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Fancy non-chocolate dessert needed

Charged with making a non-chocolate dessert for a dinner party of friends and professors. Need something that will impress. I am a pretty capable baker and would appreciate any and all suggestions. Thanks in advance

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  1. bread pudding with a simple sauce of pureed strawberry. If you have enough ramekins, they can be single serve. Warm or cold. Easy, and always a winner. Caramel sauce as well. Half on each side might be interesting.

    Peach Cobbler


    APPLE CRISP! (when you make it with real butter, of course ;-)

    Desert Tamales. Non-chocolate flavors - strawberry, pineapple, cinnamon.

    Probably boring ideas. I always find that the simple things done RIGHT are always impressive. A lot of ppl are so used to pre-packaged, processed, average crap these days that a simple apple crisp made from scratch turns heads.People go nuts when they actually eat real food instead of things stuffed with 25 letter ingredients.

    1. The famed Gramercy Ginger Cake from epicurious might fit the bill but you may feel it is "out of season." I love serving it with freshly whipped cream, that's all it needs; very intense ginger flavor, too:


      4 Replies
      1. re: Val

        Two of my very favorites are:

        Ina Garten's Frozen Key Lime Pie, and

        Ina Garten's Raspberry Cheesecake

        Both get raves when ever they are made!

        1. re: Val

          Val, is that the one by Fleming (sp?) that has Oatmeal Stout in it? If so, it's truly deelish, but a bit "weird" for guests unless you know they love a bit of "weird".

          I suggest the Creamy Pumpkin Custard with whipped cream or creme fraiche and Golden Raisin Compote from Gina de Palma's Dolce Italiano. I can post a restating of the recipe if you're interested. It's fab. Prepared in ramekins and served with a dollop of whipped cream and the raisin compote (cooked with orange juice) it's tres elegante.

          In Pure Dessert, by Alice Medrich, there are several wonderful and unusual desserts (which I've tried with success). You can find her recipes on the internet by searching. The coconut cake with whipped cream is amazing.

          David Lebovitz has a great website with lots of his recipes for dessert.

          Another favorite is Rose Bakery's pistachio cake made with butter, ground almonds and pistachios, lemon zest and vanilla. Moist and rich. She tops it with a syrup of pistachios, lemon juice and zest and sugar. Really good served with creme fraiche or ice cream.

          Another fave of mine (which I've made for many dinner parties) is an orange/chocolate/ricotta and mascarpone tart which I found in J. Oliver's Kitchen book. It is beautiful and delicious. It's topped with a rough lattice-work of pie dough and then sprinkled with small chunks of chocolate which melt into the crust and make it gorgeous.

          1. re: oakjoan

            Hey, oakjoan...you know what? You are probably right about that...yes, it's Claudia Fleming's recipe! Unless you know for sure that everyone loves ginger, it might not be appropriate...then again, if there are going to be other desserts besides the one atticus is bringing, it may work.

          2. re: Val

            I prefer the Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread to the Ginger Cake; they're both good, but I've had a better reception for the gingerbread I think because it's denser and a bit less cakey and fluffy than the cake.


          3. more distinct guidelines re: preferred preparation methods - or at least flavors - might help. there are so many ways you can go! do you know what the other dishes of the meal will be?

            custard-based desserts - panna cotta, creme brulee, bread pudding, tiramisu, trifle, zabaglione with fresh fruit
            meringue-based desserts - baked alaska, pavlovas
            layer cake
            profiteroles filled with custard or ice cream
            homemade ice cream or sorbet with various sauces
            tarte tatin
            bananas foster
            upside-down cake
            poached fruit in wine sauce
            italian rainbow cookies
            baklava or a sweet napoleon

            3 Replies
            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Those are all good ideas (my first thought was pavlova), but for custard-based desserts you forgot pot de creme. I have a recipe for lemon pot de creme that I make with Meyer lemons and it's fabulous. I serve it in ramekins, but if you got real pot de creme "pots" it would be very fancy. You can serve it with some biscotti or other fancy cookie and maybe some raspberries on the side.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                So Ruth....where is this great recipe?! I have a tree-full of ripe Meyers in my backyard right now. Did you post it a while ago?

                1. re: oakjoan

                  Yeah, actually I did, but there was a rather disasterous typo in it, so I'll post it again (corrected)

                  Meyer lemon pot de creme (from a recipe in Fields of Greens)

                  2 whole eggs
                  8 egg yolks
                  2 1/2 cups heavy cream
                  1 1/4 cups sugar

                  1 cup Meyer Lemon juice (about 6-8 lemons)
                  1 tsp. lemon zest (about one lemon)

                  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar thoroughly, and then whisk in the cream and finally the lemon juice. Strain though a fine wire mesh or cheesecloth (if there's no pulp or seeds in your lemon juice you don't have to do this, but you'll get a more "refined" product), then stir in the lemon zest. Place ramekins (or custard cups) in a larger baking pan, fill with mixture, add water to pan until it's halfway up the sides of the cups, place in oven and bake 45 minutes or until custard is almost set in the center (it will continue to cook after it comes out of the oven). Although the recipe calls for this to be served at room temperature or even chilled, I think it's best still warm from the oven -- like fragrant lemon clouds. I put it in the oven when I serve the first course and its usually ready to come out of the oven when I'm clearing the table from the mains. The dishes come to serving temperature while you're making coffee (or tea, or whatever) -- perfect timing! You can garnish with a little extra zest, or some candied citrus peel, and I usually put some kind of cookie (shortbread, amaretti -- something buttery and/or nutty) on the side. Listen to your guests swoon and watch them scrape their dishes!

                  Makes 8 six-ounce servings.

                  You can use regular lemons (although it won't be as fabulous) -- just increase the sugar by 1/4 cup.

                  Also, Joan, a few weeks ago someone posted a link to an LA Times article -- 100 things to do with a Meyer lemon that had some great ideas and recipes -- you might want to search for that.

            2. Bread souffle pudding from Commander's Palace will hit the spot perfessor

              A rustic fruit tart from the Baking with Julia and Jacques comes together really quickly. With a little cream anglaise,almost as good as the above

              1. All of the suggestions sound delicious, but some need to be done at the last minute, like bananas foster, and I'm guessing that you won't be in your own kitchen. I'm loving the idea of individual servings, whether pots de creme or ramekins. That pistachio cake mentioned by oakjoan really caught my eye. Sounds amazing. Could it translate to mini cakes? I'm envisioning bundtlette pans because I have them, but you could certainly use 6-oz Pyrex dishes or even tiny loaf pans. I love anything with a soaking syrup.

                1 Reply
                1. re: nemo

                  Yes it can! Rose Carrarini even suggests using small pans. I've made almost all the cakes in her book and several of them in the small pans. They look really good on a tray. My round pans are 4" across and 2" deep.

                  The texture of the pistachio cake is also great. It's very moist and spongy, yet dense and very rich.

                2. Thomas Keller's almond cake (on Leite's Culinaria) is really easy and good and looks/tastes fancy. Serve it with a flavored whipped creme fresh and fruit compote of your choice.

                  I love nut cakes...

                  Lemon tarts are always great. Susanne Goin's tart with a layer of chocolate puts a nice twist on it.

                  Panna cotta is another go to dessert for me.

                  1. Crepes Suzette is my favourite. Make the crepes the day before. Minimal last minute prep required. Make the sauce earlier in the day and just add crepes at the last minute. Another favourite is Grand Marnier Souffle. It can be started earlier in the day up until beating egg whites. But that doesn't take long and it is an amazing presentation.

                    1. How about a lemon curd tart or a pineapple tart for something citrusy. The pineapple tart I'm thinking of is a tart shell baked with a thin custard type layer that is baked and then pineapple wedges arranged over it.

                      1. Parfaited anything. Some cake (I like the idea of the pistachio cake above), ice cream (pistachio!), cheese cake, sauces, fruit, nuts (pistachios!), etc.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Richard 16

                          Medrich has a recipe for sour cream ice cream in her new book (Pure Desserts). I think that'd be great with any cake. I'm too lazy to go look now, but I think it has no eggs in it.

                          1. re: Richard 16

                            You could even just bring the SUPPLIES for parfaits, and everyone could make their own. So it would be interactive, and the fussy eaters wouldn't have to take what they didn't want.

                          2. I've always wanted to try this lemon raspberry cake ever since I had a Gourmet subscription that year. You would only have to make one layer, though.


                            I have to say. this would be far easier if it were berry season!

                            I've also always wanted to try a red velvet cake. I am fascinated by them. Epicurious has some pretty amazing sounding non-chocolate cake recipes. I like the sound of the "Lemon curd with pistachio crunch," "Strawberry-orange ricotta cake" and "three milk cake with rompope."

                            1. Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions.... I agree completely with gordeaux that doing simple things right is the most impressive but I always bring cookies (and ice cream) or classic layer cakes to parties and wanted to do something a little different. The meyer lemon pot de creme sounds fantastic... Ruth could you post the recipe? As does the Creamy pumpkin custard, though I worry about the season.

                              Last minute desserts are out - nemo was right. The custard/mousse/pot de creme ideas are all making me salvate at the moment.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: atticus

                                Since lemon recipes came up a few times, I came across Martha Stewarts Glazed Lemon Pound cake, it can be made ahead and frozen too.
                                It has great reviews and I plan on making it myself also.



                                Glazed Lemon Pound Cake

                                Makes 2 loaves
                                1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
                                3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
                                3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
                                Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
                                1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
                                1 1/2 teaspoons salt
                                1/2 teaspoon baking powder
                                1/2 teaspoon baking soda
                                2 cups sugar
                                5 large eggs

                                Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Butter and flour two 4 1/2-by-8-inch (6-cup) loaf pans.
                                In a small bowl (or liquid measuring cup), combine buttermilk with lemon zest and juice. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
                                With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
                                With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three parts alternately with the buttermilk mixture in two, beginning and ending with flour; beat just until smooth (do not overmix).
                                Divide batter evenly between pans; smooth tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes (tent with foil if browning too quickly). Cool 15 minutes in pan. Turn out cakes onto a rack; cool completely before glazing.
                                Set rack with cakes over a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Pour glaze over cakes, letting it run down the sides; let dry, about 30 minutes.

                                Lemon Glaze
                                2 cups confectioners' sugar
                                3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
                                Place confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup; stir in lemon juice (glaze should be thick, yet pourable). Add more sugar or lemon juice, as necessary, to achieve desired consistency.

                              2. The Moosewood Dessert book has several sure-fire recipies for bundt cakes that look great and feed a crowd. Epicurious.com is another good source for similar cakes, which are easy to prepare and come in all flavors. My personal suggestion would be a lemon or berry cake.

                                1. Hmm...

                                  1) Tarte Tatin - fun, you can do it in a cast iron skillet, and its a unique dessert for most people. I used the recipe from Baking Illustrated

                                  2) Pavlovas - cooking with meringue! how can you go wrong! - again Baking Illustrated has a good recipe, and I see Pavlovas mentioned a lot in cooking magazines these days. Food and Wine this month has a receipe, I believe..

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: grant.cook

                                    Coeur a la Creme with raspberry sauce
                                    Key Lime Pie --delicious and easy.
                                    Buttermilk panna cotta
                                    Simple strawberry shortcakes