What are fun, complicated dessert recipes I can make in my home?
April 13, 2015 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I really love baking although I don't love cooking. I made donuts for the first time over the weekend and it was fun! I'd never fried anything before! I'd like to try some more new challenges! What are your suggestions? I have the basic stuff (food processor, stand mixer, dutch oven, double boiler) but nothing particularly fancy. What desserts -- tarts, cakes, pies, cookies, donuts, candies, new types of desserts I have never before encountered -- will make me try new things in the kitchen and help me feel proud of the tasty and beautiful creation I have created?

The most complicated thing I've made is fruit tarts, partially because there are so many elements and I have to roll out the dough and bake carefully and the pastry cream can be finicky. I like that they taste delicious and I like that they're pretty and there's a decorating element. I have a subscription to Cook's Illustrated so any recipes there would be great, but if it's something they don't have (for example, a croquembouche recipe) I would be very grateful if you could link to actual recipes instead of just naming items because I get overwhelmed with the number of recipes if I just google something.

Ideally I'd prefer active time (mixing, &c.) to waiting time (letting pastry dough rest, putting in multiple batches of cookies) and if possible I'd prefer nothing with hugely expensive ingredients. I also like things that look pretty -- I want to gaze on my creation and feel pride and joy and then taste it and feel overcome with deliciousness.It would also be great if the recipes were stuff I could share easily or bring in to work instead of snarfling them all up myself as I am likely to do, but really I'm just looking for as many suggestions as possible.

So: what are your impressive, complicated dessert suggestions? What will be difficult but attainable? What will I be UNBELIEVABLY proud I have made? Thank you so much!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
I have just discovered the How To Cook That youtube channel and web site - it seems to hit the precise sweet spot you're looking for between "HOLY SHIT THAT LOOKS FANTASTIC" and "....I actually think I could do that."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:23 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Smitten Kitchen Bakewell Tart. Lots of fun. I've made this both vegan and non-vegan, but the vegan version needs the (veganized) Martha Stewart marzipan recipe as the basis for the frangipane.

I have made many apple frangipane tarts, some brushed with apricot jam and some not. Again, veganizable.

Smitten Kitchen linzertorte is also very fun - it's not a croquembouche in its beauty, but if you either do a good job with the pastry lattice (very tricky!) or cut out pastry stars or abstract pieces instead, it is very nice to look at (and can very, very easily be made vegan.)

I also like Cook's Illustrated's Tipsy Squire trifle, although if you ask me it's not worth while to make your own genoise - sub in a yellow cake or buy ladyfingers. You really do not notice the homemadeness of the genoise at all - it doesn't taste any different than storebought.
posted by Frowner at 10:25 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This black forest meringue cake is somewhat complicated, because you have to perfect the meringue consistency (soft but not gooey). The cream filling should be silky smooth and have a rich chocolatey taste.

My mom's friend makes it, and the velvety chocolate cream against soft, crunchy meringue has an amazing mouthfeel. I still haven't been able to get the same texture, but I keep trying!
posted by Everydayville at 10:28 AM on April 13, 2015

Also pavlovas, generally.

I have always wanted to make things like Tarte Tatin and carmelized pineapple skillet cake, where you cook/carmelize the fruit in a skillet and then bake a cake on top and invert the whole thing, but I have never really had the right skillet.
posted by Frowner at 10:30 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I came to post almost the exact same comment Empress Callypigos did, right down to the recent discovery of the channel.

This dessert in particular was composed of like 40 different components I'd never even heard the words for before, so if you're looking to really expand your bag of tricks, it might be a good one to check out.
posted by phunniemee at 10:30 AM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Oh also you should make macarons.
posted by phunniemee at 10:31 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I recently made this daffodil cake for the first time and the accompanying lemon curd as recommended. It was delicious, and I certainly found it plenty complicated! Pro tip I learned the hard way: you either want an angel food cake pan with a removable bottom or to put wax paper on the bottom. (I learned the hard way that my cake did not want to come out of the bottom of the tube pan I baked it in, but it was still delicious and the whipped cream hid my sins.) (Also, the recipe calls for fine grain sea salt, but I didn't have that and subbed in 1/4 tsp of regular table salt as I had seen in other recipes.)
posted by pitrified at 10:36 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've been meaning to try America's Test Kitchen's dacquoise recipe, which looks amazing and has their typical "this has been tested 1467 times so you will nail it on the first try" attention to detail.
posted by bcwinters at 10:45 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not strictly dessert, but you've got nearly everything you need to make basic jams. Here's a simple recipe, here's another.

You can use the results as a filling or topping for any of the lovely suggestions above. Or below, as the case may be.
posted by jquinby at 10:47 AM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: This pistachio cake with lemon icing is gorgeous and delicious, and the icing is an unusual method (which in my experience does great for fruit or coffee flavours and not so great for chocolate).

As a general rule all her cake recipes are great, but this one is more surprising.

For a Big Deal cake, this almond praline cake with mascarpone icing and chocolate bark is great -- you can use the bark anywhere.
posted by jeather at 10:58 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: These books are a lot of fun-- full of very simple decorating techniques that end up looking great.

For my "I'm going to make a big fuck-off cake to impress folks", I usually end up doing a Dobos torte.
posted by damayanti at 11:02 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Momofuku Milk Bar has a cookbook, but there are some recipes online you can try first.
posted by mikepop at 11:19 AM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: You could have a lot of fun (and spend a lot of time) working through the recipes of Rose Levy Berenbaum. I made one of her cakes once - it was a ton of work, but it was delicious.
posted by mogget at 11:42 AM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: For an absolute showstopper, at Christmastime you can make a buche de noel! It's a cake that looks like a log, which doesn't sound too exciting, but there are pretty much no limits to how crazy you can choose to go in the quest for UTTER LOGLIKE VERISIMILITUDE. Highly realistic meringue mushrooms, chocolate bark, sugared cranberries and rosemary sprigs to look like holly berries and pine needles with snow on them . . .
posted by ostro at 12:04 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Re: lemon curd-while a recipe with straining (2x!) as listed above, does fulfill your "complicatedness" requiremen, this "foolproof" recipe really is easy and amazing. It's become my go-to housewarming gift (I pour it into several of the small mason jars and tell the new owner to freeze them and defrost as needed.) Seriously easy, seriously delicious.
posted by atomicstone at 12:06 PM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Bake your way through The Cake Bible. Every recipe works and teaches something at the same time. These aren't all easy, but they're all delicious.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:08 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Heartily recommend getting a copy of Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and, after you've finished drooling over the illustrations and marvelling at the crazy attention to detail, you have a bash at some of the patisserie recipes. Weeks and weeks of baking adventures to be had!
posted by dogsbody at 12:08 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: I work in a bakery but I am not a chef or baker -- however I think you may want to explore pate a choux. There are about a million things you can make with it, from simple cream puffs to elaborate St Honore cakes, etc. And it tastes incredible. The basic dough is easy which is nice because everything else is pretty complex and at least you know the main part won't get screwed up. The best part is they are delicious and beautiful and will impress anyone you serve it to. This is a gateway drug though, and may lead to making your own laminated dough by hand, etc., etc. You can also incorporate things you have already learned to do in making tarts and stuff.
posted by palindromeisnotapalindrome at 12:20 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The bee sting cake that was in a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated will fit the bill. It's complicated and delicious. Of course, smitten kitchen has tried it.
posted by sockermom at 12:30 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Here is Martha's recipe for croquembouche. She's annoying but I trust her recipes to be both reliable and complicated.
posted by Beti at 12:51 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might enjoy the King Arthur Flour blog, Flourish.

Tres Leche Cake

Roll cakes are pretty and come in many varieties...this one is Banana Cream Cheese

Chocolate Crepe Cake

Where the blog really excels, IMO, are the tips and techniques posts. This one about flourless chocolate fudge cookies is really interesting. Imagine how many batches of cookies you'd have to bake to test all that yourself!
posted by MadMadam at 1:08 PM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Crème Brulee isn't complicated, but it does require skills and care. I do not only a bain marie for the baking, but also an ice bath to chill it after it comes nearly to room temp. And then torching the sugar...it takes lots of practice and is so satisfying when it works.
posted by wryly at 1:14 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Marshmallows! The only hitch is that you need a thermometer (though since you mention frying, maybe you have one or have been thinking of getting one anyway?), but they're fun, and while working with gelatin is a new skill it's not too hard to pick up (the only thing is make sure you don't rest the pan on a still-warm stove, or you'll get jello) and you can do stuff like try different flavorings or cut them into cute shapes to give out.
posted by kagredon at 1:16 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Found it! This is a fun old Metafilter post - 17 cooking projects ain't nobody got time for. Most of the recipes are crazy desserts.
posted by gatorae at 1:24 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: I'm a big fan of joepastry.com. Lots of variety, lots of science and discovery!
posted by rhizome at 1:37 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Came in to mention the above noted Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook or online recipes and marshmallows possibly as an component of something else like hot chocolate though then it wouldn't be as portable.

David Lebovitz - the recipes, the blog, the cookbooks, the writing. Right now the blog looks like a lot of savory items though there is a promising Snow Egg recipe. There is always the recipe archive.

I recently saw a recipe for Cucumber Creamsicle with multiple components from a cookbook, Fancy Desserts. I can't find the recipe online but here is a review of it that makes it look worthwhile to buy the cookbook. May not be a very portable recipe but looks fantastic for hot days.
posted by RoadScholar at 1:53 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Definitely tarte tatin. I tried linking to a recipe but I'm having technical difficulties with my phone.
posted by Aranquis at 2:02 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Heaven and Hell Cake - layers of angel food cake, devil's food cake, peanut butter mousse, and covered with chocolate ganache.

Note: I attempted this once and had some problems, but in ways that I think are fixable. Haven't gotten around to a second attempt yet, but not because I don't want to. Anyway, the recipe there calls for baking one pan of angel food cake and one of devil's food cake, and slicing each in half. I found there was too much batter of each for that and they overflowed the cake pans while baking. Likely solution: just use the same recipe to make two pans of each. Baking time may need to be adjusted for this. Also, when the recipe calls for "smooth peanut butter," get some common major brand smooth peanut butter. Don't make the mistake of using the fancy "all-natural" peanut butter — the kind where the only ingredients listed are peanuts and salt, and where a layer of oil collects at the top that you have to stir back in — because even if that's called "smooth" it's still a little bit grainy and the texture doesn't work well in the mousse.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:33 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Croissants do require wait time for the dough to ferment and then to let it rest between steps, but the folding-rolling-laminating process is very enjoyable. Plus if you make croissant dough, you can make Tartine's morning buns. Mmm.
posted by Lexica at 3:56 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Decorating sugar cookies! Yes, the dough making and baking is a little dull but it's super quick. The fun is in figuring out how you are going to decorate them and wow everyone in your life. I crank out multiple batches around seasonal holidays for gifts. If you know what you're doing they can be tiny works of art.
posted by BeeJiddy at 3:56 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Sprinkle Bakes is a great blog for this kind of thing.

Some examples:

Applewood Bacon Shortbread Cookies

Rainbow Spiral Cookies

Harlequin Truffle Roulade

Crown Jewel Cake

and on and on and on.
posted by pyjammy at 4:42 PM on April 13, 2015

Following on kragedon's comment, s'mores with homemade graham crackers and marshmallows.
posted by KathyK at 5:31 PM on April 13, 2015

I made almond croissants a couple of days ago. I made a sponge and let it sit a bit, then you barely make a dough you don't want it over kneaded. There are a couple of schools on this, one is day old croissants sliced and dipped in a rum syrup, filled and rebaked. That filling is loaded with butter. Then just croissants baked with "marzipan like" almond filling. I went the second route, the filling is so simple 1 cup almond flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg white, 1 tsp almond flavor. To this filling I added a rougher almond grind that is whole ground almonds, and one more egg white plus a little more sugar. I didn't use as much butter in the croissant dough as usual, I egg washed and put slivered almonds before baking, with a little sprinkle of sugar for good measure.. I made these for an elderly friend who can't find them locally, they are so good. They freeze well, and heat up nicely. There is all kinds of hybridization between the recipes, for instance, the frozen croissants can be dipped in the light syrup before a 45 second reheat in the microwave.

They are delicious.
posted by Oyéah at 5:32 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Try making Peach Puzzle when you can get good peaches. It's fun to flip over when it's done baking to find magical sauce in the upside-down ramekin.
posted by asperity at 7:39 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: Re. pâte à choux: éclairs! They are going to be the next big fad after macarons, mark my words. I personally love the simple ones filled with crème pâtissière and covered in a not-overly thick layer of chocolate.
posted by Dragonness at 8:02 PM on April 13, 2015

Best answer: I made Caramelized Pears with Black Pepper and Blue Cheese Caramel Sauce once and it was amazing. Really it wasn't *that* complicated, but it came out well. We tried it with and without the cracked pepper & blue cheese. Great either way!

Another version
posted by sarah_pdx at 8:13 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the fantastic answers so far! I will try to start making some of these -- lots to consider!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:30 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dobas torte! So many layers of delicious!
posted by travellingincognito at 5:59 AM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding dacquoise, I always wanted to try to make that. Cook's illustrated tiramisu is delish.
posted by mgogol at 7:03 AM on April 14, 2015

Best answer: I'll follow on definitely say macarons...not only are they delicious, but they require some specialized techniques that are challenging to learn as well as some specialized equipment (the piping bag and nozzles). When you are finally successful with this you will definitely impress your friends and family.
posted by mmascolino at 9:11 AM on April 14, 2015

Best answer: Thirding dacquoise. Having just watched someone make one (over the course of an entire day), it's definitely complicated and so so so tasty.
posted by asterix at 9:46 AM on April 14, 2015

Best answer: Chai Spice Butter Cake with hazelnut cream cheese frosting
posted by hmo at 11:08 AM on April 14, 2015

Roasted Vanilla-Caramel Pineapple.

Sadly the images are missing :(
posted by kenko at 9:58 AM on April 15, 2015

Just remembered this one: the black pearl layer cake is amazing. Ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seeds don't sound like they'd work in a chocolate cake, but oh, they do.
posted by Lexica at 11:38 AM on April 15, 2015

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