By Dorothy Sibole
The problem: You have 15 minutes to make a spectacular dessert. Luckily there are solutions that anybody can prepare. I will show you several desserts you can make in 15 to 30 minutes that will delight and amaze your guests with flavor and elegance.
One thing I notice as a chef is that folks have a notion that all chefs make things from scratch, or that we have to follow directions to the letter, and everything must be complicated. That is not a chef. The main concern is the food, treating it with respect. I would not serve fruit that is bruised or rotten, or try and make a dish that would just be too much -- too much flavor, too sweet, too strong or too blah. Any dish can be altered and, if you use your imagination, you can take a prepackaged, convenience item and improve it by adding to it. This is the basis of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, which is worth a million dollars. Don't be afraid to add something to a dish. Cake mixes can have nuts, fruits, flavorings and chocolate chips added. You can make Jell-O gelatin and, while it is still liquid but cool, add whipped cream to make a simple mousse, which you can then turn into a pie, parfait or cake filling.
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The best, but not always the truest, saying in a kitchen is K.I.S.S., short for Keep It Simple Stupid. Preparing recipes the traditional way is good, but there is nothing wrong with cutting the time in half by using already partially prepared items like cake mixes, prepared pie dough or cookie dough. These items can be the basis for great treats, and may give you more time to spend with your family and friends.
Right now, berries are in season, strawberries in particular. They are a great match for many items and can be blended with other fruit for a more complex flavor. My absolute favorite "whippy snippy" dessert for strawberries is a Trifle. Traditionally, Trifle is an English dessert that is layers of cake crumbs, custard, fruit and whipped cream. You can use a lemon pudding, or chocolate, but it is important to use fruits that complement those flavors.
Strawberry Banana Trifle
Cut the cake, ladyfingers or biscuits into small bite-sized pieces.
Whip the cream with the sugar until stiff peaks are formed and set aside.
If you have not sliced the fruit do so now.
In a medium bowl, mix the set pudding with the whipped cream, reserving some whipped cream for the final dollop on top. This mixture is a simple Bavarian cream, or mousse. In a large clear glass bowl or trifle dish, start layering the dessert with some cake crumbs on the bottom. Then add some of the Bavarian cream, then some of the sliced fruit. Repeat until you reach the top and finish with the Bavarian cream. Top with the reserved whipped cream and some white chocolate shavings.
If you have a little more time, but not enough to bake a cake or pie, there is a dish you can make that is hot and good. A biscuit cobbler is a pretty quick dish in preparation time. Baking time could vary according to the size you make it or the dish you bake it in. This cobbler that follows does not have the biscuit or pie dough on the bottom, and this lessens the baking time.
Peach and Blueberry Cobbler
Open the can of biscuit dough and take out the biscuits. Pry them apart and place them on top of the filling. You can make a nice design, placing them next to each other or slightly overlapping them. Brush the biscuit tops with an egg wash of 1 egg mixed with a little water. Then sprinkle some sugar over the top and bake at 350F degrees for about 30 minutes or until the biscuits are done.
This is wonderful served hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
This last dessert is more of a challenge. A sabayon is classically a dessert sauce. Sabayon literally means "wine-foam cream." Those of you who've had the Italian dessert zabaglione will know it; it's the same thing. A sabayon is made by beating egg yolks with a liquid over simmering water until thickened and increased in volume. The liquid can be water, but champagne or wine is often used for a savory Sabayon. The sabayon must not get too hot during cooking, or it will become grainy. If it begins to feel warmer than body temperature, remove the pan briefly from the heat, beating continuously, until the mixture cools. Then return the pan to the heat and continue cooking. Sabayon may be served warm or cold. Cold Sabayon is beaten off the heat until cooled.
Sabayon can be sweet or savory. It may be served simply as a sauce, often flavored with an alcohol, or it may form the base of some mousse mixtures. Sabayon can also be used for sweet or savory gratins. Corn flour is sometimes added for stability, but I do not recommend it. I do suggest making this once, just to try it.
Sparkling Wine Sabayon with Fresh Berries
In the top of double boiler, whisk the egg yolks, vanilla and sugar together until thick and pale. Place the top over the lower pan filled with boiling water. Slowly add the white wine and Marsala. When the sabayon is thick and frothy, remove and pour evenly on top of the fruit mixture and sprinkle with the zest. Serves about 6.
This is different from traditional desserts and, I think, more memorable. I can still remember the first time I had a Sabayon. I was with my mom at a small Italian restaurant near our house and, to be honest, I was not adventurous with food back then. But I thought the dessert sounded exotic, so I ordered it. To describe it, I would say it is similar to a mousse, but much lighter, and it can have a stronger alcohol taste, sweetened mostly by the fruit it tops. It makes a nice light finish to a tremendous meal.
There are other quick and simple treats to make on the fly. Take store-bought cookies, vanilla ice cream and chocolate chips and make your own homemade ice cream sandwiches. Or buy pre-made crepes and fill them with fruit fillings and top with whipped cream for a nice light dessert. You can also fill them with the Bavarian cream from the recipes above.
My best advice is to take your time, but allow yourself to be daring and to take chances. Remember, Trifle was not invented until someone messed up a cake. A mistake can turn into a sweet concoction that amazes your friends.
Dorothy Sibole is a pastry chef living in Austin, Texas. If you have questions about this article or the recipes, contact us at moc.gnikoocsaxet@nibrof_solkim.
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