Yes, I take my time when I bake and revel in every dusting of powdered sugar, watching it drift down like snow across a landscape. Or I carefully, slowly drizzle warm, aromatic ganache spooned precisely over the surface of a cake, or sandwich macaron shells together in perfect tandem, like a sweet matchmaker pairing one half with one alike. I plan ahead, or not, as the urge takes me, leaving my computer, my writing, my housework to fend for themselves, alone in this big apartment to while away the morning or afternoon as they see fit. And I concentrate on this activity of creating. And I am content in that I have some here who are happy to find something sweet in the kitchen to eat or to share, proud to carry a tray of this to the office or a tin of that to friends. This gives me as much, if not more pleasure than the bit of time I spend preparing it.
Yet as much as I love baking, sometimes I just don’t have the time. Or the courage. Sometimes it is pouring and I don’t want to look beyond my pantry for ingredients, unwilling to slip on rubber boots, coat and hat to run out and buy what I don’t have. Sometimes I just want it simple and straightforward, easy and with a minimum of fuss, a quick fix to palliate a sudden urge. Once in a while we’ll decide to have guests and there is just too much to organize for me to concoct something complicated and fancy. Or every now and then I have a houseful of young men who adore my pastries, cakes and confections and I just enjoy hearing the oohs and the ahhhs, watching eyes light up and happy faces heading to the kitchen.
And then I met Abby. Sweet as the day is long on a rambling summer day, I got to know her rather quickly, shooting tweets back and forth, happily joking and sharing kindness and information on Facebook. I quickly learned that she had something to do with certain scrumptious Nutella Fudge Brownies that seemed to be making a stunning appearance across the blogosphere… and that got me curious. Sometimes I feel so out of the loop living here on the Old Continent, finding out things, gathering information and news about books and people. Yet getting to know Abby – and who Abby is – was quick, easy and delightful. And then she offered to have her latest cookbook sent to me. Who would say no? And this wonderful little book is genius! And a lifesaver! desserts 4 today is that go-to book when you want something sweet and homemade but have neither the time nor the energy to put into something long and complicated. Each and every one of the 125 mouth-watering recipes has only four ingredients! Yep, four. How easy is that? I passed around this gem of a cookbook to my men and asked them to each choose one. Now, normally I get harrumphs and groans and the book shoved back at me. But for some reason… and I am guessing that it may have had something to do with the gorgeous photos in the book, but they each happily selected one treat that they wanted. And I chose the fourth. Ah, four recipes each with only four ingredients! Sadly, I made only three, JP lost out on his choice of Maple-Glazed Figs with Hazelnut Mascarpone, but don’t worry, that one is coming soon…
As I have a birthday coming up, my mind tends to think in terms of gifts. This lovely little book is the perfect gift for someone who loves to bake but doesn’t always have the time or is usually limited to pantry staples when baking. Or someone who wants to become a baker but may not have the experience yet and needs something simple, easy to follow, easy to understand. Or just anyone that loves baking. Or cookbooks. Or gifts.
I would love to thank Abby and the very kind people at The Taunton Press for allowing me to test, taste and share from Abby’s wonderful and now well-thumbed book desserts 4 today.
All three recipes are from desserts 4 today (Flavorful Desserts with just Four Ingredients) by Abigail Johnson Dodge. (another recipe from Abby will be posted on Life’s a Feast very soon, a recipe she developed for Bon Appetit Magazine.) At the end of each recipe, Abby gives several variations or Switch Ins as well as a suggestion on how to Gussy It Up.
I share with you these three excellent and easy recipes and promise you that this is one cookbook that won’t get forgotten on a bookshelf somewhere. I already have plans to make those figs for JP as well as Maple Cornmeal “Indian” Puddings, Meyer Lemon-Ricotta Panna Cotta, Crushed Raspberry-Mascarpone Whip, Basil Ice Cream… well, you see where this is going?
CREAMY ESPRESSO PUDDING FOR TWO
Instead of making 2 full servings, I chilled this luscious, coffee-lover’s treat in four tiny espresso cups. I so loved this – I got my coffee blast in such a sweet way. Did I really eat all four of them myself?
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar (I used light brown)
1 Tbs cornstarch
1 ¾ tsps fine instant espresso powder
1 ¼ cups half-and-half, divided (I used light cream)
Have ready two 6-oz ramekins ready (or 4 espresso/demi-tasse cups) and space in the refrigerator.
Put the brown sugar, cornstarch and espresso powder in a small saucepan and whisk to blend. Add about ¼ cup of the cream or half-and-half and whisk until the coffee is almost dissolved. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half. Cook, whisking frequently, over medium heat until boiling. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
Pour the pudding into the ramekins or cups. Cover with plastic wrap (touching the surface). Serve warm or refrigerate until ready to serve or for up to one day.
(Note: I found that these actually improved after one and even two days in the refrigerator.)
NUTELLA FUDGE BROWNIES
There is absolutely nothing to say…
½ cup Nutella spread
1 large egg
5 Tbs all-purpose flour
¼ cup chopped hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 12-cup mini muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
Put the Nutella and the egg in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth and well blended. Add the flour and whisk until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins about ¾ full and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts.
Bake until a pick comes out with wet, gooey crumbs, 11 to 12 minutes. Set on a rack to cool completely. Serve (eat) immediately or cover and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
COCONUT CRÈME CARAMEL
Clem’s choice, double thumbs up from JP
1 can (13-14 oz) coconut milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 whole large eggs + 1 egg yolk
¼ tsp ground cardamom
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Have ready four 6-oz ramekins and place them in a shallow baking pan that will comfortably hold the ramekins. Make room in the refrigerator for the 4 ramekins.
Pour the coconut milk into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat (don’t leave it alone because when it comes to a boil it froths up and over) and cook until reduced to 1 ½ cups (actually this only takes a couple of minutes).
Meanwhile, put 1/3 cup of the sugar with 1 tablespoon water into a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling. Increase the heat to medium and boil, without stirring, until the sugar is medium-amber, about 2-3 minutes. Gently swirl the pan to even out the color. Pour the hot caramel evenly into the four ramekins and quickly but carefully swirl each ramekin to cover the bottom with caramel. (The caramel will harden almost immediately when it touches the cool ramekins, so pour and swirl one at a time and rather quickly but don’t worry at all when the caramel solidifies because it will turn back into liquid caramel when baked with the cream.)
Put the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, the eggs, the yolk and the cardamom in a medium heatproof bowl and whisk to blend. Slowly add the hot coconut milk in a steady stream over the egg mixture while whisking constantly, until all the coconut milk is added and well blended. Pour (or ladle) the cream into the ramekins (it will come up to the top rim). Carefully pour hot water into the baking pan around the ramekins until the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custards jiggle when nudged (about 40 minutes). Transfer the pan to a rack and carefully lift out the custards (I used a metal spatula) and place them on a rack or cutting board to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours (unless the husband comes home from work and sees them in the refrigerator and takes one) or for up to 2 days. If they last that long.
To serve, run a small, thin, sharp knife between the custards and the ramekins then quickly invert onto serving plates. Gently shake to loosen.