The Tired Woman's Guide to Bake Sales

Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: ThinkstockBy Lynn Andriani

A Way to Tap into the Cake Pop Craze Without Losing Sleep

There's no denying that those little balls of sweetness are adorable (hi, fluffy sheep with tiny pink heart noses), but they can take hours-if not days-to make. We've got two shortcuts: Make them with doughnut holes or Rice Krispie treats instead (just form the treats into balls instead of pressing them into a pan). Then get creative with the toppings, from tiramisu (cocoa powder and a chocolate-covered espresso bean) to Mexican hot chocolate (chocolate spiked with cinnamon).

Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: Thinkstock5-Minute Fudge

If you don't have a can or two of sweetened condensed milk knocking around your cupboard, stock up: The $2.99 ingredient, which can last for years unopened without refrigeration, is a dessert maker's secret weapon. It's indispensable in key lime pie and caramel candies, but less well known is its ability to transform chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and vanilla into fudge. This recipe has myriad variations, like walnut-raisin and white chocolate-cranberry.

Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: ThinkstockNo Baking Required (Just Don't Tell the Bake Sale Police)

Pretzel rods plus melted chocolate plus toppings equal a don't-bother-turning-on-the-oven treat that even a toddler can help with. Microwave chocolate, mint or any other flavor of chips, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth. Dip in half a pretzel, and then sprinkle with or roll in colored sprinkles, mini M&M's, toasted coconut, cookie crumbs or crushed Reese's Pieces. Stock up on long, narrow pretzel rod bags before you begin.

Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: ThinkstockThe Worry-Free, Allergy-Safe Brownie

If you're uneasy about bringing brownies to a bake sale or party because of potential allergies, this safe version is a good alternative. It calls for gluten-free flour and gluten-, dairy- and soy-free chocolate, and skips eggs and butter entirely--but doesn't suffer in the taste department--resulting in a cakey, chocolaty sweet.

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Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: ThinkstockOne Big Pan, Lots of Bars

This sheet cake is a large, thin layer of tender chocolate cake slathered with gooey chocolate frosting and sprinkled with toasted nuts, such as walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts. If yours is a no-nuts affair, try mini marshmallows, butterscotch chips or dried cherries.

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Photo: Courtesy of King Arthur FlourPhoto: Courtesy of King Arthur FlourCheaters Never Win, Except in This One Case

We're fairly certain anyone who's ever had to manage a full-time job and bring something to a bake sale has made treats from a boxed mix and then passed them off as "from scratch." (Not that we've, uh, ever done this.) Betty Crocker's new Pumpkin Bar Mix and Pumpkin Spice Cookie Mix are seasonal options, while King Arthur Flour's Coconut Macaroon Cookie Mix requires just one additional ingredient (water). If allergies are a concern, most Naturally Nora mixes can be made without dairy and eggs, and most don't contain soy.

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