Like many, at the start of this sheltering-in-place experience, I had grand ambitions for my weekday cooking and baking. I'd lovingly nurture my sourdough starter each morning; mise all the ingredients for an exquisite salad or tartine for lunch; stop work in the evening and craft a stick-to-my-ribs dinner, accompanied by NPR and a glass of Sangiovese; while dinner cooked, I'd stir up a cake batter or cookie dough to bake and enjoy, still warm, while curling up with The Sopranos.
weeks days in, reality looked much different. My sourdough starter soon released "hooch" and, later, grew a concerning film of mold. Lunch was usually a piece of cheese toast and a fried egg, prepared at the tail end of my 12 p.m. meeting when "my internet went funny" and I "had to" turn my video off. Dinners went from complicated to pasta to takeout pretty rapidly.
But the cakes and cookies and Sopranos? Those were—and continue to be!—unskippable. Yes, even into the summer, because a sweet treat (paired with brilliant television writing) never goes out of season. And almost always, I turn to the 11 easy baking recipes below. A special note that none of them require a stand mixer, either, because I for one can't fit a machine like that in my teeny-tiny Brooklyn kitchen.
1. Ammama's Semolina Butter Cookies
These cookies, courtesy of my grandma, are some of the simplest imaginable: Combine ghee (or softened butter), fine sugar, all-purpose flour, and a touch of semolina for textural interest, then shape and bake. They're nutty, crumbly, and keep well for up to a week...if they last that long.
2. 3-Ingredient Oatmeal Cookies
Rolled oats, tahini, brown sugar. That's it. That's the cookie! The hardest part about making these is not eating the batter straight from the bowl.
3. Double Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies With Cranberries
With molten middles (thanks to chocolate baking wafers), a good amount of chew (thanks to dried cranberries and rolled oats), and just a hint of warmth (thanks to cardamom), this fresh spin on oatmeal-raisin cookies is my go-to forevermore.
4. Tahini Chocolate Shortbread Bars
Can you tell I like tahini? The nutty-seedy-creamy paste makes a triumphant return in two ways: mixed into a lightly sweetened shortbread dough, then strewn on top of a chocolate blanket (in the form of halvah). The latter topping is theoretically optional, but how could you resist the sticky-sweet goodness? If you buy a big hunk, be sure to save some for a snack.
5. Snickerdoodle Shortbread
Speaking of shortbreads, this one's pretty sensational. A tender, butter-rich cookie base meets the crackly crunch of a cinnamon-sugar crust, nodding to your favorite chewy Snickerdoodle but without any of the fuss. No dough resting or shaping involved.
6. Banana Bread Scones From Samantha Seneviratne
Another streamlined (and hard-to-mess-up) take on a classic: your favorite squidgy banana bread, scone-ified. It bakes up in about half the time as its big-sister loaf, and once cooled, freezes beautifully to enjoy down the line.
7. The Nordic Baking Book's Kladdkaka (Swedish Gooey Chocolate Cake)
We've now reached the cake portion of our programming. First up, an unleavened, underbaked, ultra-fudgy one. It's a Swedish home cooking tradition; almost every family in the country has their own spin on the basic template. Try to use really tasty chocolate here (my favorite is the Pound Plus bar from Trader Joe's)—it's well worth it.
8. Campari Olive Oil Cake
Moist, boozy, and not too sweet, this cake from Melissa Clark is low maintenance enough to make for yourself on any given Tuesday, but can be dressed up with whipped cream or crème fraîche to serve to company (though I've never served it to company because, well, more for me). If you don't have or don't like Campari, any other fruity liqueur works—and the citrus juices are pretty interchangeable, too.
9. Brown Sugar Pound Cake
This cake's as simple as it gets: Mix together butter, eggs, brown sugar, some zests and extracts (or not), milk, and bake. OK, it's got a little more to it than that, but not much.
10. Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake From Dorie Greenspan
"It's so easy, I can make it sitting down," says food stylist (and, admittedly, expert baker), Samantha Seneviratne. But! Even novices (like me) are inclined to agree. The most difficult part of the recipe is peeling and chopping up the apples, which is meditative in its own way. A custardy, fruit-forward cake awaits.
11. Belle Foley's Chocolate Cake
Austere this cake may be, but lacking it is not. Feel free to swap out the boiling water with hot coffee for an even deeper, richer chocolate flavor. Also feel free to decorate the cake with your favorite frosting—I'd spring for a peanut butter cream cheese number, if I didn't need to get back to my Zoom meeting and fried eggs.