Jim Coleman | These easy desserts will feed multitudes

Posted: March 22, 2007

Q. I am helping entertain a big crowd and need your help with a couple of easy desserts for about 55 to 65 people.

I have never made a dessert for more than 10! What do you recommend? Please hurry.

Thanks, thanks and more thanks.

- Sara P.

A. Sara, please hurry and grab the Yellow Pages and your credit card. Please hurry and flip the pages to "Caterers" and make the call. There! Whew! That was close, but together we got that taken care of - what a relief.

OK, you know that's not my real answer - not that you couldn't go that route. But you would lose the satisfaction of saying you did it yourself. Don't worry, there are thousands of desserts out there that are just as easy to make for 60 as they are for six. They just cost more to make, and you need more pots and pans.

I considered recommending a sheet cake, but that sounded a little boring. Then I thought about brownies, but I'm guessing you could have come up with that yourself and are looking for something a little more special. Ice-cream melts or chocolate fondues need too many special tools, mini petit fours are too labor-intensive, build-your-own shortcakes are too much work for your guests . . . where's that caterer's number again? Just kidding.

How about serving three distinctly different desserts - something for every taste? Cobblers and crisps are easy to make and serve, and you can offer ice cream on the side. Cupcakes are very "in" these days; many upscale restaurants are putting their own gourmet twist on this old favorite. And you have to have some cookies for the kids (or the kid inside each of us). Each of the following recipes serves around 20 people (so for those of you not serving a crowd, cut them in half). I predict that your dessert buffet will prompt people to call you to cater their next party.

You're welcome, you're welcome, and you're more welcome. *

PEAR & APPLE CRISP

For the fruits:

8 apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

8 pears, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 pound dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon cloves

1/2 pound butter for cooking apples

For the crisp:

1 pound soft butter

1 pound all-purpose flour

1 pound confectioners' sugar

1 pound almond flour

2 tablespoons cinnamon

To prepare the fruits: Toss all ingredients shown above (except for 1/2 pound of butter) in mixing bowl. Let sit 15 minutes.

To prepare the crisp: Fold (paddle) ingredients for Crisp in mixing bowl until well combined. Chill until able to break into crumbs.

Melt 1/2 pound of butter in non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, add fruit and spice mixture. Cook until apples and pears are just tender, stirring constantly. Place cooked apple and pear mixture into a large buttered glass baking dish (use two if necessary) and cover with crisp mixture. Bake in pre-heated 350-degree oven for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Serves 20.

BLUEBERRY MERLOT COBBLER

2 cups merlot wine

4 teaspoons cornstarch

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

4 pounds fresh blueberries, washed

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 cups biscuit mix, such as Bisquick

3 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, stir the merlot and cornstarch together. Pour into a saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Add the butter and brown sugar and stir until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.

Butter a large glass baking dish and place the blueberries inside evenly. Pour the wine mixture over the berries evenly and sprinkle with 2 cups of the granulated sugar and the cinnamon. (You can stir the cinnamon and sugar together before sprinkling, if you like.)

In a mixing bowl, stir together the biscuit mix, the remaining cup of sugar, and the milk until thoroughly combined. Pour the batter evenly into the baking dish. Transfer to the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serves 20.

CHOCOLATE "PARTY" CUPCAKES

1/2 pound unsalted butter

1/2 cup chocolate chips or 3 ounces semisweet chocolate

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or water

2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon coffee extract

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

24 pecan halves

Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler. Cool slightly, add eggs (whisk first) and liqueur or water. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the mixture. Add the extract and 1/2 cup nuts and stir to combine. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line mini-muffin pan with paper liners, spoon batter in until full. Top each with a pecan half. Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. These are great and sweet, too (the little cakes look perfect topped with the pecans).

Yield: 24 cupcakes.

CHOCOLATE MINT CANDIES COOKIES

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter

2 1/4 cups brown sugar

3 tablespoons water

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

teaspoon salt

4 1/2 packages (4.5 ounces each) of chocolate covered thin mints (with green mint filling)

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the sugar, butter and water, stirring occasionally until melted. Remove from heat, stir in the chocolate chips until melted and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl, and beat in the eggs, one at a time. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt, stir into the chocolate mixture. Cover and refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Roll cookie dough into walnut-sized balls and place 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, be careful not to over bake. When cookies come out of the oven, press one mint wafer into the top of each cookie and let sit for 1 minute. When the mint is softened, swirl with the back of a spoon or toothpick to make a pattern with the green filling of the mint wafer. For smaller cookies, break mints in half.

Yield: 24 cookies.

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