THE BOOK AND AUTHOR: "Short & Sweet: Sophisticated Desserts in No Time at All" by Melanie Barnard. A columnist for Bon Appetit magazine, cookbook author and James Beard award winner, Barnard brought years of experience to this project. She is also a self-professed lover of sweets who doesn't think dinner is done until she has had dessert.
PUBLISHER AND PRICE: Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, $25.
FORMAT: After a quick introduction and a rundown of ingredients, the book gets right into recipes. The chapter headings tell you everything: Cool Fruits; Warm Fruits; Frozen Desserts; Fools, Mousses and Cool Custards; Puddings and Souffles; Cookies; Cakes; Tarts and Turnovers; and Candy. If you're really in a hurry, stop browsing and check out the helpful recipe list that opens each chapter.
NUMBER OF RECIPES: More than 150.
TYPE OF RECIPES: There's something for everyone. Grilled fruits, baked cakes and desserts assembled with no cooking whatsoever. There are gratins, sabayons, cheesecakes and brownies. As for flavors--chocolate, coffee, berries, butterscotch and more--Barnard hits all the bases. In addition to being quick to make, the recipes generally have very short ingredient lists.
WHO WOULD USE THIS BOOK: Who wouldn't? The time-stressed, those with short attention spans or anyone in a hurry will appreciate this book. The most time-consuming part of any of these recipes is gathering the ingredients. After that, it really is 30 minutes (or less) and dessert is on. Keep a copy close by for dessert emergencies. And it would be useful at the beach house or summer cabin where no one wants to be stuck in the kitchen.
Broiling is the quickest way to cook fruit, and the fast, intense heat also caramelizes the fruit's exterior. When choosing a mango, look for one that is unblemished and yields slightly to pressure. Bananas are at their best when they are completely yellow, with just a few brownish spots beginning to appear. After that, they become very sweet, but too mushy to remain firm during broiling. Other tropical fruits, such as papayas or pineapple, also taste wonderful prepared in this manner. (From the Warm Fruits chapter.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large, firm bananas, peeled and sliced
1 large mango, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Preheat the broiler. Lightly brush 4 broiler-proof gratin dishes or 1 broiler-proof platter with about 1/2 tablespoon of the butter.
Arrange the banana and mango slices, overlapping, on the dishes or platter and drizzle with the lime juice. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar and allspice; sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Drizzle the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over the fruit.
Broil for about 2 minutes, until the sugar is melted and bubbly and the fruit is golden. Sprinkle with the coconut and broil for about 30 seconds longer, until lightly toasted. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 192 calories, 1 gm protein, 35 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 7 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber
Chocolate Thin Mint Triangles
(Makes 32 large pieces)
These homemade thin mints are every bit as pretty as the fancy store-bought specialties. You can make them in less time than it takes to drive to the candy store. If you can find mint chocolate or mint chocolate chips, substitute them for the semisweet chocolate chips and mint extract. (From the Candy chapter.)
12 ounces (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
6 ounces (1 cup) white chocolate chips
3 to 4 drops green food coloring
Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, allowing a 1-inch overhang on the sides. In a medium bowl set over simmering water or in a microwave oven, gently heat the semisweet chocolate chips until they are nearly melted (1 1/2 to 2 minutes in a microwave, stopping to stir once or twice). Remove from the heat and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Stir in the mint extract. Spread half the melted chocolate evenly over the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate until set, 5 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate chips in the same way. Stir in enough of the food coloring to make the mixture mint green. Spread the green-colored white chocolate over the layer of dark chocolate. Refrigerate until set, 5 to 10 minutes. If the remaining mint chocolate has become too firm to spread, melt it again. Spread the remaining chocolate over the white chocolate layer and refrigerate until set, about 10 minutes.
Use the foil to carefully remove the candy from the pan. Peel off the foil and trim the edges of the chocolate evenly with a knife. Cut the candy into 16 squares (each will be about 2 inches), then cut each square in half to make 32 triangles. Cool to room temperature before serving. (The mints can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 5 days or frozen, wrapped, for up to 1 month.)
Per piece: 79 calories, 1 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 7 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Peach Oatmeal Trifle
I love the combination of peaches, cream and oatmeal for breakfast--and for dessert. Made with crumbled oatmeal cookies, this quick trifle goes together in minutes. You can peel the peaches, if you like, but I rarely do if they are sweet and juicy. (From the Fools, Mousses and Cool Custards chapter.)
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream, chilled
3 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum or maple syrup
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced or coarsely diced ripe peaches (2 large peaches)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup crumbled crisp oatmeal cookies
In a mixing bowl, whip the cream and sugar until soft peaks form. Add the rum or maple syrup and continue whipping until stiff peaks form; set aside.
Toss the peaches with the lemon juice and set aside. In a 1 1/2-quart glass bowl or 4 individual goblets or deep dessert dishes, make a layer of 1/3 of the whipped cream, top with 1/2 of the peaches and sprinkle with 1/2 of the crumbled cookies. Make another layer using 1/2 of the remaining whipped cream and top with the remaining peaches. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the layers and sprinkle with the remaining cookies. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 hours before serving.
Per serving: 573 calories, 9 gm protein, 77 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 82 mg cholesterol, 15 gm saturated fat, 396 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber
Hasty Indian Pudding
Molasses-sweetened cornmeal mush was the original quick-cooking hot breakfast cereal of colonial times, when the settlers labeled anything that used native corn "Indian." Later, Indian pudding evolved into a dessert baked for hours in a slow oven and served warm with sweet cream. This adaptation of one of America's oldest foods incorporates the quickness of the original with the sweetness of the baked dessert.
If the hot pudding is spread in a 9-inch pie plate and chilled until cold, it will become firm enough to cut into wedges. It can then be served as a simple cake that is excellent plain, but even better with a dollop of whipped cream. (From the Puddings and Souffles chapter.)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup light molasses
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice mix
1 pint vanilla or butter-pecan ice cream
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornmeal and salt. Slowly whisk in the milk until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the molasses and spice and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring almost constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, stirring often, until the pudding is very thick and creamy, 8 to 11 minutes.
Spoon the warm pudding into 6 dessert bowls; top each serving with a scoop of ice cream.
Per serving: 332 calories, 8 gm protein, 40 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 94 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 211 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Blueberry Corn Cake
Corn bread is one of my favorite dinner and breakfast breads. With a little sweetening and a shift of the cornmeal and flour proportions, it becomes a dessert cake as well. If fresh blueberries are not in season, fold in dried blueberries or cranberries. Served with a dollop of lemon curd or lemon yogurt, or a scoop of lemon gelato, this homespun dessert becomes worthy of a fancy dinner party. (From the Cakes chapter.)
2/3 cup flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for the pan
1 large egg
1/2 cup blueberries
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8-inch-square baking pan.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cornmeal and baking powder. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, melted butter and egg. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing just until blended. Stir in the blueberries and transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cake is firm and golden. Let cool slightly, then cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
Per serving: 243 calories, 3 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 8 gm saturated fat, 100 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Double Chocolate Pudding
Chocolate pudding is a comfort food at its best, and homemade pudding takes about the same time to make as does a boxed mix. The difference in taste is incomparable, especially when you double the chocolate, as I've done here. If it's a festive occasion, top the puddings with a dollop of whipped cream and a chocolate-covered coffee bean or, if you prefer, a sprig of lavender.
The cooled pudding has a mousselike texture. From the Puddings and Souffles chapter.
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably European-style (alkalized)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups light cream or half-and-half
3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk in 1 cup of the cream until smooth, then whisk in the remaining 1 cup cream. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Continue to whisk and boil for 1 minute longer.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate and vanilla. Let stand for 5 minutes until the chocolate is melted, then stir gently until the pudding is smooth. (Do not stir too much or the pudding may thin out.)
Divide the puddings among 6 small dessert bowls. Let cool for about 20 minutes to serve warm and soft or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 8 hours.
Per serving: 432 calories, 4 gm protein, 40 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 89 mg cholesterol, 19 gm saturated fat, 128 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber
From the Book
There are many good ways to streamline recipes, but using commercially ground nutmeg isn't one of them. A nutmeg grater is on my short list of necessary kitchen gadgets, and grating fresh nutmeg takes about 30 seconds but yields about 300 percent better flavor. If you must use commercially ground nutmeg, buy it in the smallest quantity possible so that you can use it all within a few months and then replace it with a fresh container. Once you've grated it yourself, however, there's no going back!
--From "Short & Sweet: Sophisticated Desserts in No Time at All"