Side Dish: “Delicious Desserts”

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Will it be honey-caramelized figs? Or, maybe peach crisp or chocolate pudding. But, then the easy-to-make blueberry tart also is appealing.

It’s difficult to make a decision about what dessert to prepare when choosing from the simple, yet creative recipes in “Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts” by award-winning author Alice Medrich (Artisan Books, paperback, $25.95). They all seem absolutely wonderful.

The 288-page cookbook — Medrich’s eighth — is filled with dessert options she calls “forgiving, and flexible, with a focus on flavor.” She offers variations for many of the recipes and plenty of tips from how to make meringues without a recipe to how to melt chocolate.

Inspiration for the book, she writes, dates back to a dessert she had in a modest Paris café in the early 1970s. It was “simply a big scoop of sweetened chestnut puree” topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, but it gave her the idea “that desserts could be delicious, sophisticated, or subtle — even luxurious, rich, and decadent — without being complicated.”

Some of the book’s recipes use staples, such as honey, olive oil and frozen fruit; others require some baking, but none are complicated or time-consuming. She offers a short list of “the dessert maker’s basic pantry” to keep in stock for making most of the book’s desserts on the spur of the moment. She also includes a list of some of the quickest desserts from the book that should not require a trip to the grocery store, such as The Best One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and Right-Brain Nutty Butter Cookies.

Throughout the book, Medrich also suggests options for turning basics into desserts, for example, “Things to Do With Yogurt” and “8 Ideas for a Bar of Chocolate.” The book is illustrated with lots of full-color photographs and Medrich’s instructions are precise and easy to follow. There are recipes for ice cream and fruit desserts; puddings; quick pies, tarts, meringues and cakes; and what Medrick calls “Sweet Bites,” such as bite-sized chocolate truffles, cookies, fruit dipped in chocolate, and spiced and candied nuts.

“Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts” is a cookbook you’ll find yourself reaching for again and again. It’s a keeper.

Advocate-tested recipe

Honey Balsamic Sundaes

Serves 4. Recipe is from “Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts” by Alice Medrich. “Very chic and sophisticated and almost effortless. The combination of vanilla ice cream and sauce alone is spectacular; the berries or figs are extra nice. And I love the olive oil. If your crowd is adventurous, pass a cruet and let your guests drizzle some over the sundaes and/or serve the sundaes with Olive Oil Crostini.”

2⁄3 cup balsamic vinegar (the inexpensive kind is fine)

1⁄3 cup flavorful but mild honey (such as clover, sage, or orange blossom), or more to taste

4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Carton of ripe strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and halved or quartered, or figs, halved or quartered, optional

Extra virgin olive oil, optional

Olive Oil Crostini, optional

1. To make the sauce: Combine the vinegar and honey in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer, and simmer until reduced to 1/2 cup. Let cool.

2. Taste the sauce with a little of the ice cream and adjust the balance of sweetness with more honey if necessary — thought I advise you to keep it fairly tart in contrast with the ice cream. Put a scoop of ice cream in each serving dish, with or without fruit, and drizzle with sauce — it’s powerful, so use just a little. (Any leftovers can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least several weeks.)

3. Serve at once. Pass the olive oil separately, if using, and add a couple of crostini, if desired.

Olive Oil Crostini: Toast 8 slices from a regular (not sourdough) baguette in a toaster oven or on a baking sheet in a preheated 350-degree oven, turning the slices once, until lightly golden at the edges and perfectly crisp and crunchy. Brush or drizzle the tops liberally with extra virgin olive oil.