I went so big on adaptable dinner ideas last week that I decided to step back and focus on just a few favorites when it comes to desserts. At least that’s my excuse—I actually find it easy to skip dessert, far easier than running out of cheese. When I do crave dessert, I’m often just as happy with a couple of squares of dark chocolate alongside a nightcap. But the rest of my family would disagree that dessert is expendable. My dad just bragged about how since he’s buying groceries less often, he’s cut back to two desserts a day.
So for those with a sweet tooth, I highlight some recipes that can likely be made without a trip to the store. As a bonus, some take minimal prep time, and some don’t require dessert staples, like flour, that may be in short supply. I also give you the simplest cookie recipe you’ll ever find—shortbread—and plenty of ideas for gussying it up.
Freezers can be both the source and the storage for desserts. When I want to make a dessert, I often start by digging through my frozen fruit collection. And when I want to serve a dessert without effort, it’s often waiting in the freezer to be eaten.
If you’ve been housebound for weeks now, you’ve probably gone through your stash of frozen cookies and other prebaked goods. But if you have some fruit—fresh or frozen—and sweetener, you can keep your dessert bowl full without a trip to the store. These are just two options:
- Homemade Sorbet: These sorbet recipes are written to be adapted to whatever fruit you have available, with an option for fresh and one for frozen. Unlike ice cream, you don’t need special equipment: you just need some type of blender or food processor and a flat pan. Check the Tips & Tricks for each recipe for some of my favorite flavors.
- Fruit Syrup: As with sorbets, I’ve written fruit syrup instructions so that you can use whatever you have, again in fresh or frozen form. Although both recipes include canning instructions, you can simply keep the syrups in the fridge or freeze them. Pour them over any dessert base you might top with a sweet sauce, beat them with cream, or layer them with yogurt or custard in a parfait. They also deliciously upgrade breakfasts and cocktails. Don’t toss the solids: they can be baked into pies or crisps (see below).
For many people, making dessert at home brings to mind baking, sometimes in a complex, multilayer process. But many baked goods, like pies, come together better and faster the more you make them. Other desserts look so pretty you’d be shocked by how little effort they take. Here are some of my favorite dessert recipes, along with tips on how vary the ingredients:
- Apple Crumble Pie: I love crumble-top pies because I only need to make and roll out one crust—one that’s buried under the filling and doesn’t have to be perfect. The recipe doesn’t stop with apple: Pear, peach, cherry, berry, and other fruits work well under a crumble crust.
- Rhubarb–Huckleberry Galette: Galettes are free-form tarts that are sort of a lazy version of pie: you still roll out a base crust, but then everything just gets tucked inside it and baked on a tray. This recipe uses all-purpose flour, but traditional variations include gluten-free buckwheat and whole wheat. If necessary, you can dial back the crust ingredients to just flour, salt and butter (or salted butter), and water. Think broadly when you fill it: various fruits, creamy cheeses, nuts, and chocolate work well. It can even hold a savory filling for lunch or dinner.
- Rhubarb Crisp: Crisps are an even easier dessert than pies or galettes and can be made with any fruit, fresh or frozen, and sweetened to taste. I often make a lazy crumble topping using premixed grains or just a sprinkling of homemade granola.
- Baked Rice Pudding: This recipe starts with eggs, dairy, and rice. The other ingredients are optional or replaceable; even the eggs and milk can be exchanged for nondairy milk. Coconut milk can also be substituted into Golden Baked Custard.
- Sourdough: Although I haven’t yet ventured into full-blown sourdough desserts, two of my favorite sourdough recipes have enough sweetness to double. Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls with Buttermilk Glaze seem less decadent if I eat them as dessert rather than breakfast. They feel even more dessert-like with a chocolate or jam filling or a drizzle of Chocolate Ganache or Fresh Caramel Sauce.
Sweet Sourdough Focaccia, when topped with fruit and honeyed nuts or served with a layer of Berry Curd or, again, ganache, quickly lands in the dessert category. If you’re tempted by these recipes but don’t have starter, read this post—I’m giving away my starter all month.
Twice as Tasty
In the dessert category, cookies always seem easy. But although the process is simple, the ingredient list can be lengthy. My shortest everyday cookie recipe, Snickerdoodles, still lists 10 ingredients. The tastiest cookie doughs often combine a couple of types of sugar and flour, baking powder and baking soda, and eggs and other ingredients that may be in short supply.
But cookies don’t have to be so multilayered. Take the simplest cookie: shortbread. It needs just 3 ingredients: sweetener, fat, and flour. It easily scales up or down because it’s built in the perfect kitchen ratio: 1-2-3. And because it’s so simple, you can alter every batch and still know you’ll end up with a tasty cookie.
I simply adapted the shortbread shown here by replacing the plain ingredients with flavored butters and sugars: sage–mint butter, nasturtium butter, lilac-infused sugar, and lemon zest sugar. But you can go bigger until the cookies even look entirely different. Once you start baking shortbread variations, read some of your favorite cookie recipes. Chances are, you’ll find they’re built on the basics of shortbread.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 3 ingredients.
1. Make the dough.
2. Roll out and cut out the cookies.
3. Bake and enjoy.
Improv Shortbread Cookies
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
In a medium bowl, cream the sugar and butter until evenly mixed. Fold in the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing until it just forms a ball. Lift the dough onto waxed or parchment paper, and then press it into a thick rectangle with your hands. Fold the paper around it and chill for about 1 hour.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle: a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle will make about 20 2-inch rounds; thinner, smaller bars may yield about 40 cookies. Cut the dough into circles using the rim of a glass or cookie or biscuit cutter, or slice it into bars with a metal bench scraper or large knife. Place the cookies about 1/2 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 300°F for about 20 minutes, until lightly colored. Gently transfer them to a rack to cool. Makes 20–40 cookies.
Tips & Tricks
- Granulated sugar is a traditional shortbread sweetener. Brown sugar gives a darker, chewier cookie. Agave or honey will create a sweeter cookie. Replacing some sugar with molasses builds a good spice cookie base. Herb-Infused Sugar, like lavender or basil, adds sweetness and flavor.
- Salted butter works here, but choose unsalted butter if you’re adding Salt-Preserved Herbs, like rosemary or thyme. If you have Herb Butter in your freezer, bring it to room temperature and mix it in. Or replace some of the butter with coconut oil for a lighter cookie.
- All-purpose flour makes a light, crispy cookie. Swap in whole-wheat pastry flour, and you’ll come closer to a British digestive biscuit. Go gluten-free with almond flour (it may need to be shaped into balls and pressed flat, instead of rolled). The list goes on.
- I make shortbread by hand so that I can feel it come together, like pie crust. But some people prefer an electric mixer or food processor. You can skip the chilling time to get these cookies in your belly more quickly, but the cold wait will make it easier to roll the dough.
- Now comes the fun part: what else is in your cupboard? Shape the dough into balls and roll them in chopped nuts. Grate in some citrus zest, mix in finely chopped crystalized ginger, or mince in a couple of teaspoons of fresh herbs. Add spices, extracts, or seeds; start with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of each until you find a favorite blend. Fold 3 ounces of melted chocolate or softened nut butter in with the butter. Brush the tops with a little milk or egg wash and sprinkle them with raw or flavored sugar before baking. Alternatively, dip the cooled cookies in the melted chocolate, or turn them into sandwiches with chocolate, nut butter, or jam.
Need sourdough starter? Round 2 of the Annual Sourdough Giveaway runs through April 30, 2020. Get your free sourdough starter here. If you aren’t ready to bake with sourdough but plan to try other recipes, be sure to join the Twice as Tasty Challenge by becoming a newsletter subscriber; click here to subscribe.