One of my family’s favorite “Seinfeld” episodes has Elaine complaining about coworkers bringing cakes to the office to celebrate everything from birthdays to sick days. I’m kind of like that when it comes to desserts: I have been known to whip up a fancy treat to commemorate a range of “events,” from a grown child coming home to visit for the weekend to a negative COVID-19 test.
While family and friends routinely roll their eyes at my offerings, they always devour the desserts.
My method is to prepare elaborate-looking indulgences with little effort. Sometimes, that just involves some advance planning and stocking up on a few critical ingredients. I also look for ways my recipes can do double duty. I can make a fussy dessert for Sunday night and use the ingredients to turn out more sweet courses later in the week.
One example of that is Death by Chocolate, a recipe that friends and I have been making for years, combining chocolate brownies, pudding and candy in an elegant version of a British trifle. It can be served from a large dish or as individual portions. Having brownie, pudding and cake mixes on hand is always a good idea. Additionally, I am never without whipped topping in my refrigerator and freezer.
A couple of other pantry staples include graham crackers, cocoa powder (a good Dutch brand like Guittard is my go-to) and a variety of chocolate bars, including dark, milk and baking chocolate.
Besides the chocolate trifle, a couple of my most crowd-pleasing desserts are individual chocolate souffles and single-serving Key lime pie cheesecakes. I prepare the souffles just before dinner and put them in the oven while we are eating so they can be served hot. They are rich and smooth and the perfect amount of sweet. The recipe is for two individual servings, so I double or triple the ingredients based on how many I’ll be feeding.
Fresh Key limes are available in the summer months and worth using for their zest and juice in the mini cheesecakes. But a good bottled Key lime juice would work as well.
The best part about both treats is they are lighter Weight Watchers recipes (each serving is 7 points), but family and friends would never know from their lusciousness.
Death by Chocolate
1 (19.8-ounce) package brownie mix
2 (3.9-ounce) packages instant chocolate pudding mix
1 (16-ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
3 (1.4-ounce) bars chocolate covered English toffee or other chocolate covered candy
Prepare brownies as directed. Let cool.
Mix pudding as directed and add 1 cup to 1 ½ cups of the whipped topping.
In a glass bowl or individual dishes, layer in the following order: half of the brownies, crumbled; half of the pudding; 1 toffee or other candy bar, crushed; half of the whipped topping.
Repeat the layers in the same order. Save the last bit of candy bar to crumble and sprinkle on top before serving.
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You can also top the trifle with anything you like, including maraschino cherries or other fruit, nuts or shaved chocolate.
Mini Key Lime Cheesecakes
⅓ cup graham cracker crumbs (buy packaged crumbs or process 2½ graham cracker sheets)
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted
1 pinch salt
4 ounces low fat cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons plain, fat-free Greek yogurt, at room temperature
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons lime zest from Key limes (can use Persian limes)
2½ teaspoons fresh Key lime juice
6 tablespoons “lite” whipped topping
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a regular-sized muffin pan with six paper cupcake liners.
In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and salt. Evenly divide crumb mixture into bottom of cupcake liners (about 1 tablespoon in each); press down lightly with the back of a spoon to flatten. Bake 5 minutes.
While crusts bake, beat together cream cheese, yogurt, sugar, egg, lime juice and lime zest until smooth. Evenly pour mixture among prepared pan (about a rounded 1/4 cup in each); bake until set on top, about 20 minutes.
Let cool completely (about 1 hour); garnish each cake with 1 tablespoon whipped topping and lime zest.
Individual Chocolate Souffles
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
3 tablespoons low fat chocolate milk
1 large egg
½ teaspoon powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 6-ounce ramekins with nonstick spray.
In a small saucepan, whisk together cocoa powder, flour and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar; set over medium heat. Add milk; cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat egg white until just fluffy. Slowly add remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Fold cooled chocolate mixture into egg whites a little at a time, folding just until there are no white streaks.
Evenly divide batter between ramekins. Bake until souffles have risen and tops look slightly dry, 14 to 16 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.