Are You There, Genius Lemon Bars? + 17 More Desserts I’m Hunting

May  3, 2017

As I mentioned back in December, I’ve been on the hunt for the best, smartest, most dependable and life-brightening dessert recipes for Genius Desserts, a happy new spinoff of the Genius Recipes cookbook. After about 9 months of testing and about 900 pounds of butter, I’m getting close to wrapping up my Table of Contents and writing the unruly thing—but there are a few white whales that I haven’t found yet, and I would love your help.

For the record, I might still be hunting for these either because I haven’t found the right recipe yet, or because I’m torn between a few options and hoping for a tiebreaker, or for any number of other reasons (there are only so many Dorie Greenspan recipes you can put in a cookbook and not have it be a Dorie Greenspan cookbook, right?)—so if you’ve recommended any of these before, they may still be in the mix! Please take a peek at the list below and if any recipes spring to mind, let me know in the comments or at [email protected]. (By the way, if you're wondering what might qualify as a genius dessert, I posed five simple questions here.)

Thank you all. I promise I’ll return the favor.

Genius Desserts I'm Still Hunting

  1. Lemon bars
  2. Bread pudding
  3. Rugelach
  4. A meringue cake, maybe layered with whipped cream or curd or the like
  5. A really easy, last-minute flaky pie crust using oil or melted butter (I just heard about one from a caller on the Leonard Lopate show, so I know they exist!)
  6. Pandowdies or other rustic fruity desserts with delightful names (that aren’t cobblers)
  7. Caramels, chocolate fudge, or other candies that, ideally, don’t require a candy thermometer
  8. Could there be a genius Rice Krispie treat?
  9. Snickerdoodles!
  10. Something with bananas—my husband Mike would appreciate that it be banana pudding, but I’m open to other options
  11. Something with cherries
  12. Upside-down cake
  13. Sandwich cookies
  14. Pots de creme or similar
  15. Panna cotta—maybe made with agar? I hear these might be lighter than those made with gelatin.
  16. Clafoutis?
  17. It’s not on this list and defies categorization, but is an outrageously genius dessert you must tell me about. Bring it on.
  18. Are you looking for a genius version of something? Maybe we can help you out, too.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • morrissconley
  • Cathy
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    Linda Aston
  • Tina Wee
    Tina Wee
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    Amy Meyer
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


morrissconley December 22, 2018
Whenever I use Ina Garten's rugelach recipe I always get requests to make more!
Cathy August 29, 2018
The most unusual and delicious upside down cake ever. Upside Down Apricot-Carrot Cake Recipe from Valentina’s Cooking on the Weekends Blog
Linda A. August 21, 2018
For the meringue cake try searching for German "Schaumtorte" (foam cake).It has a crust of meringue and lemon curd made with the yolks...layered with giant amounts of whipped cream...Heaven!
Tina W. July 4, 2018
Judy wanted to share my prize winning upside down coke recipe with you. Over the last 15 yrs it has literally won EVERY competition I have EVER entered it into as the first place prize winner! I make the traditional pineapple upside down cake with pineapples, cherries and pecans in the melted butter brown sugar and then top it with a yellow cake. Before I mix up the yellow cake (substituting the juice from the pineapple can for water in the recipe), I mix a box of Jello pistachio pudding mix into the dry cake batter. Not only does it give the cake a delicate and attractive pale green color but it also provides a rich, decadent buttery flavor to the cake that will make you never want it any other way. I have never made this cake for a friend or associate who didn't instantly want the recipe! Good luck and enjoy!
Amy M. April 7, 2018
There Is A genius rice crispy treat...reduce butter, add peanut butter and drizzle with milk chocolate melted in a ziplock..easy pleasy.
ribbius February 14, 2018
The improved 'easy chocolate nemesis' recipe in the new RIVER CAFE 30 cookbook. It is the best chocolate dessert ever.
m. N. January 5, 2018
It doesn't fit in any category listed, but Martha Stewart PBS lemon bundt cake is beyond perfect, it freezes beautifully and it you follow it to the letter, including creaming the room temp. butter and sugar for 5 minutes, it gives you a rich deep lemon cake beyond delicious.
Emma Z. September 20, 2017
Alice Medrich's lemon bars are my fav. Perfectly tart and sweet, and incredibly easy to make!
Re August 10, 2017 Give David's tart dough a try! Uses melted butter!
Courtney C. July 3, 2017
Deb Perelman's Whole Lemon Bars - they use the entire lemon (as the name implies) and are so good. I also love Nigella Lawson's meringue cakes - she has one with lemon and one with strawberries and whipped cream.
Katie M. July 11, 2017
I second Deb's! Excellent every time!
Michelle B. June 15, 2017
Butter mochi! Super simple but genius all the same!
debi May 25, 2017
Suzanne Goin's bread pudding from Sunday Suppers is the bomb.
Kallie May 17, 2017
The secret to perfect rice crispy treats is to use canola oil instead of butter, which sounds sacrilege. They are both easier to make and they stay softer and stickier for much longer than traditional butter based rice crispy treats. The recipe is just:
1/2 C canola oil
1 12-oz box of Rice Krispie cereal
2 bags of mini marshmallows
You melt the marshmallows and oil together in the microwave for a minute and then mix the Krispies in.
david May 12, 2017
Lemon Bars: Alice Medrich from "Cookies and Brownies"
Kristen M. May 12, 2017
Thank you all so very much for your help! What a list! I'll start readying that next truckload of butter now.
KariL May 11, 2017
For the Rice Krispie treat, scotcharoos are awesome. I can't bake at all and these are my go to potluck dessert.
Caroline L. June 1, 2017
Yes! And so much tastier than the marshmallow kind, in general.
asbrink May 8, 2017
I feel that "something with cherries" and "clafoutis" have got to be one and the same, if only because a cherry clafoutis is the only cherry dessert I've seen where you're encouraged NOT to pit the cherries. Whether or that that indeed fills the intended purpose of flavoring with the clafoutis with the almondy cherry pit flavor or not, it's a pretty genius stress-reducing strategy to me.
asbrink May 8, 2017
That being said, I like the recipe Deb uses:
amorgizi May 8, 2017
For Lemon bars Joanne Chang's recipe feature in Fine Cooking Magazine
Issue #49
For Sand which cookies, either the Peanut Butter Sand which cookies from
Fine cooking #43 or Martha Stewart's Carrot Cake Sand which cookies
For Rugelach Ina
For Snickerdoodles the boys at Baked in Brooklyn from their book not sure
which one
For Caramels Smitten kitchen apple cider caramels or shutterbean bourbon
salted caramels
For Banana Pudding Smitten Kitchen's one is amazing and is homemade
down to the wafers :)
Dana G. May 8, 2017
Hi Kristen, Here are a few suggestions. I am always searching for easy recipes that will encourage people to get in the kitchen and have fun!
Chocolate fudge/candies that don’t require a candy thermometer

Pandowdies/rustic fruit desserts/ delightful names (NOT cobblers)
( This recipe is my most popular recipe ever. Beautiful, delicious and easy)

Something with cherries

Something with bananas/banana pudding?/other options
Sandwich cookies
Pots de creme or similar
Bread pudding
Christi May 8, 2017
Ina Garten's lemon bars are amazing. This is also a good template for banana pudding that you can easily tweak for personal preference: