When it comes to baking advice, Claire Saffitz is one of the internet’s top go-tos. She’s the bestselling author of “Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence,” and a recipe developer and video host who won over our hearts while making our favorite childhood snacks and candies from scratch on Bon Appetit’s YouTube series “Gourmet Makes.” Oh, and she graduated from Harvard, has a master’s degree in culinary history from McGill University in Montreal and studied pastry in Paris at École Grégoire-Ferrandi. She’s kind of a big deal.
Saffitz’s latest project is a cookbook, “What’s for Dessert: Simple Recipes for Dessert People,” which comes out on Nov. 8. In the book, she demonstrates that you don’t need fancy kitchen equipment or even a celebratory occasion to enjoy a homemade dessert. The book is filled with more than 100 approachable recipes for home bakers at every skill level, and one of her favorite ways to simplify and expedite a recipe is by using store-bought ingredients.
“My general philosophy about store-bought ingredients is if the store-bought version is as good or better than the thing I can make myself, I’m just going to buy it,” Saffitz told HuffPost. Below, we’ve rounded up some of her favorite flavor-packed, time-saving store-bought ingredients to level up homemade desserts.
Ice cream ― particularly Häagen-Dazs ― tops Saffitz’s list of store-bought must-haves.
“I’m not opposed to making ice cream at home, but most at-home ice cream makers are just not going to give you a product as good or creamy as Häagen-Dazs or any other store-bought brand,” she said. “I have a couple recipes in the book that use store-bought ice cream to help with assembly.” These include her Classic Sundae Bombe, a molded ice cream dessert that calls for chocolate and vanilla ice cream, along with other store-bought ingredients like Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, maraschino cherries, semisweet chocolate and sprinkles.
“Jam is such a useful item in baking because you get sweetness and concentrated fruit flavor, but you’re not adding the moisture from fruit, and that’s so important in many baking recipes,” Saffitz said. In her book she notes that she has, on average, half a dozen different jars of jam in her fridge at any given time. Apricot and raspberry are a must for glazing tarts.
“The high sugar content means jam almost never grows mold or bacteria,” Saffitz writes in “What’s for Dessert.” Bonne Maman is a go-to brand for its quality and availability, but any brand with just fruit and sugar as the ingredients should do the trick.
In her cookbook, Saffitz folds crushed Oreos into vanilla ice cream for Salty Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches; layers store-bought ladyfingers into a Tiramisu-y Icebox Cake; and tops a silky, dense Malted & Salted Caramel Pudding with crumbled Biscoff cookies. Store-bought cookies offer convenience, a crunchy texture and a taste of nostalgia. They are also a must for crumb crusts.
“There are all things that I think are just delicious to eat and really wonderful when employed in a dessert,” Saffitz said. “I think that for store-bought it’s about identifying high-quality, high-performing ingredients and making the most of them.”
“I love, love, love almond paste,” Saffitz said. “It’s got such an incredible flavor and texture, and you can usually find it at any major grocery store.”
She noted that almond is one of her favorite flavors to bake with, and almond paste adds a lot of richness and almond flavor to desserts. “I always buy two tubes at a time and put it in pies, cakes and even pastry dough,” she said. “I love the effect that it has on baked goods. It’s a very hardworking store-bought ingredient.” You’ll find almond paste used in her recipes for Crunchy Almond Cake and Prune & Almond Rugelach.
Dulce de leche
Dulce de leche is delicious, but it’s an extremely sweet store-bought ingredient. “Whenever I have a store-bought ingredient, I’m trying to make the most of it and deploy the flavor, and then if necessary temper and cut back on the sweetness a little bit,” Saffitz said. In her Banoffee Pudding (a twist on a banoffee pie), she balances the sweetness of dulce de leche with salt and sour cream.