Dessert

5-Ingredient or Less Desserts Are All About Little Effort, Big Reward

December 18, 2018

When it comes to dessert recipes, it’s all too easy for ingredient lists to become very long, very fast. Most of the time, they can’t help themselves. Take this yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting for instance. There are a dozen ingredients—and most of those are non-negotiable: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder, vanilla…

But not every dessert is like this.

From two-ingredient nut brittle to three-ingredient Oreo balls, our site is full of low-effort, big-reward sweets. These have been the biggest inspiration since starting Big Little Recipes—my weekly column all about big-flavored recipes with teeny-tiny ingredient lists. Something sweet doesn’t have to mean something complicated. Here are five of my fave Big Little desserts to prove it:


When I say three-ingredient hot fudge sundae, you probably think ice cream, hot fudge, and whipped cream. And you’re right—but only sort of. Here, we’re actually using three ingredients to make ice cream, hot fudge, and whipped cream, all from scratch: sweetened condensed milk, unsweetened chocolate, and heavy cream. No ice cream machine required.

These cookies need no leavener, no electric mixer, no fuss. I took a classic Mexican wedding cookie template and made a few Big Little adjustments: browning the butter for increased coziness and increasing the amount of nuts for As Much Pecan Flavor As Possible (AMPFAP). Just don’t hold back on the confectioners’ sugar coating.

I went to Seattle for the oysters, but ended up finding this cookie game-changer from Sea Wolf Bakery: croissant brittle. While more-classic nut brittle involves sugar boiling, candy thermometers, and a giant mess, this rendition couldn’t be simpler. Just dunk croissant slices in a creamy sugar syrup and bake until crispy. (Last minute holiday gift? You know it.)

If you like pudding, you’ll love posset. This custard is egg-free and citrus-thickened, which means all you have to do is heat up cream and sugar, add lime juice, and wait. (Yep, no gelatin, no cornstarch.) I’d be happy with that and a spoon, but this recipe adds a bonus: graham cracker streusel. Think of it like Key lime pie in a bowl.

Can we even call this a recipe? You’ll read it once, then never look at it again—and good! Here’s the cheat sheet: Toss sliced apples with brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour lots of cream on top. That’s it. Repeat from now until springtime.

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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

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