"Instant Gratification," by Lauren Chattman

Pros: Unbelievably simple and delicious recipes
Cons: Some of the recipes need small adjustments
Rating: 4 out of 5

First published 4/22/2000

We had something of a quandary. We were having a bunch of friends over to celebrate the fact that we’d just gotten married, and we wanted to cook for the occasion. But we’d only have a day between the wedding and the party, and we also wanted to take things easy. How to get some cooking in and have way too much really good food, but still relax?

Part of the answer was on our cookbook shelf – “Instant Gratification,” a cookbook of desserts you can fix in 15 minutes or less (with a few small exceptions). It looked wonderful, unlike most “meals in minutes” sorts of cookbooks – Lemon Gelatin with Berries, for example. Yum!

But we couldn’t just try it out cold to serve for our wedding party. I’ve learned the hard way that seemingly-good cookbooks can turn out to be real bombs (see also my reviews of “Christmas 101,” “The Encyclopedia of Chocolate,” and “Charlie Trotter’s Desserts”). So we needed to test it out.

The Test

The week before the party we made two recipes from the cookbook: Espresso Gelatins, and Vanilla Bean Cheesecake. Amazed that these are 15-minute recipes? We sure were. For the Gelatins you just soften the gelatin, mix in hot espresso and sugar, whisk, pour into goblets, refrigerate until set, and top with sweetened whipped cream. That’s it! I probably would have made the concoction sweeter and milkier, but that’s a matter of personal taste – I like my coffee heavily creamed and sugared. You can adjust it for yourself. Also, the instructions said “1 packet (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin.” We went with 2 teaspoons, as a packet is more like 2.5 teaspoons. We made the wrong choice, and the Gelatins were a little on the extra-wobbly side. They were absolutely wonderful though, and for a 15-minute dessert they definitely looked and tasted impressive. (Hint – if you didn’t put in enough milkiness and sweetness, a little maple syrup (or other liquid sugar) and half-and-half drizzled on top works perfectly.)

Then came the Vanilla Bean Cheesecake. Again it’s simple – soften the gelatin and melt it over hot water. Scrape the insides of a vanilla bean into the cream cheese, heavy cream, and sugar and beat. Beat in the gelatin, scrape into the pan (no crust), and refrigerate. Again the gelatin called for in the recipe (1/2 teaspoon) was slightly less than what it should have been (I’ll try 3/4 or 1 teaspoon next time), but otherwise the cheesecake was stunning.

The real test

Then came wedding party time! We decided to make the White Chocolate-Mint Truffles. Bet you didn’t think you could make truffles in just a few minutes, huh? Well, okay, we were dubious too.

Things turned out to be extra-hectic, as our DSL service vanished on the day of our wedding, so we were running around trying to deal with that while we were cooking (oh, what lovely timing!). Good thing we’d planned things to be easy and relaxed, huh?

The only thing that took a little time with the truffles was chopping the white chocolate. Then you add some hot ingredients and melt it into one big mass. You add the mint extract and refrigerate. Once it’s set, you sit down with a bowl of cocoa powder. You dig out bits of white chocolate goo, roll them into balls, roll them in the cocoa powder, and stick them in the refrigerator. That’s it! And oh, were they delicious. They got as many oohs and aaahs as the white chocolate whisper cake with fluffy vanilla icing.

The recipes

The introduction goes into the elements of a good 15-minute dessert, like a streamlined ingredient list and carefully-constructed recipes. Ms. Chattman also goes into ways that you can make your recipes go faster, like being organized and working deliberately. The 15-minute mark, by the way, doesn’t include things like baking time or chilling time. It’s for the actual work you have to do. The intro also discusses various time-saving kitchen implements and ingredients.

Only one of the chapters (“When You’ve Got to Have It: Unbelievable Desserts in 15 Minutes Flat”) actually guarantees you a 15-minute time frame. The others might take you, oh… 20 minutes. Or 25. How terrible. The recipes aren’t just quick, they’re easy. They come with lists of equipment so you won’t get caught short. The ingredient lists are usually short. Often little boxes after the recipe will tell you about variations on the recipe, or things you can do with an additional 5 minutes’ work that’ll jazz it up a bit if you want.

This first chapter includes such amazing desserts as Sauteed Brown Sugar Bananas Over Coconut Ice Cream, and Pecan Waffles with Rum Raisin Ice Cream. You’ll even find Wonton Plum “Shortcakes” and Wonton “Canapes” with Creme Fraiche and Diced Mango. Hungry yet?

The second chapter is “Easy as Pie.” Here you’ll find Apple “Pizza” for Two, White Chocolate-Mint Tart with Strawberries, Blueberry-Walnut Crisp, and Puff Pastry Apple Tartlets. As Ms. Chattman says at the beginning of the chapter, “The challenge of this chapter, then, was to come up with desserts that contained the elements of pie – crust and filling – without the work.”

Chapter 3 is “Bake Me a Cake as Fast as You Can.” These cakes include the Flourless Chocolate-Almond Cake, Easiest Best Chocolate Mousse Cake, Warm Gingerbread Squares, Pumpkin-Spice Pound Cake, and Lemon Cream Cupcakes. Ms. Chattman points out that homemade cakes are nearly as easy to make as cakes from boxed mixes. Try these and you may never buy a boxed mix again.

Chapter 4 is “Quickest Comfort Foods: Puddings, Custards, and Mousses.” It contains such delights as Warm Tapioca with Honeyed Oranges, Mint Custards, White Chocolate-Mascarpone Mousse, Mango-Rum Fool, and – gasp – Banana-Caramel Bread Pudding! I think the theme of this chapter can best be summed up here: “Chief among child-pleasers is whipped cream, and this is where I begin.” You’ll also find a few tips and hints throughout, like the two-page spread in this chapter on “The Hows and Whys of Water Baths.”

Chapter 5 is “Quick Bites: Cookies and Candy,” and this is where you’ll find Lemon-Cream Cheese Shortbread, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Chewy Ginger-Molasses Cookies, Sweet and Spicy Pecan Brittle, and Homemade Granola Bars.

Chapter 6 is “Instant Gratification for Company: Special Desserts in the Blink of an Eye.” It’s hard not to please with such delights as Chocolate “Crepes” with Kahlua Cream, or Puff Pastry Ice Cream Sandwiches. Don’t forget the Blackberries with Champagne Sabayon, or Rum-Caramel Fondue with Tropical Fruit.

In short, about the only thing this book is most definitely not good for is your waistline. It provides ingenious ways of making delightful desserts quickly and easily. If you want to impress your guests but either don’t have the time or aren’t a very good cook, you need a copy of this cookbook. Hmm – I wonder if there are any truffles left for a post-breakfast snack?

Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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