By Melanie Barnard
For most people, dessert is something bought at the store or saved for weekends or those special occasions when there's more time to fuss. Even then, though, baking doesn't come easily to everyone. "Not to worry," says Melanie Barnard, a food writer best known for her "30 Minutes or Less" column in Bon Appetit magazine. "Some of the best desserts are actually the simplest and the fastest. I've found ways to take nips and tucks in technique to streamline preparation time. I like to call it delicious simplification."
In Short & Sweet: 150 Sophisticated Desserts in No Time at All , Barnard presents the results of all her inspired shortcuts, together with a promise: dessert in under 30 minutes with seven or less ingredients.
Hot Fudge Pudding Cake, Broiled Peach Crunch, Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries with Mint Cream, Crisp Apple Shortbread, Scotch Butterscotch Sauce served over ice cream, with these recipes desserts can become an everyday event, even for beginner bakers.
Barnard's innovative streamlining measures were born out of 25 years of cooking experience. She's the author of 10 cookbooks and, in addition to her regular column in Bon Appetit, her articles have also appeared in such publications as Food & Wine, Cook's Illustrated, Family Circle, Woman's Day and Gourmet. But it was making dessert everyday for her own family while maintaining a hectic schedule that proved to be the ultimate test. "No matter how busy I was, I couldn't give up dessert," she says. Instead, she found ways to prepare desserts like crisps and cobblers, pies and cookies, mousses and soufflés in a fraction of the normal time without compromising taste.
What's missing from Short & Sweet are the usual fussy dessert procedures, such as sifting and resifting flour and chilling pastry. Barnard's cakes, for instance, have few ingredients to measure, need no complicated mixing techniques, use ordinary pans, and have baking times that are far shorter than those of most traditional versions. Instead of softening butter to room temperature before beating it with sugar with an electric mixer, Barnard found that many times all you have to do is to melt the butter in a saucepan, dump in the remaining ingredients, and stir them together with a wooden spoon. This "melt-add-stir" method saves at least 15 minutes and can be used for many short breads and drop cookies. Her Nutmeg Crumb Cake made by this quick sauce-pan method is as moist and flavorful as the old-fashioned way requiring several bowls and a mixer.
One of Barnard's most notable discoveries is that you can make a nearly instant fruit sorbet just by freezing a can of fruit in heavy syrup and puréeing it with a little lemon juice. "Any kind of canned fruit will work," she says, "peaches, plums, pears and figs and litchi nuts." Homemade pudding takes about the same time as a boxed mix, but the difference is incomparable," Barnard notes. "A simple cake made from scratch can be just as fast to make and clean up as one from a box, and the flavor is so much better that they don't need any icing."
Although Barnard is all for streamlining, flavor comes first and as with all good recipes, choosing the right ingredients makes a critical difference in taste. "Grating fresh nutmeg takes about 30 seconds and yields 300% better flavor than powdered.
Short & Sweet will inspire you to start preparing awesome desserts for your family and friends in no time at all.
Melanie Barnard is an award-winning cookbook author and magazine columnist who has appeared on such major television shows as Today and Good Morning America. Her previous book, The American Medical Association Family Health Cookbook (with Brooke Dojny), won a James Beard Award. In addition to her monthly column in Bon Appetit, she has written for Food & Wine, Family Circle, Cook's Illustrated and Gourmet. She and her family live in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Short & Sweet
150 Sophisticated Desserts in No Time at All
By Melanie Barnard
Houghton Mifflin Company
Hardback, $25.00, May 1999
240 pages, 8 pages of color photographs
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created July 1999
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