When it comes to throwing a party, Gail Simmons isn't afraid to skip dinner and go straight to the good stuff. "There is no better way to bring people together than with desserts," says the Top Chef Just Desserts host. Plus a sweets-only soiree is "really easy. You can make everything in advance and store it in the fridge or airtight containers. Then all you have to do is set the desserts out on pretty platters, and you're done!" The New Yorker, 34, whips up at least three different confections, and "I like to add something fresh to the menu, so I serve seasonal fruit," she says. Another way she sends guests home feeling guilt-free? "Once the sugar starts flowing, I get a little dance party going to work off some calories!"
• Toasted coconut macaroons
• Dulce de leche blondie bars
• Apple tart tatins
• Fresh seasonal fruit
Toasted Coconut Macaroons
3 egg whites
½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 tbsp. sugar
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon zest
20 oz. sweetened shredded coconut
7 oz. dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa)
1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Beat egg whites in electric mixer on low. Once whites are broken up, add cream of tartar and sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat until whites are frothy.
3. Shut off mixer and fold in condensed milk, vanilla and lemon zest. Add coconut and mix until well incorporated. Let mixture sit for 2-3 minutes.
4. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Drop 12 heaping tablespoons of the batter on each tray, spacing them apart evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool.
5. Melt chocolate in a double boiler over low heat or in the microwave. Dip half of each macaroon into the chocolate. Place on tray to allow chocolate to set. Serve when cooled.
Dulce De Leche Blondie Bars
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
A pinch of salt
½ cup of dulce de leche, store bought
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Grease an 8-x-8-in. baking pan with a little nonstick cooking spray or butter. Line with two strips of parchment paper so the inside and walls are completely covered and there is an overhang to lift out cooked blondies.
3. Place butter and sugars in electric mixer and beat until fluffy. Stop and scrape down sides of bowl when necessary. Add egg, vanilla, flour, baking soda and salt and gently mix together.
4. Spread half of the mixture in pan and bake for 7-8 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then smear dulce de leche over base. Drop dollops of remaining batter over top and swirl slightly. Flatten with a rubber spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool before taking out of the pan. Slice into 16 even squares.