We've all experienced the familiar panic of an unexpected visitor. The phone rings, so-and-so is in the neighbourhood, and they'd like to drop by later in the day. "Only for a coffee," they insist.
But if you're anything like me, serving only coffee would go against every hostess philosophy I've ever subscribed to.
If you have a few tricks up your sleeve, your guests need never know that you were sweating under pressure.
First and foremost, before you start to hyperventilate, open up your pantry and freezer and see what you have. Vanilla ice cream is a great start, as you'll see from my top ten list below. Or maybe you have a box of cake mix. Why not use that heart-shaped muffin tin you bought ages ago and make mini cakes? Sprinkle them with confectioner's sugar, carefully place a couple of ripe raspberries on top, and no one will be the wiser. You could also run to your nearest convenience store and buy a pack of stale pecan tarts, but you and I both know you'll be cringing when your guests take a bite.
This is my top-ten list of fall-back last-minute desserts, most of which I've made, some of which I am eager to try out:
1. Scrumptious ice cream snowballs: The concept is simple. Scoop out some balls of ice cream and freeze them. Once they are frozen solid, dip them in whatever you have on hand - coconut flakes mixed with cinnamon, toffee bits, sprinkles. Serve with a fresh sprig of mint, and voila. You can check out the recipe by scrolling down at this blog post.
2. Banana bread and butterscotch parfait. You may need to make a quick trip to the grocery store for this one, but the prep is so easy you'll be thanking me later. What's on the list? Banana bread, butterscotch pudding, custard, whipping cream. Layer the ingredients in the following order in pretty see-through glasses: pudding, custard, banana bread, whipping cream. Repeat. That's it. If you want to up the pretty factor, place a couple of raspberries, blueberries, or chopped almonds on top.
3. Almond coconut macaroons: After years of trying to make macaroons and watching the batter spread across the Silpat in a spectacular mess, I could hardly believe how easy these almond coconut macaroons were to make.
Best of all, the baking time is short, short, short.
Serve these on a pretty platter, tell your guests you made them just for their arrival, and watch them squirm with pleasure. For these purposes, I'd consider making them a bit smaller, just be sure to keep your eye on the oven. These are also perfect for any friends observing Passover.
4. Marinated strawberries over pound cake: This quick recipe, adapted from a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis' "Everyday Italian" is perfect for the summer when strawberries are in season and on sale. Toss one quart of fresh strawberries with 1/3 cup of aged balsamic vinegar. Let the mixture stand for about 20 minutes then add some sugar to taste. Place a slice of pound cake on a plate, brush some amaretto liquor over the cake, put the strawberries atop, then scoop a large dollop of whipped cream on top of the strawberries. Sprinkle crumbs of amaretti cookies on top of the cake. Serve with a sprig of fresh mint.
5. Maple apple cinnamon cake: I made this cake when I had company coming over unexpectedly and really, really, really did not feel like picking up any extra ingredients from the grocery store. Everything in this recipe happened to be in my fridge or pantry. Chances are it will be the same for you. This cake is ideal for serving in the fall or winter and will perfume your whole house with its scent. This is yet another recipe that tastes divine for breakfast the next day. Just warm it up a bit, and if you're feeling truly indulgent (and you're not a calorie-counter), spread a thin layer of butter on your slice.
6. Mini chocolate-dipped bananas: This is one recipe from Joy the Baker I have not tried but that I have flagged for future use. I don't know about you, but I always have bananas, chocolates, and chopped nuts on hand. Chances are, if you're an avid baker like me, you probably also have some lollipop sticks on hand too. I would serve this in an al fresco setting with some Greek café frappé and impress the pants off my guests.
7. Lemon-yogurt cake with blueberry sauce: Ok, so this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa is a bit more time-consuming than the other recipes, but it is well worth it and you probably have all the ingredients at your fingertips. You'll just need to mix them all up and throw the pan in the oven. If you don't have the time to make the blueberry pan, toss some fresh fruits in the plate alongside the cake and you've got yourself a delicious coffee cake. Not a crumb will be left over. But if there is, this tastes even better the next day.
8. Bananas foster: Yes, this is yet another banana recipe, courtesy of Martha Stewart. But like I said before, most of us have bananas on hand. And if we don't, they are easy enough to buy at the local market or store. Once you have the ingredients on hand, this will literally take you mere minutes to prepare. Serve with a side of vanilla ice cream (By now, I think you are getting the hint that you should always have vanilla and bananas on hand).
9. Baked apples This one is so easy that I've been making it since I was a child. Set your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and core four big apples.
Mix 1/3 cup of raisins, 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar, and a pinch of ground cinnamon, and spoon the mixture into each apple. Place a pat of butter on each apple and pour a mixture of 2 tablespons of water and 2 tablespoons of honey on top. You may also wish to sprinkle some rum, or your favourite alcohol, on top. Bake the apples for about 40 minutes or until soft. Serve warm. This is an ideal dessert during the cold, winter months.
10. Grilled chocolate sandwiches: I'll admit, this is not the most elegant sandwich to serve, but I can guarantee no one will be complaining. If you are still concerned, cut them into smaller tea party-sized sandwiches, dust them with confectioner's sugar, place them on a pretty platter or tiered serving tray, and you've got yourself a chic sweet treat. This recipe calls for Challah or Italian bread, but why not get creative and use some banana bread or brioche?
I'd love to hear from you. What do you whip up when company's coming?