There are times when I'm happy to spend all day on an elaborate dessert, but sometimes I want something sweet in a hurry. Whether it's a sudden craving or the panicked realization that I have company coming over, I like to have a stash of easy but impressive recipes in my back pocket. We've rounded up 20 of our favorite quick desserts so that something sweet is never more than an hour away—think complex and chewy chocolate chip cookies in 45 minutes, or a bright and fluffy fruit mousse in just five.
Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies
Plain old sugar cookies have a tendency to be pushed aside in favor of fancier desserts, but we think their delicate flavor and chewy texture is incredibly comforting. This recipe is pretty simple—don't forget to add salt to balance out the sweetness. Our favorite way to finish the cookies is with vanilla sugar, which you can make by splitting a vanilla bean (Tahitian works best) and mixing the seeds with a few ounces of granulated sugar.
Quick and Easy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Our ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe is pretty phenomenal, but it requires you to rest the dough overnight. If you want cookies right away, though, this is the recipe for you. We improve the texture by using hand-chopped chocolate instead of commercial chocolate chips, and recommend a mix of dark, milk, and even white chocolate to give the cookies a more nuanced, interesting flavor.
Cocoa Butter Cookies With Chocolate Chips
This unconventional twist on chocolate chip cookies harnesses the power of cocoa butter to deliver a rich texture and chocolaty aroma. We mix in chopped milk chocolate rather than dark so as to not overpower the cocoa butter; if you want to give them a little more of a kick, some bitter cocoa nibs will do the trick.
Malted Chocolate Chip-Pecan Cookies
Malted milk powder and barley malt syrup give these cookies a malty, butterscotch-tinged flavor. The malted milk powder also makes the dough thick but tender, letting it stand up to lots of mix-ins. We went with white chocolate and pecans, but feel free to experiment—milk chocolate and walnuts or dark chocolate and hazelnuts would be delicious, too.
Hazelnut Cookies With Milk Chocolate
Store-bought hazelnut butter costs a lot and often has a lackluster flavor, so we grind our own from toasted hazelnuts. From there the recipe is like a peanut butter cookie—cream the hazelnut butter with unsalted butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg, beat in an egg, incorporate the flour, and the dough is ready to go. A drizzle of tempered milk chocolate finishes the cookies beautifully, but if you're feeling lazy, you can just stir chopped chocolate into the dough.
Homemade Biscoff (Belgian Speculoos Cookies)
The ingredient list for Biscoff seems simple—flour, sugar, fat, brown sugar, baking soda, soy flour, and cinnamon—but try to replicate the cookies with American ingredients and you'll be disappointed. To nail the flavor, reach for Ceylon cinnamon (rather than cassia, which is what you see sold as cinnamon in American supermarkets) and Belgian brown candi sugar, which has a caramel flavor that is totally different than molasses-y American brown sugar.
We like our snickerdoodles heavy on the cinnamon, but pour in too much of the ground stuff and you're in for some pain. A better idea is to cut the ground cinnamon with freshly grated, which has a more complex flavor and is less astringent. Our recipe uses two and three-quarter teaspoons ground to one and half teaspoons grated, but feel free to adjust the ratio to taste.
Dark Chocolate Easter Cookies
Still have Easter candy kicking around the house? These cookies will help you use up the last bunnies. Easter candy tends to be made with sweet milk chocolate; to balance it out, we make a bitter dough out of earthy Dutch process cocoa powder. A little baking soda in the dough increases its alkalinity and gives it an even darker flavor.
No-Bake Cookies With Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Chewy Oats
You don't even need to turn on the oven for this last cookie recipe—essentially just a peanut butter fudge, it comes together on the stovetop in just about 15 minutes. We like to make the cookies with a mix of instant oats (which dissolve into the fudge for a thicker texture) and old-fashioned oats (which give the cookies a hearty chewiness).
Light and Easy 5-Minute Fruit Mousse
Dessert doesn't get any quicker or easier than this—three ingredients, five minutes, and a blender are all you need to make this refreshing treat. Frozen fruit has lots of flavor year-round, and an egg white turns what would be a thick smoothie into a velvety mousse. The sugar is just for flavor, so you can leave it out or replace it with another sweetener like honey or maple syrup if you're so inclined.
Cranachan (Scottish Whipped Cream With Whisky, Raspberries, and Toasted Oats)
Our take on this traditional Scottish dessert starts with oats that we soften in cream and toast until deeply brown. We whip that cream with a shot of Scotch, then layer it with the oats and crushed raspberries doctored with a bit of lemon juice. Rather than whipping the cream with a mixer, we use a food processor to make it thick and mousse-like.
Creamy Whipped Greek Yogurt
For a super easy summertime dessert, try whipping up tangy Greek yogurt with caramel-scented golden syrup and heavy cream—the result makes for a killer fruit parfait. It's important that you use true Greek yogurt, which is low-moisture and will whip up much better than yogurt made with thickeners like gelatin or pectin.
Trifle is a perfect choice for entertaining—it's a striking centerpiece but only takes 45 minute to make. This version layers fluffy angel food cake, bittersweet amaro, tart cranberry jam, and creamy whipped mascarpone. Think of the recipe as more of a blueprint, though—substitutions like marmalade instead of jam or ladyfingers instead of angel food cake are totally appropriate.
Stovetop Butterscotch Pudding
Making true butterscotch is a painstaking process that can take hours, but you're not out of luck if you get an urgent craving. A combination of toasted sugar and malted milk powder makes for a surprisingly good imitation, which we mix with white chocolate for an easy pudding.
Easy Stovetop Fruit Crisp
You can make an oven-baked fruit crisp in about an hour, but if you're really in a hurry, switching to the stovetop can cut the time in half. The recipe works because we cook the fruit and toast the streusel separately, combining them just when it's time to serve. This recipe calls for plums, but you can use whatever stone fruit looks best at the market—I'm particularly fond of peaches.
Sweet-Sour Macerated Cherries With Marcona Almonds, Mint, and Ricotta
Equally at home at breakfast or dessert, this not-too-sweet dish is made with cherries macerated in a mixture of honey, red wine vinegar, and black pepper. Serve the cherries on good ricotta and garnish with bright mint, crunchy Marcona almonds, and a sprinkling of flaky Maldon salt. The hardest part is finding high-quality ricotta—Calabro is the most reliable supermarket brand, but if you have a local dairy that makes it fresh that is absolutely the way to go.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote With Fennel
Strawberry and rhubarb are practically made for each other—strawberries are sweet but often a little bland and rhubarb is flavorful but punishingly tart. Mix them together (with a little extra sugar) and you get a balanced compote that, like our macerated cherries, can be eaten any time of day. Half a teaspoon of ground fennel pushes the recipe towards the savory side, so I would go a little heavier on the sugar if this is destined for ice cream rather than waffles.
Chocolate-Coated Caramel Honeycomb With Salted Peanuts
Making caramel can be intimidating for first-timers, but with a little practice it becomes quick and easy. Turning caramel into honeycomb is just a matter of mixing in baking soda, which fizzes up and aerates the candy. After the honeycomb is cooled, coat it with semisweet chocolate and salted peanuts, break it into shards, and eat.
Waffle Iron Churros
I love churros but wouldn't consider any recipe that requires deep-frying quick or easy. This recipe takes churros and makes them an anytime snack by replacing the fryer with a waffle iron. As an added bonus, the pockets made by the waffle iron catch the rich chocolate sauce that we serve alongside.
Microwave Rocky Road Sponge Cakes
Making a cake in less than an hour is a tall order—unless you harness the magic of the microwave. Some recipes for microwave cakes are made with a whipped cream dispenser, which is not a gadget every home cook has lying around and prevents you from adding any mix-ins to the batter. For our chunky rocky road cakes we go a different route, using a meringue and pulverized marshmallows for leavening.