‘Tis the season to show your organization that that culinary team is ready to party. That means keeping easy, last-minute dessert ideas, shortcuts and throw-it-together recipes up your sleeve. Your next simple-yet-stunning dessert hack just might end up becoming your signature wintertime sweet.
Howie Velie, CEC, instructor at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, has a “top three” dessert constructs when it comes to last-minute, on-the-fly holiday entertaining: Bread pudding, “you can add whatever you want, like white chocolate and port-soaked cherries;” crème brulee and panna cotta, all pudding-forward, use-what-you-have-on-hand staples. “All of which are simple and can be flavored in a hundred different ways.”
Martha Stewart’s “quick and easy” dessert recommendations also include bread pudding (with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and raisins), Southern-favorite banana cream pudding (hello, Nilla wafers!), chocolate-cherry clusters made with corn flakes and puffed-rice bars with peanut butter and chocolate.
We found a fun, creative, wintery selection of “don’t overthink it”-style desserts, so get ready to dazzle on short notice.
Use what you’ve got on hand
With labor and supply chain issues still making a fuss, convenient, pre-made items like frozen biscuits can come in clutch.
The winner of the “Easy Does It Sweepstakes” from Pillsbury, Melissa Graves of Madisonville, Tenn., manages a local spot, Donna’s Old Town Café, that features biscuits on the Southern-style buffet. Graves, who has been a fan of frozen biscuits for three decades, turned pre-made, frozen biscuits into an easy dessert with the addition of chocolate gravy, a tried-and-true family recipe.
“This is my grandmother Leslie’s recipe. My dad, Slick, everybody knows this is one of his favorite things,” Graves says. “On Sunday afternoons, we would go to my grandma’s and she would make us some gravy with her biscuits after church, and you would think you were in heaven…We have this available on the breakfast bar.”
To make the chocolate gravy, she whisks and simmers milk, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, butter, vanilla until it thickens up into a syrupy consistency. To feed a crowd, the chocolate gravy is set up on a warmer with a ladle so guests can help themselves, dousing their biscuits with a bit of heaven on earth.
The surprise ingredient is taco shells in a new dessert at Capital One Arena by Aramark Sports + Entertainment. Peach cobbler tacos combine the crumbly aspects of peach cobbler into a portable shell that’s fun to eat with one hand and cheer with the other. And two trifles—cookies ‘n cream and strawberry trifle—look adorable layered into jars for a sweet treat at Spurs games.
At Greenville (SC) County Schools, farm-to-table is the nutrition team’s calling card. This fall, they hosted an event where elementary school students got to interact with USDA representatives, local farmers and even two cows! The snacks were simple: Samples of local apples, local tomatoes and cukes and the sweet: pumpkin spice cookies. On another day in that same district, sweet potato cake with cream cheese frosting showed off another of South Carolina’s prized crops.
“This creamy pumpkin spice smoothie is like drinking a slice of pumpkin pie, only with loads of health-promoting benefits,” says Cleveland-area Chef Josh Ingraham, CEC, longtime friend of FM. During the pandemic, Ingraham started an ambitious healthy-meals-to-go business, and as a health-conscious chef, always asks: “What can this smoothie do for you?” In the case of his pumpkin spice smoothie, it’s packed with vitamins and minerals including carotene, lutein, xanthin, Vitamin A and potassium. The ground flax seeds and almond milk boost the omega-3s through the roof.
Ingraham has also found a way to make chocolatey truffles with some secret powerhouse ingredients: Sweet, nutrient-dense medjool dates to take the place of sugar and dark cocoa that’s rich in antioxidants. All chocolate-lovers will taste is the “yum.” To turn this treat into a Mexican truffle, Ingraham adds cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne.
Another of his secret ingredients? Silken tofu in his aptly named Secret Chocolate Pudding. “Once blended together with cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla and naturally sweet stevia, this custard-textured form of tofu is transformed into an intensely chocolatey dessert that’s full of valuable phytonutrients, flavonoids and natural plant protein.