As the weather heats up, I often feel like disconnecting the oven--the last thing I want to do is turn it on and heat up the kitchen! But my baking instinct and the desire for desserts don't seem to go on summer vacation. So rather than pulling the plug on the oven, I use a less drastic approach and "bake" with the help of good store-bought ingredients.
It's dessert by assembly--with a minimum of measuring and mixing. In fact, you can keep the oven turned off for all but one of these desserts.
The key to making a dessert with prepared ingredients is to use products that taste good by themselves. On my supermarket trips, I always find new ideas as I walk up and down the aisles. Ice cream and fresh summer fruit are the most obvious ingredients, but there are many other options waiting on those shelves.
I buy my favorite candy bars to crush for a crunchy toffee topping or to cut into pieces for a chewy addition to an ice cream pie. Caramels need only to be unwrapped and melted quickly with cream for an easy sauce. Try slicing store-bought angel food cake into layers and filling it with ice cream, fruit or whipped cream or brushing it with a sweetened liqueur syrup that adds flavor and moistness.
Lemon curd, now widely available in supermarkets, provides an instant filling for pies or for squares of crisp puff pastry. (But remember, especially regarding lemon curd, quality counts. I find the opaque mixtures better than the clear.)
If you're willing to bake just a little, sheets of puff pastry from the supermarket freezer case can be rolled and cut into various shapes. When weighted with a wire cake rack, the pastry bakes flat and crisp.
And this baking is so quick and easy that it can be done early in the morning, before the heat of the day, without losing your cool.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake
Looking at the ingredients, you would never know how good this dish is. When I first tasted it at a Sunday afternoon English tea, I thought it was some complicated mousse mixture. Boy, was I surprised when my friend Rosemarie Robertson shared her recipe.
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup dry sherry
14 large (3-inch) home-style chocolate chip cookies, such as Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Chunk Classic cookies
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream, sugar and vanilla on high speed until firm peaks form. Set aside.
Pour the sherry into a small bowl. Quickly dip the bottoms of 4 cookies into the sherry and arrange them bottom-sides down in a 2-quart serving bowl. Spread about 1 cup of the whipped cream mixture over the cookies. Repeat to form 2 more layers of cookies and cream, spreading any remaining whipped cream over the top layer of cookies. Crumble the remaining 2 cookies over the whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Spoon into individual dishes to serve.
Per serving: 310 calories, 2 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, 26 gm fat, 88 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 61 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Raspberry Angel Torte
This elegant cake is actually an angel cake split into four layers, brushed with a Grand Marnier syrup, then filled and frosted with pink raspberry whipped cream.
For the syrup:
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
For the filling and topping:
1 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
1 1/2 cups raspberries
12-ounce angel food cake
For the syrup: Heat the water and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the Grand Marnier. Cool. (Syrup may be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
For the filling and topping: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream, confectioners' sugar, vanilla and Grand Marnier until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 cup of the raspberries and beat to firm peaks.
Using a serrated knife, cut the angel food cake into four layers. Transfer each layer to a flat surface, making sure the top and bottom have their cut sides face up. Brush the top of each layer with the Grand Marnier syrup.
To assemble: Place the top layer of the cake, cut-side up, on a serving platter, so that the browned top of the cake now becomes the bottom. Spread the layer with the whipped cream. Add another layer of the cake and spread it with whipped cream. Repeat with the remaining 2 layers. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top and sides. Arrange the fresh raspberries over the top. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
Per serving: 319 calories, 4 gm protein, 37 gm carbohydrates, 17 gm fat, 62 mg cholesterol, 10 gm saturated fat, 234 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber
Mocha Toffee Cookies and Cream Roll
When I was growing up, my mother made this cookie roll our usual Sunday lunch dessert. She used a traditional vanilla whipped cream with the chocolate cookies, but my version has a coffee whipped cream topped with crushed toffee.
1 3/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9-ounce box Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
1/2 cup (about 2 3/4 ounces) crushed toffee candy, such as Heath Bars
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream, coffee, sugar and vanilla on high speed until firm peaks form. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the whipped cream mixture over the bottom of 1 chocolate wafer. Repeat, placing 1 cream-topped wafer on top of another to form a stack of 8 cookies. Tip the stack on its side on a platter, forming a log. Continue adding wafer and cream layers until the log is 12 inches long.
Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top, sides and ends of the log and sprinkle the crushed toffee over the top. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or as long as overnight to soften the cookies slightly. Slice and serve.
Per serving: 322 calories, 3 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 64 mg cholesterol, 13 gm saturated fat, 221 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Caramel Milky Way Ice Cream Pie
(6 to 8 servings)
My friend Rosie Levitan first made this caramel sauce for me more than 20 years ago when she lived in Georgia.
1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream
5 ounces caramels
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
9-inch (6-ounce) prepared graham cracker crumb crust
2 pints vanilla or butter pecan ice cream, softened just until spreadable
Two 2.05-ounce Milky Way bars, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
In a small saucepan, heat the cream and caramels over low heat, stirring often, until the caramels melt and the sauce is smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool slightly.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the caramel sauce over the crust. Spread the softened ice cream over the crust. Sprinkle the candy pieces over the ice cream and drizzle with the remaining caramel sauce.
Freeze the pie for about 30 minutes to allow the caramel to harden. Wrap the pie with plastic wrap and then with heavy aluminum foil. Freeze overnight or for as long as 1 week. Slice and serve frozen.
Per serving (based on 8): 540 calories, 7 gm protein, 61 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 135 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 265 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Triple Lemon Stacks
These puff pastry squares filled with lemon curd and sweetened mascarpone could be served at your fanciest summer party. Weighting puff pastry with a wire rack as it bakes lets the dough brown yet produces a thin ultra-crisp pastry.
Flour for rolling the pastry
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of a 17.25-ounce package), thawed
3/4 cup mascarpone cheese*
3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, plus additional for dusting
1/2 cup lemon curd
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry sheet to a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Cut the pastry into twelve 3-inch squares. Place the squares 1 inch apart on the baking sheet and prick the pastry with a fork. Place a wire rack over the pastry squares to weigh them down. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. Cool for 5 minutes. Loosen the pastry squares from the baking sheet with a spatula and slide them onto a rack to cool. (The pastry can be baked up to 1 day ahead, wrapped tightly and stored at room temperature.)
Combine the mascarpone cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl and mix until smooth.
Set 4 of the pastry squares aside. Lay out the remaining eight squares in a row. First, top each of these squares with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mascarpone mixture. Then spread 1 tablespoon of the lemon curd over each mascarpone-topped square. Top 1 of the mascarpone-and-lemon-topped squares with 1 of the set-aside pastry squares. Then place the pastry-topped square on top of another of the mascarpone- and lemon-topped squares. You will have a stack with 2 layers of mascarpone and lemon sandwiched between 3 layers of pastry. Think of it as a triple-decker sandwich. Repeat with the remaining squares until you have 4 stacks. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve.
* Note: Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese. It is available in the specialty cheese section of most major supermarkets.
Per serving: 639 calories, 8 gm protein, 50 gm carbohydrates, 46 gm fat, 219 mg cholesterol, 19 gm saturated fat, 284 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Peach-Butterscotch Cream Pie
(6 to 8 servings)
Whipping butterscotch sundae sauce with cream makes a quick butterscotch topping for this fresh peach pie.
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup jarred butterscotch sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
9-inch (6-ounce) prepared vanilla wafer crumb pie crust
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream, butterscotch sauce and vanilla on high speed until firm peaks form. Set aside.
Arrange the peach pieces in an even layer over the crumb crust. Then spread the butterscotch mixture over the peaches. Cover carefully and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or as long as overnight. Serve cold.
Per serving (based on 8): 270 calories, 2 gm protein, 25 gm carbohydrates, 19 gm fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 157 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Elinor Klivans's latest book is "125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble and Savor" (Broadway Books, $25).
CAPTION: Split an angel cake into layers, brush with Grand Marnier syrup, then fill and frost with raspberry cream.