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50 Desserts That Every Cook Should Know

With the indulgence of the holiday season just around the corner, I thought it time for me to sift through and update my dessert recipes. I have a few go-to ones, a Pumpkin Cheesecake from epicurious.com and a lemon tart from an old job as well as the chocolate chip cookie recipe from Cook's Illustrated a few years back.

I know some of you have tons of recipes, tried and true, collected over the years. So, from one home chef to another, if you could recommend 50 (at the most) desserts (cakes, pies, cookies, squares, tarts, etc.) that I have in my arsenal, what would they be?

Here's what I have so far:

Lemon Tart
Nick's Supernatural Brownies
Cook's Illustrated Chocolate Chip Cookies
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Vanilla Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop

PLEASE post recipes if you have them!

Thanks to all those in advance who take the time to respond. :D

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  1. Dacquoise - nut meringue with buttercream cake
    Reine de saba - chocolate nut cake
    Madeleines
    Cream puffs and their ilk
    Pecan pie (and/or its Canadian sister, the butter tart)
    Shortbread
    Fruitcake
    My seven...this is fun, looking forward to the other contributions!
    (And you picked the right brownies.)

    56 Replies
    1. re: buttertart

      Lol, I picked them because of you! You said they were the best. I added about a teaspoon of espresso powder to them for that little kick and everyone said they were the best brownies ever! I also made a gluten-free batch for my Dad, he actually got mad because I guess he was on a diet and couldn't stop eating them lol!!

      1. re: AmandaCA

        Yay!!! They are great, aren't they.

        1. re: buttertart

          Okay you guys are killing me. I just read Nick's brownie recipe and immediately went to fridge to take out butter. Making tonight, can't wait!!!! They look amazing.

          1. re: millygirl

            What took you so long? I've been raving about them for years. ;-)

            1. re: millygirl

              They are amazing! Seriously, best brownies ever. I also like the fact that it is a simple recipe and thus easy to tweak to your needs and/or tastes.

              1. re: AmandaCA

                I dunno, I can't recall seeing it before. Probably a good thing. Mr. MG can't eat too much chocolate at night so I find myself eating for two. LOL
                Gets very dangerous.

              2. re: millygirl

                I can't find the link to Nick's supernatural brownies. Please post!

                1. re: millygirl

                  Yeah, Nicks Brownies are incredible. What are some of the best cheesecake recipes you have all come across?

                  1. re: Andrea Alexander

                    http://www.food.com/recipe/japanese-c...
                    for the recipe
                    http://www.dianasdesserts.com/index.c...
                    for a picture of what it really looks like
                    This is my current favorite - I love!!! this recipe.

                    1. re: buttertart

                      In a few minutes, I'm going to make this; eggs and cream cheese are room temp (went to two stores in a row that only had fancy cream cheese brands...had to go to a 3rd store in order to get Philly...I've read that it's the best to use in cheesecake recipes).

                      I also bought some Apricot jam for a glaze. Can I leave this cake on the counter the rest of the day and then serve it tonight OR does it have to be stored in the fridge? (Hope it's enough for 4 people!!)

                      1. re: walker

                        Great! It's more than enough for 4, more like 8 good-sized pieces.
                        Yes you can leave it on the counter - it's wonderful barely warm or room temperature.
                        I'd put the leftovers in the fridge.
                        Memo to self, must try frozen, I bet would be wonderful.

                        1. re: buttertart

                          So, when should I pour the glaze over it? Should I let it cool off a bit in the pan, first?

                          The other recipe said to let it remain in the water bath a while. I was surprised this recipe did not call for the cake flour, like the other one. (Or, maybe that was in the comments.)

                          Have you ever tried making the other one with the photo?

                          1. re: walker

                            Buttertart, I grinned when I saw Walker's post because I'm taken with the picture of Diana's (I know, I know, prettier doesn't mean better). Also, I liked that it was taller and I like using my 8" round pans.

                            If I were to do cornstarch only for Diana's recipe (I'm not sure I think you recommended this), what would you say about the amount of eggs in Diana's vs. the recipe you prefer?

                            This is a cheesecake I can't wait to try, but it may be a while before I do so. I'll probably want to take a day and make a few to freeze. My thoughts are it seems a little labor intensive and it will probably go in 2 bites!

                            1. re: lilgi

                              Side-by-side comparison:
                              Diana's is bigger overall (and if it's really done in a 8" pan ot must be a very deep one indeed).
                              Measurements approximated because no scale to hand - first is Diana's -
                              2/3 c sugar vs 1/2 cup
                              6 eggs vs 3 eggs (this must be VERY light indeed)
                              1/4 tsp vs 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (egg white fixative, shouldn't make a huge amount of difference)
                              2 oz butter vs none
                              9 oz vs 7 oz cream cheese
                              3 oz vs 2 oz milk (I've used sour cream here btw...)
                              1 tb vs 2 tb lemon juice (I like more lemon and use the grated zest as well - maybe less cream of tartar because less acid?)
                              2 oz cake flour vs none
                              1 oz cornflour ve 1/4 c - appx the same?
                              1/4 tsp salt vs none (I always add a bit anyway)
                              Conclusion: I've got to make the Diana one soon...for purposes of comparison.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                Yes, I thought the eggs were the big difference here (I missed the butter). Sour cream is a fantastic addition. Do you think you'll simply replace the butter with the sour cream keeping the milk?

                                I started leaning towards Diana's after looking at photos/tips here:
                                http://www.thelittleteochew.com/searc...
                                Recipe at top

                                I thought it was just a tad labor intensive after looking at this. She complains incessantly about her photos, meanwhile I just want to grab that cake right off the screen. She also mentions tenting foil on top of the cake to prevent excessive browning. I like her idea of sieving and she doesn't use lemon (I would).

                                I forgot I have a casual birthday next week; will make with a light dusting of confectioners' and serve with a ginger/lime curd. Let me know what you think of what she does with the cake. And merci for the side by side (much too frugal on kitchen space for the scale!).

                                1. re: lilgi

                                  Those photos are gorgeous! Methinks she doth protest too much. Ingrained cultural modesty? "Oh this? this is just ordinary everyday food..." said over a home-cooked banquet...
                                  I do not melt the cream cheese, I just beat those ingredients together. Wonder how that would affect the end result??? Hmm. Yes on the sieving, anything with egg should be sieved.
                                  I used the sour cream instead of the milk.
                                  Obviously there's a lot more to be done with this...a separate thread topic maybe?
                                  Incidentally if you're ever near a patisserie run by Japanese people, get in there and buy stuff, their pastries are wonderful (at least the ones I've had from one in Fort Lee in NJ).
                                  Poor Japan.

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    Hah, yes she has issues - all in a good way.

                                    I posed the question on the sour cream because I thought it could go either way (fat or milk) in this recipe, whereas the other one contains no fat. Wasn't entirely sure, I'll probably do it your way. Good idea on another thread. Cake making for me will be next Thursday (yay!)

                                    And yes, I do see a Japanese dessert binge in my near future ;)

                                    1. re: lilgi

                                      I'm definitely making Diana's v soon, next weekend I hope.

                            2. re: walker

                              Well, I waited about 10-15 minutes and then took it out of the pan and put it on a pretty cake plate and then poured the apricot glaze over.

                              If it tastes as good as it looks, I'll be happy. Since you need to beat 2 different things and I only have one bowl for KA, I was smart enough to to mix cream cheese, etc in a bowl with my hand mixer and saved the KA for the 10 minutes of beating of egg whites.

                              1. re: walker

                                That's a good way to do it - I only have 1 bowl as well, with this and other cakes requring it I usually do the egg whites first and put them in another bowl (since there's sugar in them they are fairly stable as long as they're not kept very long), and then do the cream cheese etc, folding in the egg whites in a few goes.
                                I used to fold the whole amount in at once in my baking in general but it's much easier and retains lightness better if done in several parts.
                                I've never glazed it, we usually eat it plain with frozen sour cherries (my husband is crazy about them and lays in a supply each summer).
                                When I made it at his mother's house in Iowa recently, there was too much batter for her pan so I made 3 Pyrex custard cups of it that we ate barely warm with the cherries (they sell them in grocery stores there...). Oh my goodness.
                                I use a 3" deep 8" Wilton pan for mine as I think I said and it makes a nice deep cake.
                                I use either cornstarch or potato flour as the starch, some recipes say do not use wheat flour of whatever kind.
                                I don't find it to be any more work than any other 2-step cake (with the egg whites folded in at the end).

                                PS hope you loved it!

                                1. re: buttertart

                                  Those sour cherries sound WONDERFUL. I used to be able to find Agrimontana Sour Cherry Preserves but now you have to special order and they are even more expensive!!

                                  Anyway, the cake was wonderful. I managed to get a slice for myself .. yay .. so it fed 6 with an extra slice or 2 for a guest to take home to enjoy in private!

                                  I really think it came out exactly as it should (I've never eaten such but it looked like the description. I don't know how to take the photo and post here -- I was trying to get my daughter to do it but .. maybe next time. It looked really pretty sitting on a nice cake stand. I used the apricot jam glaze -- I think that made it even better. I think I like it even better after it's been in the fridge.

                                  I'd love to hear about how it compares with the other recipe that uses cake flour.

                                  There's a newish Japanese Sweet store on Market Street in San Francisco. I have not been inside but from outside, it looks like a fancy jewelry store. They probably have this cake in Japanese bakeries in Japantown.

                                  1. re: walker

                                    The sour cherries are great - and not very expensive, but I've only seen the commercially-frozen ones (lately) in Hy-Vee stores in Davenport, IA. WHY NOT IN NYC??? Lots of people here are crazy about sour cherries.

                                    I am so happy you liked it, it really is very special. I'll make the other one next week and report.

                                    The sweet store probably has the quite wonderful seasonal specialty sweets (wagashi) made with agar-agar, bean paste, chestnuts, rice flour, and other traditional ingredients.

                                    They may have French pastries as well, but if it looks like a jewelry store I think it would be the other (a whole branch of sweetmaking onto itself with unimaginably many local and seasonal items to explore - we were served one with chestnut filling upon our arrival for a fairytale four days at the Hiiragiya traditional inn in Kyoto a few years back, made only there and staped with their holly logo). Have a look at "wagashi" or "traditional Japanese sweets" on the web, gorgeous stuff.

                                    There must be a patisserie qua patisserie in Japantown, the ones here (Bergen County, NJ) have names like "Parisienne" etc to indicate what they're up to.

                                    I've seen apparently shelf-stable ones of these wrapped up like snack cakes in Chinatown here but have never been brave enough to try them.

                                    Another SF person to bedevil me with memories of when we lived in the Bay Area, eh???

                                    1. re: buttertart

                                      There's a chocolate candy store on the corner of Gough and Hayes (I think it's Hayes) that looks like an expensive, exclusive jewelry shop (too). I have not been inside there, either. The Belgian chocolates (especially special ones at Christmas) that Costco sells are good enough for me! (and my budget!).

                                      1. re: walker

                                        Leonidas I believe, love them too.

                                        1. re: buttertart

                                          you two might want to see if your library has Joy Of Cheesecake--superb cheesecake book, circa 1970's. Got the idea from it to use mascarpone in a savory CC that won a CC contest.

                                          Excellent book!

                                          1. re: toodie jane

                                            My dear great aunt-in-law gave me that book as it happens, will look!

                                            1. re: toodie jane

                                              The Joy of Cheesecake can be purchased used for as little as $4.00 including shipping. http://www.amazon.com/Cheesecake-Dana...

                  2. re: AmandaCA

                    Would love to know how you made them gluten free...

                    1. re: mom22tots

                      It was pretty simple. I changed out the chocolate chips for an allergen-free vareity that my parents just keep around the house. Then I picked up a package of Pamela's Ultimate Baking and Pancake Mix which you can sub one to one for ap flour. Pamela's is a great baking mix but it does have buttermilk in it so if anyone in your family has dairy allergies then you can use Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free AP Flour. When I made them gluten-free, they needed to be cooked a touch longer, but it could have been just me; I think it ended up being around 45 minutes.

                        1. re: mom22tots

                          i'm not a huge fan of any of the packaged GF mixes, but if you have your own go-to GF flour mix, it will sub nicely in this recipe thanks to all the butter & eggs :)

                          i made them a while back with a combination of rice flours plus the requisite tapioca & potato starch and a touch of guar gum...i actually did it as an experiment to see if i could fool gluten-eaters, and it worked like a charm. they all *loved* the brownies and didn't believe me when i told them they were GF.

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            brownies work really well with GF flour. that was a happy discovery when I was avoiding gluten a few months ago. no one can tell the difference, either.

                            1. re: ChristinaMason

                              While we're talking gluten-free, flourless chocolate cookies are intensely wonderful. I made them with pecans instead of walnuts...and even made a Mexican variation with cinnamon, ancho and chipotle. They have a chewy, brownie-like consistency, which made me want to chime in here on your brownie discussion. ;) You just need to be be careful with the temperature--maintain 350 degrees F as you put the cookies in the oven, then drop the temperature to 325 degrees F. Be sure to bring the oven back to 350 degrees F for each new batch, then drop it back down. Thanks to both Danna and Caitlin McGrath for helping me to troubleshoot back when. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6519...

                              My mom even enjoyed the cookies when I screwed them up and they came out like rocks. HA HA!

                              >>^..^<<
                              http://kattyskitchen.wordpress.com/

                            2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              I also am not a huge fan of the baking mixes. I had a bunch of money left in my healthcare account and bought a bunch to try with the money. Anyway, i don't think I get better results with them than I do with my own blends.

                              I make the supernatural brownies with GF flour all the time. Because they don't have a lot of flour it always fooled.

                              In fact have made GF baked goods all the time that fool. Breads and such don't fool, and some cakes are tricky to get the right texture depending on how picky the tasters are.

                    2. re: buttertart

                      Which book is Nick's Supernatural Brownies from? Never mind. I just saw the link to the Saveur article.

                      1. re: roxlet

                        Yes, the supernatural recipe is on the web and at his site as well, and it's from his chocolate book, which is definitely worth adding to your collection.

                        http://www.amazon.com/Chocolate-Simpl...

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          Oh, enough from you! More books? No way! Oooh, did you say chocolate. Wait, lemme see...

                          1. re: roxlet

                            Haha, go for it. This one and Alice Medrich's Cocolat and you've covered all the bases.

                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                              Don't forget Alice Medrich's two other chocolate books. :)

                              1. re: souschef

                                I was trying to avoid over suggesting cookbooks for roxlet, as I think she may be reaching critical mass, but yes, I am of the belief that you cannot have too many chocolate books.

                                1. re: bushwickgirl

                                  I was just being a troublemaker, but Buttertart is right that Bittersweet is useful for substitutions. I don't believe in light/low fat dessert/chocolate books - why bother. As Julia Child once said in an interview (I'm paraphrasing), "A cake can be extremely rich, but all you need is a very small slice".

                                2. re: souschef

                                  Even the low fat Medrich is worth having. You definitely need Bittersweet, it has info on substituting diffferent percentage chocolates in receipes that call for a particular one, v useful.
                                  Get the Malgieri Chocolate, miss, it's great. (His first book, on Italian desserts, is wonderful too and has recipes that you don't see elswhere.)
                                  I'm putting my drum away now...

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    So, what? I'm going to spend my $200 KA&L gift certificate on chocolate books? Starting to look that way...

                                    1. re: roxlet

                                      I suggest that if you don't already have it, you buy Cocolat first and make a bunch of cakes first using a chocolate you already know. you may never need another chocolate book.

                                      1. re: roxlet

                                        To roxlet, Nah, ABEbooks or even Amazon first. You need something really special for that gift cert, something you wouldn't/couldn't get otherwise.

                                      2. re: buttertart

                                        Whoops, Bittersweet, another one added to my list...and Great Italian Desserts. I've been thinking about Dolce Italiano as well, anyone have/know that one?

                                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                                          I didn't like Dolce Italiano, too pastry-cheffy, and the brownies with chestnuts I made from it were a waste of chestnuts.
                                          Yay!!!!!!!!!!! It's chestnut season/weather!

                                          1. re: buttertart

                                            Yay indeed. I have to go see if the marroni are available yet.

                                            1. re: buttertart

                                              Have you made the chocolate sandwich cookies? Worth the price of the book.

                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                We just tested that chestnut brownie and I so didn't like them. I tried them again with my own brownie recipe, substituting half the ap flour for chestnut flour, and again, a flop. I think the chestnut flour was too bitter (or too old - how long was that bag sitting on the store shelf). I agree with you, not the best use of roast chestnuts, either. I'd rather eat a bowl of roasted chestnuts than one of those brownies.

                                                1. re: jsantopietro

                                                  If you get some new chestnut flour try the chestnut pound cake in Alice Medrich's "Pure Dessert". Fantastic.
                                                  I think it's a waste to use a subtly-flavored ingredient like chestnut flour with chocolate in any case.

                                              2. re: bushwickgirl

                                                There seem to be so many Medrich chocolate books on abebooks!

                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                  don't forget half.com! it's great for cheap books and cookbooks.

                                  2. re: buttertart

                                    So interesting that you say pecan pie's "Canadian sister" of the butter tart. The Southern pecan pie may have originated with the Scots-Irish immigrants here, which is the same place (I've heard) that the Canadian's got the butter tart. Hi, sister.

                                    1. re: sancan

                                      And I bet they're both adaptations of treacle tart from the old country. Good point, I never really thought of that, sister!

                                  3. I *totally agree* with buttertart on the pecan pie (I've used the recipe from the back of the Karo syrup bottle for many years to happy raves)...and I'm only adding 2:

                                    Epi's Double Chocolate Layer Cake http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
                                    Gramercy Tavern Ginger Bread http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Val

                                      That gingerbread is really tough to get out of even a well-greased non-stick. Just a word of warning for anyone new to the recipe. It's delicious though.

                                      1. re: ChristinaMason

                                        You really have to try the Wilton Cake Release. This stuff is fantastic. I just made that recipe for gingerbread and it came out like a dream.

                                    2. I love your post, but what would even be greater,is recipes to go along with it.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: paprkutr

                                        Here are mine so far:

                                        Lemon Tart

                                        Crust
                                        1 C all-purpose flour
                                        7 tbl. softened butter (no substitutions)
                                        2 tbl. powdered sugar

                                        Filling
                                        3 large eggs lightly beaten
                                        1 C sugar
                                        1/3 C fresh lemon juice
                                        2 tbl. flour

                                        Preheat oven to 350°. Combine crust ingredients in a bowl. Press evenly into tart
                                        pan and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Bake 15-18 minutes until golden brown and cool
                                        for 15 minutes. Whisk all filling ingredients together and pour into tart shell. Bake for
                                        15-18 minutes until set. Cool and dust lightly with powdered sugar. Refrigerate until
                                        ready to serve. Garnish with whipped cream and a few raspberries or blueberries.

                                        Nick's Supernatural Brownies
                                        http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes...

                                        Cook's Illustrated Chocolate Chip Cookies
                                        http://www.food.com/recipe/chocolate-...

                                        Pumpkin Cheesecake
                                        http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                        Vanilla Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop
                                        http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/02/...

                                        1. re: AmandaCA

                                          I use the Clafoutis recipe from the LCBO ( http://www.lcbo.com/lcbo-ear/RecipeCo...

                                          )

                                          and my mom's Tiramisu recipe

                                          Ingredients

                                          6 eggs
                                          6 tbsp sugar
                                          500g mascarpone cheese
                                          lady fingers
                                          brandy
                                          Cold espresso

                                          Directions

                                          Beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Mix the egg yolk mixture with the mascarpone cheese..
                                          Then beat the egg whites into a still foam and incorporate them into the cheese mixture.

                                          Make the coffee with sugar, milk, and brandy. Dip ladyfingers in the coffee and arrange them in the bottom of the tray.

                                          Pour some of the egg mixture over the ladyfingers, then make another layer of ladyfingers.
                                          Finish with cheese mixture refrigerate.

                                          Sprinkle with cocoa powder and serve.

                                        2. panna cotta

                                          chocolate souffle

                                          spoon cookies from epicurious. (I make them without the filling, just plain, kind of a browned butter cookie

                                          summer berry mint cream tart from epicurious (with a creamy layer infused with fresh mint topped with strawberries)

                                          blueberry raspberry cake from epicurious (for a good basic summer cake, kind of a cross between a coffee cake and regular cake)

                                          for a showstopper that is not as hard as it looks, the almond praline cake with mascarpone frosting and chocolate bark from epicurious. very impressive and tastes fantastic.

                                          1. World Peace Cookies (Dorie Greenspan)
                                            Chocolate caramel tarts (Claudia Fleming)
                                            pound cake
                                            chocolate cake
                                            shortcake
                                            sable
                                            shortbread
                                            truffles
                                            chocolate pudding
                                            banana cream pie