I was seven years old and my mother was taking a nap. I’d seen her bake cakes and I thought I’d give it a try and surprise her. I mixed flour and water to the consistency of batter (not realizing that butter, eggs and sugar etc. were involved) and then I turned on the gas and popped the pan in the oven. But another thing I didn’t realize was that my mother always lit the gas with a match, that’s how stoves worked in those days. I went out to play and about twenty minutes later here comes my mother charging up the street towards me. “You almost killed me,” she screams at me. “The whole house is filled with gas!”
This may or may not be the reason that I never turned into an enthusiastic baker of cakes and cookies. But if you love to bake and have happy memories of it and the time that’s required to bake, there are thousands and thousands of wonderful recipes in books and on the Internet for cookies and cakes. But here’s what I believe is the best dessert when you have friends over: ice cream. You can serve it with little pitchers full of fudge or caramel sauce, or a few bottles of those liquors that no one has touched since 1976. I have a theory (possibly self-serving) that if you make a very complicated, time-consuming, rich dessert, people who don’t want to eat dessert will feel obligated to do so. But if they know you just scooped some Ben & Jerry’s into a dish they won’t feel the pressure. Besides, who doesn’t love ice cream?
It’s helpful to have little glass dishes on hand for the ice cream and to fill them ahead of time, then place on a tray or cookie sheet and slip into the freezer, so you’re not out there in the kitchen trying to hack rock hard vanilla into bowls at the last minute. (I bought the ice cream dish above at T.J. Maxx – ten dishes for $9.99. And I can’t tell you how they’ve simplified things.)
You can put the sauces (Trader Joe’s has a fantastic salted caramel) in small pitchers, and if you want to get fancy, heat in the microwave and serve with bowls of slivered almonds. Or open up those aged liquors and just pour.
My friend Pat in Montana gave me this recipe for easy homemade fudge sauce: Melt some sweet chocolate, Swiss or whatever good chocolate is available. Add cream until it reaches the consistency of a thick but pourable sauce.