There was an old song, “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake!”…the idea being that having a tasty dessert on hand for last minute guests was a daunting challenge. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not true…with a little prep work. Yes I understand that “last minute” and “prep work” may seem contradictory, but hear me out.
I’m a saver. Growing up with a 1st-grade teacher mother who saved everything to reuse in her classroom (“Don’t rip the wrapping paper!” was a common refrain around gift-giving times), I absorbed her penchant for not letting things just go to waste. In the kitchen, that means saving chicken or beef bones and vegetable scraps to make stock, thinking up creative ways to use my weekly sourdough starter discard (I’ve gotten pretty good that this one!), and freezing unbaked pie crust or biscuit scraps even if there’s just a little bit left (believe me, it can add up). I also employ the shape & bake half/freeze the rest method for cookies and scones (the Mocha Chocolate Truffle cookies from Sharing is Caring and Cream Scones from Time for Tea really lend themselves to this technique). Yes, my freezer fills up quickly.
Christina Lane, cookbook author and blogger of “Dessert for Two” touts the idea of making small batch desserts — she scales down many dessert recipes and shares them on her blog. I love this idea. First, since my husband and I are empty nesters, I don’t really want a full batch of something sitting around tempting me from the counter, only to have it go stale. lt also gives me ideas on how to use some of my pre-made dough scraps to create small desserts that can feed unexpected guests quickly. For example, inspired by Christina, I bought some small baking pans (a 6″ cast iron pan, 6″ cake pan, some small tart pans, 2 small loaf pans, just to name a few). Now when I bake a pie crust, I can bake off a couple of small tart shells with the scraps and freeze them in a plastic container (see the header picture above), or conversely, I’ll defrost the frozen pie crust scraps and bake them in the small pans as needed.
Now using my freezer stash is a matter of getting creative…I can make a quick fruit-filled galette (essentially a free-form pie bake on a cookie sheet) using frozen dough, or using the 6″ pie pan, bake a mini pumpkin or pecan pie. The pre-made tart shells are great for jam tarts (one of my favorite quintessentially British desserts). The un-baked cookie dough can be baked off either as cookies (duh!), or a few baked together in the 6″ cast-iron pan for a cookie pizza that can then be topped with ice cream. And I neglected to mention that because these items are small, I can bake them in a toaster oven rather than my big oven that takes 15 minutes just to pre-heat. Score!
The beauty of all this prep work is that I don’t have to buy frozen pie crusts, cookie dough, or other commercially made stuff because I’m just saving and using up what I’ve already made. I know the quality of the ingredients and I don’t have to fret about not having something on hand. And, I generally don’t have to really mess up the kitchen too much, just defrost and use as needed.
I mentioned jam tarts in my list of examples above as being a British treat. Remember the English nursery rhyme, “The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts…”? I always envisioned the tarts to be jam tarts, which are simply some sort of jam warmed in a tart shell (as if the title doesn’t give it away already…). The shell can be a shortbread or crumb crust (sometimes with almond meal added for extra flavor), but I recently made jam tarts using those mini tart shells I had in the freezer. Here’s what I did:
Quick Chocolate Raspberry Jam Tarts
2 frozen mini tart shells
2 Tbsp chopped dark or semi-sweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)
1/4-1/3 cup raspberry fruit preserves (I like the kind only sweetened with fruit juice, but that’s up to you)
- Defrost tart shells (I left them on the counter for 1/2 hour, but you can defrost them overnight in the refrigerator)
- Preheat toaster oven to 350ºF (this takes very little time for my little oven)
- Warm tart shells on a baking sheet about 5 minutes until hot (but not starting to brown)
- Remove shells from oven & sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of chocolate. Return to oven another 5 min, then remove and spread melted chocolate over bottom of shell.
- Spoon preserves into shell, filling to top & leveling as best you can (don’t overfill).
Increase oven temp to 400ºF, return shells to oven, & bake 5-10 minutes until jam is slightly bubbling.
- Remove tarts from oven (be careful removing the tarts…that jam will be HOT!). Cool to room temperature.
I’d love to hear your ideas about serving dessert at the last minute. What shortcuts do you take when you bake? What do you prep and store? Let me know with a comment below. Here’s to a prepped freezer, friends to feed, and the creativity to make it happen!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!