Weekend Cooking--> Book Review: *Desserts 4 Today* by Abigail Johnson Dodge

  • Desserts 4 Today:  Flavorful Desserts with Just Four Ingredients by Abigail Johnson Dodge
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Taunton Press (September 7, 2010)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1600852947
  • Back-of-the-book blurb:  Whether you’ve had a hard day at work, have been on the go all day, or are planning an impromptu get together for friends, nothing will end your day better than something sweet and satisfying.  Thanks to baking expert Abigail Johnson Dodge, you can whip up a delicious dessert with just 4 ingredients in about half-hour.  The recipes in Desserts 4 Today rely on simplicity–no outrageous ingredients, no difficult-to-master techniques, and no hours of prep work. Each of the 125 flavorful desserts uses pantry ingredients, is ready from start to finish in about 30 minutes, and provides flavor variations sure to please any palette and any craving.  Desserts 4 Today enables cooks of all skill levels to effortlessly create delicious desserts. 

    She Is Too Fond of Books’ review:  You can’t judge a book by its cover, so they say.  Well, in this case, “they” are wrong!  The delicious desserts promised in the subtitle are here in Desserts 4 Today.  And, yes, there really are just four ingredients in each of the recipes, no sneaky asterisk pointing to a disclaimer; count ‘em – one, two, three, four! 

    The photo on the cover looks good enough to frame and hang on your kitchen wall, as do the three dozen or so photos of desserts throughout the book.  They’re artfully styled close-ups, but they don’t intimidate; rather, they underscore the beauty and flavor that can be found in these straightforward recipes. 

    Abigail Johnson Dodge begins by stating her goal for the book to be a “no-nonsense collection of recipes with tips, hints, and variations to make dessert not only a possibility but also a probability in your life.” (emphasis is mine) … Amen, sister!  With days full of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” and “but didn’t,” I loved the treat of being able to surprise my family with a delicious dessert that didn’t make me break a sweat planning or preparing it; they loved the treats, too, especially when I explained “I know it’s a week night, but I wanted to review this dessert cookbook.” 

    Many of the recipes include “Switch-Ins” which give suggestions for options if you don’t care for an ingredient, or if a particular fruit isn’t in season.  “Gussy It Up” suggestions offer additional garnishes and presentation ideas.  “Tech Talk” bubbles offer tips like how to ripen a banana and the correct ratio for mixing your own cinnamon sugar. 

    Dodge gives guidelines for stocking a pantry, in some cases sharing her favorite brand names.  She has me convinced that I need to get some unsalted butter for baking (you’ll see in the photo below that I used what I had on hand, lightly salted, I confess!).  I studied the lists of “top 10 equipment essentials” and “top 10 small, inexpensive gadgets worth having.”  I think I may be asking Santa for a Microplane zester in my stocking! 

    What types of recipes can you make with only four ingredients?  There’s not much you can’t make apparently!  Cookies (Grown-Up Chocolate Bourbon Balls, Toasted Pistachio Crisps, Lemony Ladyfingers to name a few), creamy desserts (Butterscotch Risotto Pudding, Dark Chocolate-Banana Soufflés), frozen desserts (Fresh Ginger-Plum Granita, Spicy Orange Mango Sorbet), fruit desserts (Flash-Roasted Fruit Compote, Sliced Mango with Crispy Ginger Sabayon), and pastry desserts (Rustic Dried Fruit Tart, Chunky Apple Brown Betty). 

    Desserts 4 Today is a roughly square shaped paperback, scored near the spine so the cover won’t develop an unsightly crease. 

    Just about to transfer to the cookie sheet for broiling - 20 seconds ONLY!

    French flaps and thick cover stock add to the quality.  It makes a great gift on its own, or pair it with ramekins or sorbet dishes for a housewarming gift. 

    About the author:  Abigail Johnson Dodge is the author of seven cookbooks, including The Weekend Baker.  She is a contributing editor to Fine Cooking magazine.  You can learn more about the author and her work at her website or follow @AbbyDodge on twitter. 

    With Abby’s permission, I’m sharing her recipe for Toasted Bittersweet “S’more” Bars (p. 24).  The picture near the top of this post is the page from the cookbook, so you can appreciate the layout, with ingredients to the side, and Switch-Ins and Gussy It Up at the bottom (that nice formatting gets lost in translation here).  This was a big hit with the kids (note that I used up store brand graham crackers and marshmallows that have been in the pantry since our trip to the Cape in August!).  I liked that it could be prepped ahead of time, and if I was careful, I could cut it into 18 rectangles by counting 2 marshmallow halves per slice – portion control!: 


    • unsalted butter:  8 tablespoons, divided
    • graham cracker crumbs:  1 cup
    • chocolate:  (bittersweet or semisweet) 6 ounces, choppped
    • marshmallows:  18 large, cut in half crosswise


    1.  Heat the oven to 350′ F.  Line an 8-inch-square baking dish with foil, leaving about 1 inch hanging over 2 edges.  Lightly coat the bottom and sides with cooking spray.  Make room in the fridge. 

    2.  Put 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium, heatproof bowl and heat in a microwave until melted.  Add the crumbs and stir until well blended.  Dump the crumbs into the pan and, using a flat-bottomed cup, firmly press the crumbs into an even layer.  Bake until fragrant, about 12 minutes. 

    3.  Put the chocolate and the remaining butter in a medium heatproof bowl and heat in a microwave until melted.  Whisk until smooth and blended. Pour into the warm, baked crust and spread evenly.  Refrigerage until almost firm, about 30 minutes.  Arrange the marshmallow halves, cut side down, evenly over the chocolate, pressing lightly.  Cover and refrigerate until very firm, about 40 minutes or for up to 2 days. 

    4.  Just before serving, adjust the oven rack to the top level and heat the broiler on high.  Using the excess foil as handles, lift the s’more square from the pan and set on a cookie sheet.  Pull the foil away from the sides and slide the cookie sheet under the broiler.  Broil until the marshmallows are browned, about 20 seconds.  Set on a rack and move the foil and s’more square to a cutting board.  Cut into 18 rectangles.  Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.  Serve slightly chilled. (note from Dawn:  20 seconds means 20 seconds.  Note there’s no ‘final’ picture :(   The first time we made this I had an 8-yr-old helper counting down the 20 seconds.  When I made them a second time, taking pics for the blog, I was alone and decaffeinated.  Still yummy, but not photo-worthy!) 

    See what else is happening in the kitchens of the blogosphere this weekend.  Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking to find links to other food-related posts.  There may be book reviews, recipes, kitchen gadget tips and tricks, other online auction adventures …

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