Maybe you don't bake or you are, like me, a baker who’s insecure about his prowess. You’re surrounded by friends and professional bakers who whip up the most gorgeous puddings. You, on the other hand, are clumsy in the kitchen and imprecise when you cook—which, in everyday food, makes for adequate, sometimes even delicious results because it's cooked by instinct and by experience, and always to taste.
But in baking, which they say is a science, your inexactitude can mean a broken custard or a soapy banana bread.
As a food editor and recipe developer, I put out savory dishes mostly. In part because my column largely addresses dinner, and therefore baking finds less mention. As Samantha Seneviratne writes in her gorgeous tome, The Joys of Baking, “Cooking is a necessity—everyone needs to eat—but baking is different. No one needs a chocolaty cake or a delectable sweet to survive.”
This leaves little room, then, for me to show that I do still make desserts in my own life. Maybe not always for myself, but for when my friends come over for dinner, or for when I'm looking to ease into the weekend with a chill indoor project.
For such days, there are certain recipes I turn to over and over. These everyday baking projects are foolproof and easy to make. Even more, they require zero precision—which is helpful, as I have none. Now, here’s what I’d really love: Even if you don’t identify as a baker, when you scan these desserts and their ingredient lists, I want you to feel newly confident that people like you and me can—and should—bake.
To start, there’s the simple, straightforward cheesecake, which is a fluffy duvet of lime-tart cream. But it’s not too sour; it edges that notional territory between key lime pie and whipped cream, contrasted texturally by the zest-heavy graham cracker crust that lies beneath. This is probably the easiest dessert because there’s no baking involved, just a bit of light whisking.
The candied lime garnish is entirely optional, but should you be interested: This guide is a good place to start.
Then there’s the bread pudding. Is there anything better than a messy chocolate dessert you can prep, bake, and eat within the hour? Juicy blackberries are a welcome contrast against the sweet pudding base, as is the coulis (a thin sauce made from some of the strained fruit).
My recipe tester slash genius scientist, Rebecca Firkser, recommended a full teaspoon of kosher salt to offset the Nutella—and she couldn’t have been more right. If there’s anything chocolate loves more than fruit, it’s salt.
Finally, there’s the winter fruit galette, which is just a fancy word for open-faced pie. Galettes are ideal for non-bakers, as they require little skill to achieve a beautiful finished product. All you have to do is make a dough of butter, flour, sugar, and salt (plus my secret ingredient: rice vinegar); roll this out and plop some sliced Asian pear into the center. No crimping necessary, as you just fold up the edges to contain the fruit.
Speaking of which, you can dress and arrange the fruit however you like; I went with brown sugar and lemon, which together bubble up into a molasses-scented caramel that tastes great with the pear and whole-wheat crust.