Cute desserts for a crowd

  • Jam-nut crumble bars for a wedding crowd. Hillary Nelson—For Weddings

  • Jam-nut crumble bars feed a crowd. Hillary Nelson / For Weddings

  • Rose crown cookies Hillary Nelson—For Weddings

  • Rose crown cookies Hillary Nelson—For Weddings

  • Rose crown cookies Hillary Nelson—For Weddings

  • Rose crown cookies Hillary Nelson—For Weddings

  • Rose crown cookies are a cute and delicious way to celebrate. Hillary Nelson / For Weddings

For Weddings
Published: 2/7/2018 6:02:25 PM

As an ex-pastry chef, I know the nicest wedding present I can offer a friend or relative is the gift of a wedding cake. So long as the happy couple isn’t set on the kind of elaborate creations that turn up in bridal magazines, I can make them something big and delicious and covered with gorgeous home-grown flowers that hide my mistakes. And that cake will probably save them enough money to pay for at least one honeymoon airline ticket.

Even if the bride and groom decide they really, really must have something as wonderful as the gorgeous confections they’ve been drooling over on Pinterest (which leaves me out of the running) the price of such an edible work of art can be a big shock. People think: “I can buy a birthday cake at the supermarket for $15! Why is a wedding cake so expensive?”

Here’s why: the amazing cakes you find on the internet take a highly-skilled, trained artisan to create. And that artisan has spent not only years developing her craft, she is spending many hours creating each cake. On top of that, the ingredients and hardware that go into each cake are expensive. And then there is the cost of getting the cake to the wedding in one piece, which means things like refrigerated vans and reliable, well-paid workers. I could go on.

So if you really want a piece of edible art, be prepared to pay for it. And if you want to save a little money, try this trick: buy a cake sized for half the number of people attending your wedding. And then have a backup cake (perhaps baked by a reliable friend or relative, who has definitely practiced the recipe several times before the big day, and perfected it) to make sure everyone gets a piece.

The other possibility – if the bride and groom would rather spend their savings for a downpayment on a house than on their wedding cake – is to supplement the cake with a dessert bar. Maybe even, if they are inviting really close friends, a potluck dessert bar.

Should you be invited to such a wedding, here are two recipes that are easy to make in advance, store well, travel well, won’t break the bank, and are absolutely delicious.

And they use almost the same ingredients.

If you are low on time or just hate cooking, make the Nut and Jam Crumble Bars. If you want something a little more “wow,” go for the Rose-Shaped Cookies. Either recipe is flexible and open to tinkering and improvement. Change up the jam flavors and nuts; substitute different flours (including gluten free); swap out orange rind for lemon rind; use rose water instead of vanilla, cardamom instead of cinnamon, and so on. Make these recipes your own and you will go to them not just for weddings, but for potlucks and family holidays – any time you have an excuse to bake something wonderful for people you love.

Nut and Jam Crumble Bars

1 cup sugar

the grated zest of one large orange

3 cups white, unbleached flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup olive oil (use good quality extra virgin if possible)

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1½ cups tart jam of your choice (I used homemade blood orange marmalade)

1 cup finely chopped nuts of your choice (I used walnuts)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

You will also need a 13x9 inch nonstick baking pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the orange zest and sugar and rub the mixture between your fingertips to allow the orange oils to flavor the sugar. Set aside.

Sprinkle the cinnamon over the walnuts and toss to combine. Set aside.

In another small bowl whisk together the eggs and olive oil until well combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the orange and sugar mixture. Add the butter and use your fingertips to work it into the dry ingredients. When well combined, add the egg and olive oil mixture. Mix well with your hands until the dough is homogenous. It should not be at all sticky. Divide the dough in half.

Press half the dough into the bottom of the baking pan in an even layer. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the cinnamon and walnuts over the jam.

Crumble the other half of the dough evenly over the walnut layer. The pieces of crumble will be fairly large – do not press down on them. The rough crumble with space in between pieces makes for a light, crunchy texture when baked.

Place in the center of the preheated oven. After 20 or 25 minutes, turn the pan so the crumble bakes evenly. The bars will be done after about 45 minutes, when the top is golden brown and the bars feel solid and well set.

Allow the bars to cool for a bit before serving, though they hold together well and can be cut while still warm. Because they are sturdy, the bars may be divided into small or large pieces, as desired. A good estimate is 24 squares, just over 2 inches on a side. These bars keep very well for a few days, so long as it isn’t too hot and humid.

Rose-Shaped Cookies

For the dough

2 sticks (½ pound) very cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

2¾ cups white unbleached flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup ice water (a little more or less as needed)

Place the butter, flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Stop when there are still some pieces of butter that are ½-inch across, but most pieces are pea sized or smaller.

Put the butter-flour mixture into a large bowl and sprinkle most of the water over it. Toss the mixture gently to distribute the water well; the dough should begin to come together. Don’t knead the dough to make it homogenous – it should have some large bits of butter in it which will make it flaky as it bakes. Rather, firmly press the mixture together, making two evenly sized balls. If the balls are crumbly and dry and won’t stay together well, sprinkle a little more water over the dough and try again.

When you have two balls, flatten them a bit, place them in a plastic bag or wrap and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The dough can be made up to two days in advance of using it.

For the cookies

1½ cups sugar

2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

½ cup tart, seedless jam of your choice (I used a combination of raspberry and plum)

a tablespoon or so of freshly squeezed lemon juice, orange juice, or water (as needed)

½ cup finely chopped nuts of your choice (I used walnuts)

softened, unsalted butter for the muffin cups (about 1 to 2 tablespoons)

nonstick mini-muffin pan

a pastry bag or plastic bag for piping the jam

2-inch round cookie cutter

Begin by rolling out the dough, one ball at a time – leave the second ball of dough in the refrigerator while you work with the first. Sprinkle a handful of sugar and a little bit of cinnamon on a very clean counter top, mixing it together a little with your fingers. Press the ball of dough into the sugar mixture, coating the surface well. Flip the ball over and press into the remaining sugar to coat.

Begin rolling the dough out into a large circle. Sprinkle more sugar over the dough as needed to keep it from sticking to the counter as you roll Flip the dough over now and then, so the sugar coats both sides evenly. Add a little more cinnamon, too, now and then. You may also use a small amount of flour, if needed, to keep the dough from sticking as you roll. Do not use more than half of the sugar – you will need the rest for the second ball of dough.

When the dough is very thin, and has been rolled into a circle about 19 inches in diameter, it is ready to cut into circles. Use the cookie cutter or the glass to cut out 60 circles. Any remaining dough should be rolled into a ball, wrapped in plastic, and placed in the refrigerator. (Leftover dough doesn’t make as nicely shaped roses as the first-roll does, but may be used for more rustic looking cookies).

Divide the circles into groups of five. With each set of five, overlap the first circle with the second, the second with the third, and so on, until all five circles have been used. Repeat the process until you have 12 sets of overlapping circles.

Mix the walnuts with about ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and set aside.

Place the jam in a small bowl and mix with some of the juice or water, until the mixture is smoother and easy to pipe with the pastry bag. Put half of the jam in a pastry bag with a very small plain tip, or spoon it into the corner of a plastic bag, twist the bag to contain the jam, and cut the tip of the bag so the jam can be piped out.

Start with one set of overlapping circles, pipe the jam in two lines about ½-inch apart from one end of the circles to the other stopping about ¼-inch from the edge of the last circle. Repeat with each set of circles.

Lightly sprinkle some the walnuts and cinnamon over the each group of circles; be sure to leave enough for the second ball of dough.

At this point, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, setting the rack in the center of the oven. Butter each of the muffin cups well. Don’t skip this step even though the muffins cups are nonstick. The butter mingles with the melting sugar to make a delicious caramel glaze on the outside of the roses.

Now, beginning with the first circle in each group, roll the dough up from one end to the other into a two inch wide jelly-roll. Repeat with all the sets of circles.

Cut each roll in half through the central section of the dough that does not contain jam (as shown in the photograph); you will wind up with 24 “roses.” Place each rose cut side down into each of the muffin cups. Place the filled muffin tray into the refrigerator for several minutes to chill and rest. (At this point, the roses may also be frozen for several days well wrapped in plastic until ready to bake. Do not thaw before baking, but place directly into the oven still frozen).

When ready, place the roses in the center of the preheated oven. After about 15 minutes, turn the pan so the cookies bake evenly. They will be done after about a half hour and should be golden brown both top and bottom (carefully slide a rose out of its cup to check – the bottom should be lightly caramelized).

Remove from the oven and let rest for five or ten minutes, until the roses have set a bit but are still easy to slide out of the cups. Don’t let them cool completely in the pan or they may be hard to remove. Set the roses on a rack to cool completely.

Repeat the above instructions with the second ball of dough to make two dozen more roses. They may be served warm or at room temperature, and will keep well for a day or two sealed in an airtight container so long as it is not very humid. If necessary, crisp them up for a few minutes in a 300 degree oven before serving.

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