11 Ways Ina Garten Elevates Classic Desserts

Hearing "so what I do..." in literally all of Ina Garten's recipe demos is music to our ears. Because we know she wouldn't leave us hanging out to dry with just another boring old chocolate cake recipe. Instead, the chef sends her desserts into the Garten-sphere, where everything's made of gooey caramel sauce and Häagen-Dazs — and tastes like a spoonful of weekend joy in the Hamptons.

Garten makes everything look effortless, but even the most rookie of us home bakers can implement these tricks to elevate classic desserts. Whether it's about adding depth to the flavor, or tenderness to the texture — or even checking the weather to see how it could sabotage a bake — we couldn't possibly hope for better advice than that which comes from the Barefoot Contessa. Even when it comes to busting out the microwave to upgrade an upside down cake.

From her secret for the world's easiest crème anglaise, to the spiciest way to do apple cake, to her magic trick for effortless softened butter, she always has us dreaming of brioche bread pudding, rich chocolate cake, crinkly cookies, banana rum trifles, and more. Here's how you can follow along with her biggest dessert tricks.

Creating créme anglaise with melted ice cream

You may think no one in their right mind would want room temp ice cream for dessert. But who could refuse at Ina Garten's house when she pours a little defrosted vanilla ice cream onto a dish, plates her sweet brioche bread pudding on top, and boom — creates instant crème anglaise. 

"The secret is that vanilla ice cream is crème anglaise that's been frozen," Garten shared with Goldbelly TV. "I defrost good vanilla ice cream, just put it right in the middle of the plate...and a really delicious dessert is ready." Just for your notes, she uses Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream. But if you're her biggest fan, you already know that's her favorite brand.

While scratch-made créme anglaise could cost you some extra time spent fiddling with egg yolks that are actively trying to scramble themselves as you cook the custard, you can skip that part completely the Garten way with a pint of vanilla. Then, serve it a your next gathering to see everyone's minds blown as you win the award for Best Dinner Party Ever. 

Letting butter soften overnight for Beatty's Chocolate Cake

You can literally sleep your way to the fluffiest cake of your life with Ina Garten's brilliant leave-the-butter-out-overnight-on-the-counter trick. This is, of course, assuming you have even a smidge as much forethought as Garten does when it comes to baking, as in before the actual moment hits when you felt like eating a slice.

As Garten has explained in her book "Cook Like A Pro," the trick that allows the butter and sugar to mix and become light and fluffy is that the former "needs to be at room temperature." As the chef explains, "It won't get soft enough if you leave it on the counter for an hour; it takes hours for it to go from a refrigerated temperature (38 degrees Fahrenheit) to room temperature (70 degrees Fahrenheit)." It also doesn't work if you leave the butter in the sun for 10 minutes, willing it to thaw in the middle of winter—in case you were considering that hack.

It just so happens that her Beatty's Chocolate Cake recipe pairs flawlessly with two sticks of room temp butter — in particular for the velvety chocolate buttercream frosting. Or, try using the trick to make Garten's Shortbread Cookies recipe; it calls for almost a full pound of butter that would also love to do its thing while you hit the hay.

Flash-freezing dough for Giant Crinkled Chocolate Chip Cookies

Got a little frustration you need to work out? Channel that energy into repeatedly slamming a baking sheet onto the counter as part of the process for making Ina Garten's Giant Crinkled Chocolate Chip Cookies. You'll do this trick just after the dough balls have chilled in the freezer for "exactly 15 minutes."

As Garten notes in her cookbook "Modern Comfort Food," that 15-minute freeze is all about preserving consistent texture across the whole cookie as it bakes, so you don't end up with charred edges and gloppy, raw middles (even if you secretly love snacking on cookie dough). Because what no one is jonesing for is fall-apart cookies.

Along with slamming the sheet pan every three minutes during the bake, you'll also want to rotate the cookie sheet in the oven, for even doneness. "These cookies are chocolaty, crisp, and a little salty, and the perfect after-school treat with a glass of milk," the chef writes on her blog. Even if your "school" is actually 9-to-5 meetings on your laptop, you deserve the best chocolate chip cookies, too.

Using instant espresso powder for Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

We're super psyched any time we get to dig into Ina Garten's Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake where mocha cream layers play against crispy Tate's Bake Shop chocolate chip cookies for a winning combo. Even better, that chocolate profile gets turned up to 11 with the addition of the Barefoot Contessa's favorite flavor booster: instant espresso powder.

This particular recipe already calls for coffee liqueur, but we can count on the culinary whiz to crank it up a notch with this extra addition. "This isn't espresso grinds, this is instant espresso powder," she shares on YouTube as she drops a teaspoon's worth into the mixer. It's also not instant coffee, either. As Garten explained on her website, "Instant espresso powder has a stronger coffee flavor than the instant coffee granules. I decide which ingredient to use depending on the amount of coffee flavor I would like in a particular recipe." As for the preferred brand, her top choice appears to be Medaglia d'Oro. 

Abstaining from making Meringues Chantilly if it's raining

Hunkering down at home for a cozy dessert sounds like the perfect thing for a gloomy day. But, if you're thinking of a meringue, you might want to save it for dry weather. Ina Garten notes that humidity impacts the texture of meringue — turning it from crispy on the outside and marshmallow-y in the middle to a rubbery glob you'll be gnawing on for hours.

"This is really something you really don't want to do on a rainy day. Everybody's had meringues that are sort of chewy, that's 'cuz there's too much humidity in the air," she explained in this YouTube clip, while filling a piping bag for her Meringues Chantilly. But luckily, you can make meringues several days ahead of serving them as Garten notes "you can store them for a really long time in an air-tight container." So, just look at the weather and plan ahead baking the meringues on the sunniest day you can find.

When ready to indulge, Garten serves hers topped with stewed berries and whipped cream — along with a slice of chocolate cake, too. Because she's Ina Garten and she does what she wants.

Preparing homemade vanilla extract for Vanilla Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Ina Garten has a preference for what she calls "good vanilla." But sometimes not even her often-recommended Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract makes the grade. What does she use when she wants that good good vanilla? Her own.

Garten has been making her own vanilla recipe for nearly 40 years. She puts expensive vanilla beans and cheap vodka ("It's no time for Grey Goose," she says in this YouTube clip) in an airtight jar, and lets it infuse for four to six months. After that, you've got your very own extract. You can even squeeze out the insides of the vanilla beans and use those liquified seeds in your next vanilla pudding, or cake, too. As Garten says, "The smell is just amazing...It's really easy to make."

Put the vanilla extract recipe to the test with Garten's decadent Vanilla Cream Cheese Pound Cake and use one of those vodka-soaked vanilla beans for the batter.

Subbing ginger snaps for vanilla wafers in a Banana Rum Trifle

If there's one thing we've learned from Ina Garten's baking upgrades, it's that she does whatever it takes to pump up the flavor. And if it's between using vanilla wafers and ginger snaps for her Banana Rum Trifle, you better believe she's going with the latter to spice it up.

The result is basically banana pudding if it just won the lottery and flipped everyone the bird as it floated off on a cruise. As Garten told Better Homes & Gardens, "I thought, 'Let me see if I can raise the bar.'" Spoiler alert: she did. The pudding gets a generous helping of vanilla bean, vanilla extract (you know the one), and dark rum. Store-bought ginger snaps kick 'Nillas to the curb with their warm molasses and ginger flavors.

This is a trick that even Garten's most loyal fans have tried, whether in her Banana Rum Trifle recipe or any others they may have lying around. According to one fan's 5-star review of the dessert, "This recipe is a real showstopper! Unbelievably delicious. Using a real vanilla bean is a must!"

Adding sour cream to the batter for Black & White Cookies

Nothing says New York City more than a black and white cookie. But, as much as we love them, they don't exactly love us back by being perfectly tender. Instead, their crumb-y superpower seems to be the ability to completely dry out your mouth in five seconds or less. Thankfully, Ina Garten has a hack — adding sour cream for a super delectable texture, giving you the moist bang for your buck.

Less than half a cup of sour cream takes these cookies from gag to brag, hydrating the batter without adding any oddly tangy sour cream flavor. She also suggests not over-baking the cookies, so keep your eye on them as they bake. In addition, Garten mixes in some Lindt semi-sweet chocolate (and Nescafé instant coffee granules) to the icing mix, giving the cookie a slightly more sophisticated flair. 

Tempering chocolate in the microwave for English Chocolate Crisps

If you take any piece of advice from Ina Garten, don't make it harder than it needs to be. This wisdom involves her trick for tempering chocolate — the kind of stabilized sweetness that turns out blindingly glossy and sets just right — where she forges ahead into a territory that most lesser chefs would never dare to traverse: the microwave. That's right, nuke it.

Garten verified the method herself on Instagram, claiming her recipe for English Chocolate Crisps is as easy as combining four ingredients and a microwave. She also says the crisps are "crazy delicious," but we could say that about all of her recipes, right?

Traditional chocolate tempering can involve cumbersome double boilers, candy thermometers, and even chilled marble slabs (we're trying to make a snack here, not the statue of David.). But, Garten saves us from third-degree chocolate burns by simply microwaving chopped bittersweet chocolate for 30 seconds at a time, stirring, and repeating as needed. 

Then, pour the melted chocolate over the cornflakes, fold in the dried cranberries, dollop the mixture onto a baking sheet to set, and you're done. 

Not over-working the dough for Deep Dish Apple Pie

If you follow Ina Garten, you know that she heartily believes in store-bought pie crust. But when she opts to make her own crust for a Deep Dish Apple Pie, we follow along with that too, paying special attention when she advises not to mix the living daylights out the dough.

For this pastry recipe, the butter must be fridge-like cold. Then, instead of leaving the food processor running for a few minutes unattended, you'll be diligently pulsing the butter, flour, salt, sugar, vegetable shortening, and water, until it has come together as a ball. But, be warned — any over-blending and those little bits of cold butter will get smashed into smithereens and the crust will lose its glorious, buttery flakiness.

"What you want in the dough, is little bits of butter and shortening through the dough. You don't want it totally puréed," she told Food Network. "When the heat from the oven hits the butter, it causes steam to evaporate and that's what makes it really flaky." After the dough rests in the fridge for 30 minutes, it's ready to be rolled out and baked to flaky perfection.

Adding booze to make Fresh Apple Spice Cake

While we faithfully abide by all of Ina Garten's suggestions, we truly realized we were twin flames the moment she shared on YouTube, "If you want it to taste better, add alcohol." Preach!

Wine, liqueur, and beer appear all over Garten's recipe archive. But, we especially love when she adds in a splash or two in a way that feels like a spur of the moment thrill. For her Fresh Apple Spice Cake, that festive spirit comes in the form of Mount Gay dark rum-soaked golden raisins. "You use dark rum instead of regular white rum because it's got sort of, like, a caramel-y flavor, and it'll be great with the apples," she says in the demo clip while pouring rum into a bowl of raisins and making all of our dreams come true.

To bring it full circle, Garten even microwaves the rum and raisin combo. This plumps the raisins, priming them to soak up as much of the spirit as they can. She then drains the raisins before adding them to the batter and baking the cake. And that's it. Garten then plates her warm, golden brown Fresh Apple Spice Cake with a soft scoop of vanilla ice cream, adding a drizzle of warm caramel sauce. "I would say that's a dessert that everybody is gonna be very happy to try...including me," she said. We couldn't agree more.