Maybe I’m just far too harsh and judgmental, but there is no reason to serve a store-bought dessert at a holiday gathering, or bring store-bought cookies to a cookie party. Okay, so obviously there are a few exceptions to this, mainly if the dessert is coming from a particularly good bakery, or it’s something over-the-top you couldn’t make anyways. But I don’t care how bad of a baker you think you are, it is not that hard to whip up a quick and easy dessert that tastes good. You can be semi-clueless in the kitchen and still probably make a pumpkin pie that’s gonna taste better than the one you usually buy at Costco. I know, I know, not everyone has the ridiculous amount of free time I seem to have, nor the interest in actually figuring out what to make. But trust me, it’s so much more rewarding to know that you made the dessert your friends and family are currently enjoying (unless it turns out to be terrible, in which case…sorry for the bad advice…). Homemade–or semi-homemade–just tastes so much better. And by semi-homemade, I don’t mean pulling a Sandra Lee and sticking some Safeway cookies on top of a Safeway cake.
In honor of the holiday season, when everyone seems to think it’s an excuse to bake a lot and eat pretty much anything you want, here are five really easy desserts that are perfect for cookie swaps, holiday parties, entertaining, and showing your parents that you’re capable of making something other than microwave meals and mac & cheese.
1. Fruit Cobbler
In an 8×8 baking dish (or 9-inch round pan), melt 3 tbsp butter in an oven set to 350F. Remove from oven. In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp salt. Add 3/4 cup milk and stir until batter is smooth. Pour batter into the baking dish and add 2 1/2 cups fruit on top. To save time, you can use a 12 oz package of frozen berries, but it tastes even better if you do 2 cups of fresh sliced peaches and a half cup of fresh blueberries (or you could do all peach, or all nectarine, or fresh strawberries, or fresh raspberries and blackberries, or just blueberries…). Sprinkle the top with 1 tbsp of sugar. Put the dish back in the oven and bake about 60-70 minutes, until the batter browns and the fruit is bubbling. Serve the cobbler warm, or let it cool to room temperature. It’s great plain, or even better topped with a bit of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. To make enough for a 9×13 dish, double the recipe.
2. Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup peanut butter, 1 egg, and 1 cup of sugar. Seriously, that’s all you need. You can use Nutella instead of peanut butter, or do a mixture of half peanut butter and half Nutella. All you have to do is mix the ingredients in a bowl with a spoon. If the dough is too soft to roll into balls, stick it in the fridge for a bit (about 30 minutes). Then roll into balls and place the dough on a cookie sheet that’s greased or lined with parchment paper. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes at 350F. Will these be the best peanut butter cookies you’ve ever had? No, probably not, but they still are pretty good. Hey, if you wanted to get really fancy, you could do dough using peanut butter and dough using Nutella, then swirl the two together when you form the dough balls. Oooh, fancy.
3. Fresh Fruit Tart
This is a dessert that looks pretty but is really simple to make. There are plenty of recipes out there, but this Pepperidge Farm recipe is about as easy as it gets. You could even buy pre-baked pastry shells at the grocery store if you don’t want to do the puff pastry thing (you can also just bake the pastry sheet squares flat on a baking sheet if you don’t want to use a muffin tin). As far as fruit selection, I like to stick to sliced strawberries and blueberries. Instead of sprinkling with confectioners sugar like this recipe suggests, I prefer glazing the tarts with some melted jam (orange marmalade is one I think works nicely). Simply use a small brush to dab the jam onto the fruit…or you can just use a spoon to drizzle it on. You should refrigerate the tarts at least an hour before serving, so these are a good make-ahead dessert.
4. S’mores Rice Krispie Treats
This recipe on the Kellog’s website is pretty straightforward, and with just a few ingredients, you can make some super snazzy s’mores treats that put the classic rice krispie treats to shame. Of course, original rice krispie treats are always delicious, but if you want to shake things up, this s’mores variation is pretty good, too. There are similar recipes that use Golden Grahams instead of rice cereal, but I personally prefer sticking to tried-and-true rice krispies. The recipe calls for cocoa krispies, but if you want to use normal Rice Krispies instead, you can add in about 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips (add them in at the last minute though, and stir gently so they don’t melt). If using cocoa krispies, leave out the chocolate chips. While the recipe calls for Keebler Grahams Originals (whatever that is), using 1 1/2 cups graham cracker pieces works just fine. Not a fan of s’mores? Try these festive peppermint bark Rice Krispie treats.
5. Cake Mix Cookies
I posted a recipe on this blog for Funfetti cookies before, but you can make cake mix cookies with just about any flavor of cake mix. Carrot cake, spice cake, vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, funfetti… All you need to do is combine 1 box of cake mix, 2 eggs, and 1/3 cup of vegetable oil. OR use 1 box of cake mix, 2 egg whites, 1 whole egg, and 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce for a healthier version. All you need to do is mix your ingredients and roll dough into 1-inch sized balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (if the dough is too soft/sticky, stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes). Flatten the tops of the cookie dough with a spoon or your fingers, and bake for 9-10 minutes at 375F. Let the cookies cool on a wire rack.
Or you could just, you know, dip some strawberries in some chocolate. That’s fancy and a dessert, right?