Memorial Day feasting often involves barbecues or other outdoor dining celebrations. And while we primarily concentrate on the main course — an All-American stalwart such as steaks, ribs, sliders or chicken — dessert can often be the panicked after-thought. Or the “what can I pick up on the way to the party?” dilemma. Or the “I don’t have any time to make dessert” exasperation.
Never fear, dessert does not have to be difficult, daunting or a dilemma. It doesn’t mean it has to be a complicated or time-consuming task. It takes a little time management (think “prepared ahead of time”) and patience. Aim for delicious and you can’t go wrong.
Waylynn Lucas, an award-winning pastry chef and one of the judges on the hit Food Network series “Cake Wars” (the new season kicks June 6), urges dessert makers to not be intimidated by the age-old question: “What should I make for dessert?”
“I understand why people are intimidated by dessert recipes because these recipes do require perfection in terms of following the recipe to the T. In cooking, you can correct and adjust along the way, add a bit more salt here, a little more [seasonings] there. When you’re baking, if for example you add too much flour, your dessert is ruined. And you really don’t know until it’s finished [and out of the oven]. When it comes to baking by recipe, you’re given this perfect recipe that’s been tried and tested so all you have to do is follow it, take your time and measure everything. Take the time to slowly add ingredients and slowly mix them. Patience and following the recipe exactly will really take [all the worry] out of it.”
Her go-to summertime desserts?
“For me, it’s always about keeping it fun and simple. Decorated cookies, ginger cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies [see recipe below]. Something easy to make, [store] and serve. Cake is something people can easily make ahead of time and store it easily. Ice cream sandwiches and popsicles [see recipe below] are very easy to make and serve.
“For the ice cream sandwiches, [it’s as easy as] bake your favorite cookie, buy your favorite ice cream [and in this instance], for a Memorial Day gathering, roll them in red, white and blue sprinkles. It elevates them to a whole new level and makes them more festive and fancier.
“Popsicles are easy to make at home, without added sugars. I focus on using fresh berries to keep it light and simple. I like to use coconut milk and pureed fresh strawberries with just a tiny bit of sugar added to both. You can use a drop of food coloring to make the red and blue parts. Or use carrot juice and coconut milk if you prefer. Who doesn’t love a popsicle on a hot day?
“I love to make parfaits with fresh fruits and whipped cream with pieces of cake all layered in small Mason jars that you can store in those big buckets of ice that you would use for cold drinks.”
When it comes to cakes, the most daunting baking endeavor for many, Lucas (owner-operator of Fonuts, the visionary coffee and baked donuts shop in Los Angeles) knows of what she speaks.
“I think people always worry about making a cake look beautiful — the frosting, the decorating, getting it smooth [on all sides]. Nobody expects a [homemade] cake to be perfect! Nowadays it’s all about ‘naked cakes.’ It’s the easiest way to frost and decorate a cake.”
“Naked cakes” are layered cakes that feature plenty of fruit, whipped cream, butter cream or other filling sandwiched in between the layers and topped with as much of all of the aforementioned ingredients as you like [see recipe below].
“Don’t be so concerned about making it look perfect. I encourage home bakers to experiment and have fun with their cakes and don’t worry. Just make it taste good.”
When it comes to measurements, especially with baked goods, Lucas says they will vary from dessert to dessert, and again the recipe is your best guide. “Some recipes are much more delicate that others, and that’s the only time you might notice that a [small kitchen] scale would work better for dry ingredients,” she said. “Again, if a recipe is laid out in ounces of measure, then use a measuring cup or spoon [or scale if you have one] rather than guessing or [eyeballing] something. If it says one cup, then measure out [precisely] one cup.”
BUTTERMILK CAKE (Courtesy Waylynn Lucas)
3 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 ½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp salt
2 ¼ cup oil (vegetable or canola)
1 ½ cup buttermilk
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp vinegar (distilled)
Cut fresh strawberries and add a tablespoon or two of sugar and a splash of water. Cover and let sit in the fridge for an hour.
Cut any other fruit you want to use and set aside.
For the Cake:
Combine all dry ingredients and mix together well.
Combine all wet ingredients, omitting the vinegar.
Combine wet and dry and mix just until combined. Add vinegar and mix thoroughly. Careful to not overmix.
Use 8″ cake pan. Fill pan with 1/4″-1/2″ of batter. Lightly shake to evenly distribute batter. Bake 350 F for 10-14 minutes. Until lightly golden and when you gently press on middle of cake it should spring back.
4 egg whites
¾ cup sugar
Place whites in bowl of electric mixer. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk whites and slowly add in sugar. Add sugar once whites are slightly frothy. Continue mixing whites with sugar over pot until warm, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and place in mixer with whisk attachment; whisk until smooth, shiny and stiff peaks form.
To assemble: Place first layer of cake, use the juice from the strawberries and drizzle or brush onto cake, reserving some more juice for the remaining two layers of cake. Then spread layer of meringue on top about ½-inch thick. Add fresh fruit of any kind or whatever is in season, in between each cake layer, as well as any other spices or flavors you like on top of meringue. Continue until finished. Top cake with more meringue and berries! For this I used strawberries, cherries, blackberries and blueberries to get the red, white and blue effect perfect for Memorial Day.
Strawberry Coconut Popsicles (Courtesy Waylynn Lucas)
1 pound fresh strawberries (cleaned and with stems cut off)
¼ cup sugar
3 tbsp water
1 cup coconut milk
3 tbsp sugar
fresh blueberries (optional)
Place the strawberries, sugar and water in blender and blend just until smooth. You might need to adjust and add a little more sugar if your strawberries are not very ripe. Don’t lessen the sugar, as it helps keep the popsicle from getting too icy.
Separately stir the sugar into coconut milk until dissolved.
Take your popsicle mold, whatever your preference will work fine, keeping in mind that the measurement for each layer I have given below will vary based on the shape and size of your molds. The fun part about this is you can layer it however you choose and add in fresh blueberries wherever you want.
I chose to start with one tablespoon coconut puree and then place it back in freezer to let freeze before adding the next layer of strawberry. You don’t want the top layer to be liquid when you pour in the next layer of strawberry puree or it will melt into the coconut and you won’t get clean layers and lines on your popsicle. If you prefer to melt them together a little bit, you can let it partially freeze and then add the next layer. This will give a nice swirl effect on the popsicle. Keep in mind you still have to let it freeze around the edges some.
Once that’s frozen, you can add the next layer of approximately 2 tablespoons strawberry puree, and freeze. Followed by a thin layer of coconut puree, about 1 teaspoon, then placed in freezer. Keep repeating this process alternating with coconut and strawberry. For the last layer, I added fresh blueberries on top of the frozen strawberry layer and added the final coconut milk.
Place the popsicle sticks in the mold and place it back in freezer to set up for about 3 hours.
OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIE (Courtesy Waylynn Lucas)
¾ cup butter soft
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 ¾ cup oats (quick cooking)
1 cup raisins
Sift flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon together, set aside. Place butter in bowl of mixer with paddle attachment. Mix butter until fluffy, then slowly add sugar and mix until pale in color and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, mix lightly until combined. Add dry ingredients slowly. Mix until combined but don’t overmix. Slowly add oats, then raisins until well combined. Place in the fridge covered for an hour or more.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper, spray with nonstick spray or lightly coat with butter.
Place balls of cookie dough on tray about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 F for approximately 8-12 minutes, until golden brown. Careful to not over-bake, as you want the cookies soft to be made into ice cream sandwiches. Let cookies cool.
Take your favorite vanilla ice cream, or any flavor, and scoop out and place into the center of a cookie. Take another cookie and sandwich it on top. Gently squeeze down so ice cream just starts to stick out the sides. Roll in your favorite sprinkles and place back in freezer in an airtight container. You can use different colored sprinkles to customize for any special event!