit of brandy it is a fondue; let the ganache thicken and you can use it to sandwich two cookies together; chocolate puddings and mousses are so simple to make and always crowd-pleasers. There isn’t a chapter in this book that doesn’t contain a selection of chocolate desserts.
Whipped cream: Like chocolate, a whipped cream garnish is sometimes all you need to transform a basic ingredient or simple dessert item into a real dessert. I use it to frost simple cakes, to layer with fruit and shortcakes, to fold together with fruit purée to make a fruit fool, to top a banana split or a sundae, and in so many other ways. Avoid commercial whipped cream in a can. It never has the same fresh taste as homemade whipped cream. Instead, take a minute or two to combine heavy cream in the mixer with sugar to taste (I like 1 cup cream with 2 tablespoons sugar), and whip it until it just holds stiff peaks. Don’t overwhip it, or it will become grainy and eventually separate.
Cookies: Not only do I dress up store-bought cookies by sandwiching them with buttercream or dipping them in chocolate, I use ladyfingers to garnish a mascarpone mousse or crumbled butter waffle cookies to layer with ice cream and berries for butter waffle ice cream parfaits. There are plenty of tasty choices on the supermarket shelves. If you base your dessert on ready-made cookies, you’ll be several steps ahead before you even begin to cook.
Unusual doughs: I love to find quick alternatives to traditional pastry doughs. Frozen pizza dough is great for making rustic fruit tarts. Tortillas can stand in for crepes and can even be transformed into quick cookies. Phyllo dough is crisp and flaky like puff pastry, but it bakes up much more quickly.
Instant grains: Unlike instant chocolate or butterscotch puddings, which are loaded with sugar and artificial colorings and flavorings, instant tapioca and couscous are unadulterated grains that simply cook very quickly. Add your own cream, sugar, and other flavoring ingredients and you can have a luscious pudding dessert on the table in 15 minutes or less. Use the recipes I have here as guides to improvise your own versions.
Excerpted from “Dessert Express.” Copyright (c) 2008 by Lauren Chattman. Reprinted with permission from The Taunton Press.