15 Ultra-Quick Homemade Desserts

By Camilla Cheung on 18 November 2011 (Updated 13 September 2013) 6 comments

Quick! Company’s here, and somehow you forgot to plan for dessert. At times like these, you need some ultra-quick homemade desserts that make you look good and are a cinch to pull together. And when I say ultra-quick, I mean ultra-quick, as in, dump three things in a bowl and call it good.

When I'm pulling together a quick dessert, I like to use fresh fruit. There is so much that can be done with it to make a quick but sophisticated dessert, without resorting to cake mixes, artificial sweeteners, and other shortcuts. Adding a shot of booze or coffee can also punch up the "wow" factor in a simple dessert. Of course, convenience foods can be a godsend, and some of these recipes freely make use of store-bought cake, ice cream, pudding, and whipped cream as components in an otherwise homemade dessert. (See also: 6 Tips for Making Cheaper, Faster, Better Meals)

1. Boozy Berries and Cream

It doesn’t get much simpler than this. Wash and dry blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Douse them in a couple tablespoons of rum or limoncello, and if desired, a dusting of sugar. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream (or to make it faster, use store-bought whipped cream).

2. Yogurt Parfait

A yogurt parfait is a healthy dessert and is perfect for kids. Layer a good sweetened yogurt (I like the lemon yogurt at Trader Joe’s — it’s a bit sweeter than regular yogurt and more dessert-like) with cut-up fruit in a glass. Top with cookie crumbs or granola.

3. Chilled Peaches in White Wine

A sophisticated grown-up dessert that requires next to no effort, these chilled peaches in white wine are a foodie’s version of peaches in syrup. Toss ripe peach slices in sugar, and then douse them with a dry white wine. This dessert is best if you let it chill an hour in the fridge before serving, so toss it together before serving the main course.

4. Stout Ice-Cream Float

Beer and ice cream make a winning combination. Make a simple version of Epicurious’s stout ice-cream float by putting a couple scoops of good vanilla ice cream in a beer glass and carefully filling it up with chilled stout beer. Top with a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

5. Ice Cream Sandwiches

So simple — ice cream sandwiches are a hit with kids and adults alike. Make the sandwiches with a good store-bought cookie (like Mrs. Fields or the oatmeal cookies at Trader Joe’s) or homemade cookies. Ice cream sandwiches are best if you wrap them in foil and chill them in the freezer for half an hour before serving, but they’re fine fresh as well.

6. Mini Trifles

Easy mini trifles look impressive but require no cooking — just assembly. Layer store-bought pound cake with vanilla pudding, whipped cream, and raspberry jam in pretty glasses. Top with a couple of fresh raspberries.

7. Chocolate Bark

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Melt a pound of good-quality semi-sweet chocolate either in the microwave (zap for 30 seconds and stir) or over a double boiler on the stove. Using a spatula, spread the melted chocolate over the wax paper. Sprinkle with nuts, dried fruits, crushed candies, or a combination of all three, and press into the chocolate. Let cool, break up the chocolate bark into large pieces, and serve.

8. Grilled Fruit

If you’ve already fired up the grill to barbecue dinner, you might as well use it to make dessert as well. Alternatively, use a stovetop grill or a preheated broiler. Thick slices of pineapple, mango, peaches, and halved ripe figs are delicious grilled until brown and piping hot (just three minutes a side). Drizzle the fruit with honey and serve with ice cream.

9. Super-Fast Apple Tart

Guests will think you slaved over this apple tart, when in reality it’s about the easiest tart you can make. Cut a sheet of store-bought puff pastry in half lengthwise. Slice three to four apples into thin slices and toss them in brown sugar. Arrange the apple slices on the puff pastry and bake for 20 minutes. Ta-daa! Get the full recipe for these apple tarts at The Pioneer Woman. 

10. Chocolate-Covered Banana Pops

These chocolate-covered bananas are so adorable and they’re the perfect finger-food for kids. Cut bananas into sections and skewer them on popsicle sticks. Melt some semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler (or in the microwave for less than 30 seconds). Coat the bananas, and then roll them in crushed nuts. Chill in fridge for 20 minutes or freeze them for a yummy frozen treat. Get the details for the banana pops at Martha Stewart. 

11. Strawberry Fool

A fool is a simple dessert made by mixing whipped cream with mashed fruit. In this case, mashed or pureed fresh strawberries, a hint of vanilla extract, some sugar, and freshly whipped cream form the base for this classic treat (find the strawberry fool recipe at the New York Times). Even the most cooking-challenged person can handle this one! 

12. Sweet Bruschetta

Toast slices of store-bought pound cake and spread them with mascarpone cheese or ricotta. Layer chopped or sliced fruit on top of the cheese (peaches, cherries, strawberries — whatever you like), and drizzle with honey or maple syrup.

13. Affogato

Despite its fancy name, this classic Italian dessert is as easy as it gets. Put chocolate ice cream in a dish, top it with a shot of hot espresso (which you can make from powder), and finish with a dollop of whipped cream. Three ingredients, two seconds, one easy dessert.

14. Dessert Paninis

Preheat a panini press or grill pan. Butter two slices of white bread, and with buttered sides out, fill with your choice of sweet fillings (Nutella, bananas, peanut butter, marshmallows — you name it). Cook in panini press or on a pan on the stove until outside is browned and inside is gooey. 

15. Bananas Foster

Yes, you can make bananas foster in 10 minutes. Cook butter, brown sugar, and rum together until it forms a sauce. Saute bananas until warm, drizzle with caramel sauce, and serve with vanilla ice cream. Get the simple bananas foster recipe at Martha Stewart.

Do you have any trusted ultra-quick dessert recipes to share?

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Meg Favreau's picture

You hit several of my favorites on here. When I used to have a grill, my friends and I would combine the grilled fruit and panini ideas to make grilled dessert sandwiches.

This is even less homemade, but I like to keep a small stash of decent chocolate in my freezer -- if I need something sweet super quick, it's nice to be able to just take that out. My favorite lately has been the Trader Joe's dark chocolate with salted caramel.

Camilla Cheung's picture

I haven't tried that one yet -- I'll have to put it on my list. What would we do without Trader Joe's?

Tara Struyk's picture

Great recipes! I often make apple tarts, danishes or turnovers using frozen puff pastry. They look so pretty, but they couldn't be easier.

Andrea Karim's picture

Because I can't really eat anything with much sugar in it, my go-to dessert is part-skim ricotta cheese mixed into a teaspoon of dark cocoa powder, a splash of sugar-free almond flavoring, and a bit of Splenda. Is it the same as a chocolate torte? No, but it hits the spot for this diabetic.

Camilla Cheung's picture

Thanks for sharing, Andrea. That's a good point -- people who can't have sugar or dairy are going to have more trouble planning dessert. Anyone have any suggestions for sugar/dairy-free desserts?

Guest's picture
PurchaseWisely

This is actually for Camilla, but there was no "reply" button for her - baked apples with dried fruit. Take a sweet/tart apple - I like Romas - core, stuff the core with white raisins or dates, pop it in the microwave until soft (check in about 4 minutes). Since the apple loses water through steam while it cooks, it seems to concentrate the natural sugar making it taste sweeter. No added sugar or fake sweeteners and lots of fiber!