Commit them to memory, if you can.

By Maria Yagoda
March 26, 2021
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There's nothing more impressive than whipping up homemade dessert, whether it's a simple pound cake or a more elaborate pastry. While the professionally made desserts keep getting better (and easier to order), these chefs suggest learning these basic desserts and putting them into permanent rotation.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Peppermint Ganache Frosting
Credit: © William Meppem

Fruit Pie

"Whether you're in the Northeast doing apple pie, the Mid-Atlantic with blueberries or the South making peach pie, everyone should have a go-to pie dough recipe in their arsenal and understand how to best utilize their region's fruit. When done right, a good pie hits like a loving memory." — Nick Elmi, Chef at The Landing Kitchen and Lark in Philadelphia

F&W Recipe: Cherry-Berry Pie

Pound Cake

"Pound cake is a very simple dessert that can be made sophisticated through the addition of spices, and or citrus elements. It goes great with whipped cream, fresh berries and can be toasted for an even deeper flavor profile." — Franklin Becker, co-founder of 100 Pleats and owner of ShaiGalinha and Universal Taco

Chocolate Cake

"I love chocolate cake. I'm not a big dessert maker but I definitely taught myself how to make a great chocolate cake. Especially when I did one for my son's 6th birthday last year. I think it's a good skill to have. It teaches how to really measure ingredients when making a cake batter, how to not over mix the batter, knowing when to pull the cake out of the oven, and checking that it is not overcooked and dry. Learning how to make a perfectly moist cake base helps a lot with time management, ingredient measuring, and technique when baking. Especially when you get to make a tasteful buttercream and apply it to your moist cake base." — Brandon Silva, Chef at Degust in Houston, Texas

"Sticking with the classics, a solid chocolate cake is always a crowd-pleaser. I think everyone has that special dessert that holds a place in their hearts from growing up. Mine was my grandmother's chocolate cake. It was chocolatey and rich, slices were big, and it was always incredibly moist. Baking is so precise, you can take a left turn and end up with a cakey brick before you know it. There's an art to that fluffy, yet dense but not at all dry confection. The ratio of frosting to cake is huge, too; you always want just a little too much frosting and make it tall. At my restaurant, we make my grandmother's chocolate cake, and it's three layers and 12-inches tall. A great chocolate cake goes a long way. " Leonard Botello IV, Pitmaster and owner of TRUTH BBQ in Houston and Brenham, TX

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake
Credit: Greg Dupree

Custard

"Custard is the under-appreciated ingredient of every dessert section/bakery/sweet section. It can be served up in a jiffy and can be done in infinite ways. It can form the body of a dessert, the glaze or filling of a donut, or a tart. It can be done sweet, savory with classic flavors like vanilla or chocolate. A custard's ingredients may be basic as it may sound with the eggs, flour or cornstarch, milk, and sugarhowever, it can make or break a dessert." — Sati Sharma, Chef/Restaurateur of Brick Lane Curry House in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Crème Brûlée

"I always think a custard-like crème brûlée is an underrated dessert that isn't hard to pull off and can impress almost anyone. Also, unlike cakes, they don't need any decoration before serving. There isn't much that can beat the velvety texture of either."  Antoni Szachowicz, Chef de Cuisine at NiHao in Baltimore, MD

F&W RecipeCrème Brûlée

Quick Breads

"Quick breads are a very important and versatile tool. These can range from biscuits to muffins, brownies, scones, cornbread or even things like banana, strawberry or carrot bread. These are a great way to explore baking with less of an intimidation factor as the leavening agent in these is typically baking powder or soda instead of yeasted doughs or naturally leavened doughs that rely on some form of starter. Quick breads range a full gamut of flavor profiles from sweet to savory and typically drill home proper baking techniques balancing perfectly fluffy, cooked (not raw) but airy and not dense on the inside with crispy and crunchy outer layers." Jack Logue, Executive Chef from Tribeca's Kitchen in New York City 

Smashed Banana Bread
Credit: John Kernick

Chocolate Chip Cookies

"There really isn't a dessert that you need to know. But if you wish to indulge, I'd say making chocolate chip cookies would be the way to go! Who does not like chocolate chip cookies?" Ari Bokovza, Executive Chef from Dagon in New York City

Apple Pie

"I chose this not because I happen to live in the Hudson Valley, but because the humble pie crust can be such an extension of self. A perfectly made pie crust doesn't exist. It's such a simple thing that is often defined by the smallest inconsistencies, making it a great dish to practice, and perfect in your own way."  Michael Poiarkoff, Culinary Director and Executive Chef at The Maker in Hudson, NY

Mountain Rose Apple Pie
Rebecca Masson of Houston’s Fluff Bake Bar tops her dense and delicious apple pie with a thick layer of crisp, buttery crumble.
| Credit: © Con Poulos

Baklava

"Making baklava at home is easier than most people think, and the result... those layers of honey-soaked crisp phyllo with the perfect nut mixture nestled within... well, it is the best! Think of assembling baklava in your baking dish similar to how you would assemble a lasagna; it just takes a few layers."  Suzy Karadsheh, Chef/Founder of The Mediterranean Dish  

Carrot Cake

"This is a self-serving suggestion. The more people make carrot cake, the more frequently people will offer me a slice of their homemade carrot cake." — Jeff Miller, Co-Owner and Chef of Rosella

Carrot-Almond Snack Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Credit: Antonis Achilleos

Mango Sticky Rice

"It's refreshing and has a good balance of sweet and savory and simple."  Tom Naumsuwan, Executive Chef of Wayla

Olive Oil Cake

"An olive oil cake recipe or a pound cake recipe is a solid versatile dessert recipe that everyone should have in their back pocket. In the winter, serve the cake with a mix of citrus, and in the summer, with beautiful strawberries and cream. With the leftovers, stuff some slices with ice cream and make a pound cake ice cream sandwich (something I did throughout my childhood)."  Christine Lau, Executive Chef of Kimika

Sweet Peach Olive Oil Cake
Credit: © Tara Fisher

Pastry Cream

"Its texture, consistency, and balance in flavor is essential to make any dessert. The pastry cream of our El Cielo Merengon is made with soursop and aguardiente (a Colombian spirit). It has a phenomenal light consistency and a strong flavor." — Juan Manuel Barrientos, Chef at El Cielo DC

Tres Leches

Desserts aren't my strong suit when cooking, but this one is an easy-peasy comfort Latin option: a creamy tres leches. I like to twist it up using a splash of Baileys and a shot of Unido espresso blend."  Mario Castrellon, Executive Chef at Café Unido USA in Washington, D.C.

Flan

"A flan is the way to go in my book. It's a classic recipe but once you feel comfortable making one, you are basically close to making other renditions like a crème caramel, or ccrème brûlée, or even a crema catalana. That's the kind of recipe that keeps on giving!"  Mario Monte, Executive Chef at Colada Shop

Burnt Caramel Flan
Credit: Romulo Yanes

Madeleines

"Although it may seem these are easy to make, they require some patience, but the outcome is an exceptional little cake with the right amount of crispiness on the outside and a spongy texture on the inside. At Bresca, we serve it as a large format dessert."  — Ryan Ratino, Executive Chef at Bresca in Washington, D.C.