updated 11/09/2010 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 12/23/2010 AT 1:30 PM ET
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 fruit,” she says. Another way she sends guests home feeling guilt-free? “Once the sugar stars flowing, I get a little dance party going to work off some calories!”
Toasted Coconut Macaroons (see below)
Individual Apple Tarte Tatins
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 325ºF.
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.
Individual Apple Tarte Tatins
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 small-medium granny smith apples
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed for 15 minutes before using (store bought)
Vanilla bean ice cream
1. Preheat oven to 400º F.
2. Set a small saucepan over high heat and add sugar and water. Bring to a rolling boil and cook without stirring until it turns a deep amber color, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat immediately and carefully add butter, gently swirling it into the pan.
3. Using four 12-oz ramekins, cut out four circles of puff pastry. Poke holes all over each pastry disc with a fork. Carefully divide the caramel evenly into the bottom of the four ramekins. Peel apples and cut each into six wedges. Carefully layer apple wedges into ramekins ensuring there are no gaps and the tops are level. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and top each with a puff pastry disc. Bake for 20 minutes until tops are golden and puffy.
4. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Carefully invert each tart onto a plate. Let tarts cool an additional five minutes. Serve with a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.