10 Most Labor-Intensive Desserts

Transfomers cake from Cake Boss team
Buddy Valastro and his "Cake Boss" team worked on this yellow Camaro/Transfomers cake for four days.

Forget quick, simple and easy-to-master dessert recipes -- sometimes what you need is a serious baking ordeal. For the 2011 New York Auto Show, Buddy Valastro of "Cake Boss" created a cake that was a combo of a yellow Camaro and "Transformers" star, Bumblebee. Calling it the hardest cake he'd ever made, Valastro and his team spent four days (including one all-nighter) constructing the 1,500-pound (680-kilogram)confection, which boasted of moving wings, lights and pyrotechnics. The result surprised and delighted auto show attendees.

These days we're all looking for fast recipes that take less time to make than they do to eat. But some of the best, most elaborate and delicious recipes are the ones that take a little bit (or a lot) of extra work to make. You might not whip up these labor-intensive treats on an average Wednesday night, but if you're willing to put in the time and effort (and we do mean time and effort), your stomach will be happily rewarded.


So what makes a dessert labor-intensive? The dishes featured here are either time-consuming to make, require a ridiculous number of steps, involve overly complicated procedures or include temperamental ingredients -- and sometimes all of these things at once. If it's likely to elicit an exasperated cry from a frustrated baker, then it might just be on this list.

10: Amish Friendship Bread

Amish friendship bread isn't that difficult to make, but the attention span required for this 10-day start-up may be more than some are willing to attempt.

The starter (yeast, sugar, milk) required to make this cinnamon sourdough bread is passed along from person to person much like a chain letter. Once you receive your starter, you begin the 10-day process of preparing the ingredients. Each day you perform a task -- stirring, adding other ingredients, waiting -- and at the end of the 10 days you finally get to bake and eat the bread. But that's not all -- on the 10th day you split your starter mixture, keeping a portion for yourself and passing along the other portions to friends, along with a nice little note explaining the process and the story.


The whole procedure harks back to the days when making fresh bread was a little more complicated than buying prepackaged ingredients and dumping them into a bread machine. So much for instant gratification!

9: Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska was originally created by New York's Delmonico's restaurant in 1867 to commemorate the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia.
Kevin Summers/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

There's a reason baked Alaska always seems rank high on the list of desserts people dread making: It's kind of a pain. The first step alone can be daunting: Make a sponge cake. If you have time to let it get slightly stale or dry it's even better, as the cake won't get soggy when topped with ice cream and coated with meringue. Then you add a nice big loaf of ice cream (bonus points if you make it yourself), shaped into a dome or whatever form you choose. The ice cream needs to be really frozen before it bakes (that's right, against all logic you're putting ice cream in an oven), so the cake and ice cream go into the freezer for a while.

Once it's good and frozen, you slather the whole thing with a soft meringue -- made from scratch, of course -- and bake the entire delicious mound for about five minutes, just long enough for the meringue to brown. An alternative to baking is to brown the tips of the meringue with a blowtorch, if you have one lying around and aren't too attached to your eyebrows.


Why doesn't the ice cream melt? The cake and the meringue insulate the ice cream just enough to keep it from turning to liquid during its brief stint in the oven.

8: Souffle

The temperamental nature of souffles makes them a notoriously difficult dessert to master. Egg whites beaten until they're light and fluffy are what makes this showcase dessert puff up with its characteristic top-hat-shaped cylinder when baked. Many a sit-com episode has centered on the souffle gone wrong.

The ingredients you include in the souffle, whether it's chocolate or lemon or some other sweet combination, have to be the right density. If the flavoring is too dense, it might weigh down the souffle and prevent it from rising. If it's not dense enough, you might get a runny mess. All of the ingredients must be handled carefully and delicately so as not to lose the foamy lightness of the eggs that is crucial to the success of this dessert.


Then there's the cooking process -- if you undercook it, the soufflé will deflate. And if you overcook it, it could also deflate. Most importantly: do not open the oven while it bakes! Otherwise -- you guessed it -- it might deflate.

7: Palmiers

Palmiers are sometimes called Elephant Ears.
David Bishop/FoodPix/Getty Images

If you used store-bought dough, this recipe would be so easy it wouldn't even come close to making our list. But what truly makes this dish a culinary nightmare is the laborious process of making puff pastry dough -- from scratch.

Soft and delicate, often with as much air inside as there is dough, puff pastries are tasty but can be a nightmare to produce. What makes them so light and flaky is precisely what makes them so complicated to create. The dough is repeatedly rolled and folded over on itself with pats of butter between layers, producing layer upon layer that separate with pockets of air when baked. The result is a light, airy texture that's all too easy to mess up if you don't get the steps right.


And let's not forget the most frustrating part of the puff pastry-making process: you have to keep the dough cold at all times. If it gets too warm the butter will melt into the dough and you'll lose the layered effect, so you might need to refrigerate the dough for 15 to 20 minutes after every couple of folds. That's right; roll, fold, chill and repeat in a process that can take several hours.

To turn puff pastry dough into a palmier, all you need to do is roll out the dough, smother it in sugar, roll up each side until it reaches the middle, cut into 2-inch slices and bake. The result is flaky, sugary and simply delicious.

6. Croquembouche

A croquembouche, a very elaborate (and time-consuming) cake is traditionally made for weddings and christenings in France.
Brian Leatart/FoodPix/Getty Images

Imagine a giant pile of sticky, sweet, decadent deliciousness, then cover it with more sticky, sugary goodness and you've got yourself a traditional French wedding cake: the croquembouche (French for "crunch in the mouth"). And it looks as fancy as it sounds: a pyramidal tower of cream-filled puff pastries dipped in chocolate or toffee, then decorated with caramel, spun sugar, nuts and chocolate. It's no small feat to make. And baking all of the little puff pastries (complicated enough by themselves) that make up this fantastic achievement isn't the only difficult part -- you have to mount it on a frame and decorate it too.


5: Baklava

Any recipe that requires working with phyllo dough can be a pain, and baklava is no exception. Baklava's a Turkish, Greek and all-around Middle Eastern delight made up of layers of buttery, flaky phyllo dough wrapped around a mixture of nuts, sugar and spices and topped with a sweet, sticky syrup that makes it delicious.

The thing about phyllo is that you have to work quickly and methodically to keep the layers from drying out and curling up or sticking together. Also, you have to brush each layer of dough with melted butter -- usually between 9 and 20 sheets -- which can take a tremendous amount of time. And then there's the syrup, which itself can take about 20 minutes to boil down to the right consistency. Oh, but the final product is so worth the effort.


4: Marjolaine

This many-leveled French delicacy has five main types of layers: nutty meringue, chocolate ganache, praline, nuts and coffee-flavored buttercream. Each of the five layers involves enough steps to constitute its own dessert, making this a seriously time consuming, multi-step recipe -- anywhere from one to six hours depending on how many corners you cut (not including chill time). And since each layer is prepared separately, by the time you're done you'll also have a large pile of dishes in the sink.

The meringue involves mixing, baking, cooling and cutting; the ganache requires mixing, boiling and stirring; the praline calls for mixing, simmering, pouring, cooling, cutting and blending; the nuts require chopping; and the buttercream involves heating, stirring, whipping and cooling. After all that you still need to assemble the dessert layer by layer. The result is delicious, but it's no wonder this is typically a restaurant-made dish.


3: Baumkuchen

Baumkuchen is German for "tree cake" because when it's sliced it looks like a cross-section of a tree trunk.

If we've learned anything up to this point, it's that layered desserts are especially time-consuming. And not only does this next layered treat take some time to create, it also requires a special device to make it.

To create baumkuchen (or "tree cake"), cake batter is either brushed or poured in layers over a continuously revolving spit in front of an open flame. In many ways the process resembles candle dipping: it's built from the inside out as layer upon layer is added. Each layer of cake must brown before the next is added, and as the cake turns on the spit the baker carves grooves into it to create a wavy shape, so it requires constant attention and a fair amount of time to make this cake. The whole process can take up to four hours from start to finish, including making the batter -- a traditional recipe calls for 1 pound (453 grams) of sugar, 1 pound of flour, 1 pound of butter and 30 eggs!


In the end, the layered cylinder produced from the baking process is cut into smaller cakes, which when sliced look like the cross section of a tree trunk, complete with rings. Baumkuchens have been known to contain up to 25 layers, weighing nearly 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms). They're very popular in Europe and in Japan.

2: Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding is traditionally served at Christmas in England.

If you're looking for a dessert that takes an especially long time to make, plum pudding takes the cake. At a minimum you'll spend a few days preparing this fruity, liquor-soaked, cakelike Christmas dessert, but some recipes call for several weeks or even a year-long ripening and soaking process, where the raisins, figs and other dried fruits soak in cognac or brandy. Every few days, you check the fruit mixture and if it starts to dry out, you add more liquor.

After the ripening process is up, you mix the fruit with eggs, breadcrumbs, spices and other extras, put it all in a cake pan, then steam it for six or seven hours. The pudding is sometimes baked again after steaming, then it's either chilled or flambéed before serving. Not time-consuming enough for you? Some recipes also call for drying the pudding for several weeks before re-steaming and serving. Oh, and don't forget to make a batch of hard sauce to accompany it.


1: Wedding Cake

Some wedding cakes require a team and several days just to decorate.

In 2011, the average wedding cake in the U.S. cost around $480, according to the BRIDES Magazine American Wedding Study. But some fetch an even higher price -- Kim Kardashian dropped around $20,000 on a 10-layer, 1,900-slice cake covered in chocolate chip frosting for her August 2011 nuptials. And that's nothing compared to the $40,000, 12-tier, 6-foot (1.82-meters) tall cake decorated with thousands of handmade sugar flowers that Liza Minnelli and David Gest featured at their 2002 wedding. That's certainly a testament to the vast amount of labor and time that goes into creating each one, as well as the significance it holds as a traditional part of American weddings. But what's money when you're buying the dessert you'll start your new life with?

Next to the dress, the cake is the showcase piece at a wedding. Cakes can take weeks to make, featuring intricate details, many flavors and sometimes even moving parts -- all customized to reflect the couple's tastes or the wedding's style. Whether it's traditional white with delicate flowers, or something more whimsical and colorful, wedding cakes are some of the most elaborate and labor intensive desserts you'll find. That's why they top our list.

Lots More Information

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