Help me become a dessert queen.....
August 22, 2014 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I need to make a dessert for a birthday party next week. There will be about 30 people there I think, but desserts are definitely not my forte. My dessert making experience includes: Banana Bread, Chocolate chip cookies, banoffee pie, fruit crumbles and a not great cheesecake. I did not bake ANY cookies as a child and in general, I love cooking but not baking. Also, I will not have use of an oven on the night, so I need to pre-make my dessert and bring it with me.

My brain is addled from a VERY busy August and I haven't come up for air in weeks. I'm feeling overwhelmed and bereft of any ideas of what I can make. I want to keep it fairly simple if I can because I don't have muffin pans or cupcake pans and I definitely don't want to have to buy any for this event.
There won't be an oven available on the night either, so I'll be bringing dessert with me, which means it should be served at room temperature and be able to make one day in advance.

All I can think to bring are cookies - but I've made cookies twice in my life with a 50% success rate. Can you either suggest your fail safe AMAZING cookie recipes or suggest another easy dessert that I can bring?

{I don't want to buy a dessert because I'm also bringing an appetizer to the event which will likely be store bought (I ADORE cooking but like I said, it's been a massively hectic and emotional August and I just can't face making two things from scratch) THANKS in advance for any suggestions!}
posted by JenThePro to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
These are the best brownies ever (Oprah and America's Test Kitchen don't lie).
posted by cecic at 10:00 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify, is there a separate festive cake thing? are you bringing the main/only dessert for 30 people?

If this just a dessert contribution to a potluck, take brownies. Use a 9x13 casserole dish, and a mix from the supermarket. To make it fancy, sprinkle 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and/or 1/2 c chopped pecans over the batter before you put it in the oven.
posted by aimedwander at 10:00 AM on August 22, 2014

This time of year, fruit crumbles are really great, because there's so much good fruit. Peaches and blackberries are a good combination. I think crumble is good at room temperature. You could bring ice cream to serve it with.
posted by quaking fajita at 10:00 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is it OK to bring something that needs plates and forks?

Depending on where you live, it might be blackberry season. This recipe for blackberry cobbler is very similar to the kind my granny's been making for years. Everybody loves cobbler.
posted by mochapickle at 10:01 AM on August 22, 2014

Cake Mix Cookies. Ten minutes prep, ten minutes to cook, and the almost-impossible-to-ruin boxed cake mix goodness.
posted by 1066 at 10:02 AM on August 22, 2014

Easiest, most delicious dessert ever, and it blows people's minds.

Requires no baking, and the only "cooking" is whipping some cream. Make 2, freeze them, and don't defrost before taking them to the party.
posted by Dolley at 10:02 AM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you have made chocolate chip cookies and banana bread, how about chocolate chip banana bread cookies? I have made this recipe quite a few times (and use chocolate chips instead of nuts). The consistency is like a muffin top. They're awesome, easy, and not particularly labor intensive.

You could also make a pie. Pies are much, much easier than people think they are, especially if you use a pre-made crust.

How to pie:

Buy a disposable pie pan (less than $1)
Buy a pre-made/pre-rolled pie crust (in the freezer aisle)
Buy a pile of whatever fruit your store has that looks really good right now (blackberries? blueberries? peaches? some mixture of those things?)

-If your fruit isn't already bite-sized (like a berry), cut them into slightly larger than bite-sized pieces and dump them in a bowl. You'll want a few cups worth, about 5 should fill up a standard pie size.
-To this bowl add: a few tablespoons of juice (orange, lemon, grape, whatever), 3/4 to 1 cup of sugar, and a few shakes of cinnamon. Stir it up and let it sit there for about 10 minutes to get the fruit all macerated.
-Add 4-5 tablespoons of flour or cornstarch to thicken, stir it up, let it sit for another 5 minutes.
-Dump this into your pie crust. Top it with the other pie crust. Stab it a few times to give it some vent holes.
-Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden and you can see fruit ooze oozing out.
posted by phunniemee at 10:05 AM on August 22, 2014

This is my cookie recipe that has people begging me to make them for every occasion, the sell out like crazy at bakesales. I'm making some tonight actually! Its really simple and makes about 18 cookies. For 30 people I would probably make 3 batches as they really are popular.

170g Melted Butter
200g Light Brown Muscovado Sugar
100g Caster Sugar
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
2 Medium Eggs
250g Plain Flour
1/2 tsp Bicarb
1/2 tsp Salt
300g chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 170c. Mix the butter and sugars until well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour, salt and bicarb. Add in the chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed.
Scoop balls of the dough onto a cold baking sheet (if its really warm, it helps to chill the dough first until its firm). I have a scoop that holds 3 tablespoons of dough, I find that makes a good sized cookie. Leave plenty of space between each ball.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until the edges have started to brown and the middles have just set. Leave them to cool on the baking sheet for around 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
posted by missmagenta at 10:05 AM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

-Chocolate pudding pie (jello pudding, oreo crust, assemble)

-Chocolate mousse

-Saute bananas in butter w/ orange zest or orange liqueur, serve w/ ice cream

-Bring ingredients for a sundae bar
posted by melissasaurus at 10:08 AM on August 22, 2014

The Smitten Kitchen recipe posted today would be perfect for this: Strawberries and Cream with Graham Crumbles.
posted by something something at 10:08 AM on August 22, 2014

A trifle would be easy to put together, good in advance, and delicious, but if it's the only dessert for 30 people it might not be feasible to transport.

Ice cream bar? Three or four flavors, some toppings, loads of spoons.

Cream puffs or profiteroles with a slightly fancy whipped cream center, like Bailey's or coffee, some fresh strawberries or other fruits, some chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. I did these for a group of 18 and with multiple pans/cooling racks, it was much easier than I thought and very easy to finish and put out.

Icebox cake!

Also, the absolute easiest cookies are variants on Magic Cookie bars (though we used M&Ms instead of nuts growing up.) Honestly in high school I didn't even measure anything-- melt a bar of butter, dump in enough graham cracker crumbs, pour on the sweetened condensed milk, bedeck with coconut et al.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:08 AM on August 22, 2014

Also, trifle! You basically cube up unfrosted cake (frozen pound cake, soemthing from the supermarket bakery, packet of ladyfingers, etc), make a batch of instant pudding, obtain coolwhip or whipped cream, and choose a fruit of your choice (berries, chopped peaches, whatever you like). Take a large clear glass bowl if you've got one, or really any deep container, and layer these things in. arrange berries decoratively on top of the last whipped cream layer. Take a bow.

Should be refrigerated, but that really just means setting the bowl on top of a bunch of freezer icepacks in a cardboard box and putting a towel over the top.
posted by aimedwander at 10:08 AM on August 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

This Cookie Cake is a bit more desert-like but more work - if you make 2 layers and stack them like a cake, it easily serves 30.
posted by missmagenta at 10:12 AM on August 22, 2014

Seconding aimedwander with trifle. Nigella Lawson once recommended using chocolate pound cake, chocolate pudding, and cherry preserves to make it a "black forest trifle".

There's also English "summer pudding", which actually benefits from being made in advance - and all you need is slices of white bread, 8 cups of berries, sugar and a little bit of something like brandy or port.

Line a bowl with slices of white bread, then dump the berries into a pan with the sugar and cook for a bit so they mush some. Spike that with the port or the brandy. Then dump that into the bowl-with-the-bread, and cover with another layer of bread slices - then put something heavy on top of that and refrigerate overnight. Unmold that from the bowl onto a plate, and serve with whipped cream. (The juices from the berries will soak into the bread and the weight will compress the whole thing into a lump of nom. A more detailed recipe is here.)

And then there's also Eton Mess, which is just crushed-up meringue cookies and strawberries stirred into whipped cream.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:19 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Super easy and beloved by all: Brown butter rice krispie treats. Half a box of crispy rice cereal, a bag of marshmallows, a stick of butter, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp vanilla. Melt the butter and then leave it on the stove until the solids separate out and it looks brown. Then turn off the heat, mix in the salt and vanilla, dump in the marshmallows. Stir occasionally until the marshmallows are melted. Pour in the cereal and stir. Butter an 8x8 baking dish and pour the mixture in there, pressing down the top so it's flat and firm. Wait an hour or so for it to set. You can make this the night before and it will be fine. The brown butter and vanilla make a big difference in the taste.

I wouldn't make this if it were the ONLY dessert at the party, but it sounds like there will be other things too.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:41 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

FUDGE. No baking. Just a few hours to let it cool. Handful of ingredients. If you put sprinkles or nuts on the top it's festive. And people will INHALE it. I don't have my recipe close at hand but basically any recipe will work - make it fancier with nicer chocolate. Here's a five-star Food Network recipe.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2014

Oh and there's also Peanut Butter Fudge. Mmmm.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 10:44 AM on August 22, 2014

Simple desserts to make that don't require day-of refrigeration/special equipment and can be eaten as finger food:

Rice Krispie Treats (2nding this) - the recipe is on the package. Plain is fine, you can fancy it up by stirring in chocolate chips or peanut butter or Kahlua or pick-your-favorite chips. Adding vanilla also ups the flavor ante.

Stuffed cake - make a cake (any kind will do, packaged cake mix cake is fine). Beat 8oz of cream cheese with 1/3 cup of sugar until smooth, then stir in some jam to taste (strawberry works great, but any berry should do), so you get a fruity cream cheese. Slice cake in half, spread the cream cheese on the bottom layer, put the top layer on, freeze. Once hardened, slice into squares.

I always get rave reviews with the rice krispie treats (the peanut butter ones, which is just adding 1/2 cup of pb to the mix, go FAST) and anything with the cream cheese filling (swirl it in brownie mixes, cake mixes, etc.). Very simple, very tasty.
posted by sazanka at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2014

I'm feeling overwhelmed

You can buy cookie dough and it will help up your success rate but still be "homemade". You can get premade dough, usually near the butter section of a grocery store that you just form and bake. But you can also get dry cookie mix next to the cake mixes. They usually require you to add an egg and maybe some butter or oil. I'd suggest peanut butter and/or chocolate chip for one batch and then something fancier for the second batch.
posted by soelo at 11:05 AM on August 22, 2014

I can't tell if you will be able to keep something refrigerated until you get there but banana pudding is pretty no-bake and can be made a day ahead. Some people prefer it that way.
posted by rdnnyc at 11:43 AM on August 22, 2014

YMMV, but people continually pester me to bring s'moreos whenever we're having a potluck or picnic, and they're incredibly easy to make.

* Twist apart an Oreo.
* Cut/slice a large marshmallow in half.
* Place the Oreo half face-down on a lined baking sheet and top with a marshmallow half.
* Broil in oven until marshmallow is toasted.
* Optionally, spread Nutella/peanut butter/jam on the other Oreo half.
* Reassemble Oreo.
posted by evoque at 11:45 AM on August 22, 2014

The solution is TIRAMISU! No baking required, tastes better if it's made one day ahead and can be served at room temperature (should be refrigerated over night). Plus, everybody loves Tiramisu!

Store bought ladyfingers
Eggs (traditional Italian recipes use eggs, there are recipes without eggs if you prefer that)
Coffee (see this AskMe for funsies)
Alcohol (I use Amaretto, but any type of rum, for example KahlĂșa, would do. Some people use Marsala or Baileys)
Cocoa powder to dust or chocolate shavings for garnish

Any (deep-ish) baking pan will do, square is better due to the shape of ladyfingers. Arrange ladyfingers in pan, drip coffee over them. Mix all the other ingredients to a smooth mixture (see the instructions of your recipe for this, some want the egg whites to be whisked until stiff and added to the cheese at the end). Pour mixture over soaked ladyfingers. Cover, refrigerate. On the following day, dust with cocoa powder or sprinkle chocolate shavings on top.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:11 PM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also with the banana pudding -- her issues aside, Paula Deen has a banana pudding recipe that's fully decadent and has been a hit every time I've ever made it.
posted by bizzyb at 12:17 PM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came in to suggest Tiramisu as well! No baking required, and it's pretty foolproof as long as you go easy on the coffee (too much and the ladyfingers get mushy.) And people (most people anyway) will go crazy for it. It's been a long time since I made it and I don't remember what recipe I used to use, but this one looks about right; simple ingredient list, simple prep.
posted by usonian at 12:35 PM on August 22, 2014

Given what's available at my store, I would screech and turn to

Fruit salad
Stone fruit (nectarines)
Canned pineapple sections (adds great tartness, prevents browning)

If you want to make the adults happy, add some light rum.
posted by Jesse the K at 1:04 PM on August 22, 2014

This is just a general piece of advice for people who love cooking and hate baking. You need to follow the directions. Exactly. It's not like cooking where you can kind of add a bit more of this, and less of that, and hey, wouldn't this be better with almonds in it?! Because, no. It will not be. Just follow the recipe.

This rule doesn't apply to people who love baking because once you have enough experience you know that you can replace chocolate chips with peanut butter chips, but not with fresh cherries; or that you can replace oil with applesauce but not all purpose flour with coconut flour. It's a whole different skill set than cooking.

Measure carefully, make everything the same size and take any recipe from Smitten Kitchen and it will all work out fine.
posted by valoius at 3:03 PM on August 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Eton Mess. Crushed meringues (from the supermarket), whipped cream, soft fruit (strawberries are classic, but cut up anything soft and sweet would work, like peaches). Great for large numbers, tastes special and is super easy to put together.
posted by thylacinthine at 5:50 PM on August 22, 2014

I am a great baker and have worked in catering with professional bakers, so, trust my advice when I say make a box of Ghirardelli brownies. I refuse to cook out of boxes and I always make my own cakes and frostings. However, I have never found any recipe that makes a better brownie than Ghirardelli out of a box. The last high-end caterer I worked for agreed with me as they ALWAYS used the boxed Ghirardelli for their bar cookie trays. Anytime I have made them for a potluck or such... tons of compliments. The double chocolate is my favorite and is often sold at Costco in double-sized boxes.

Frankly, even your average boxed brownie mix is pretty damned good. The chemistry behind that shiny, crackly crust is hard to duplicate at home. Thanks, food science.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:00 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would not make cookies, good cookies are a butt-ton of work compared to what you get out (each individual portion must be scooped or rolled or cut).

I would make brownies. I like the Ghirardelli box mix, too. Depending on how many people are bringing desserts, either one or two boxes (if you do two boxes, get two different types and make them in separate pans, then you can have dark and light brownies). Get disposable 8x8 pans (same aisle as the brownie mix). Follow the directions on the box. Store in a 1 gallon freezer bag (one per pan). (Actually you can just freeze them, while you're at it.)

Then, some other time when you're not making it for a thing, make Browned Butter Brown Sugar Cookies.
posted by anaelith at 1:48 PM on August 23, 2014

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