20 Cheap Desserts That Are Easy as Pie

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MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY

After sweating over a whole meal, who has the time or energy to concoct a complex dessert? These delicious recipes use ingredients that are in ready supply at the grocery store or already in the pantry, and no tool fancier than a blender. Some are so classic that a busy cook will be relieved to remember them, while others are less familiar but surprisingly simple.

BANANA WHIPPED CREAM PIE

This family favorite uses two super-inexpensive ingredients -- bananas and cream. Once whipped, cream nearly triples its volume, which means 1 cup of cream can be enough for an entire pie topping. Combine that with a few sliced bananas in a ready-made pie crust (and, in a recipe from Organic Valley, vanilla extract and sugar) and dessert is ready for a just a few dollars.

PUDDING

Quick and easy, instant pudding is a low-cost dessert that can be enjoyed a variety of ways. Tasty enough on its own, it transforms into a more cosmopolitan finish to a meal when topped with a few sliced strawberries, whipped cream, or a sprinkling of cinnamon.

HOT CHOCOLATE

To get a rich, chocolatey experience without indulging in expensive cakes or truffles, opt for sippable chocolate. Create a custom instant mix for less by using good-quality cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt, as suggested by Martha Stewart.

OATMEAL COOKIES

Oats are inexpensive as well as nutritious, and using them as the base for cookies or dessert bars is a money-saving trick. Keep a box of oats around for impromptu desserts such as gluten-free oatmeal chip bars from Taste of Home.

FRUIT PLATE

Take advantage of cheap seasonal fruit by using it as the star of dessert. Go with apples and pears in fall, citrus in winter, apricots and blueberries in spring, and cherries and berries in summer. Arranged elegantly on a plate and garnished with mint, fresh fruit is a refreshing dessert for any occasion.

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Peanut butter is a low-cost ingredient that features in rich, indulgent desserts, starting with the classic peanut butter cookie. Customize a dough from Allrecipes to be saltier, less sweet, or mixed with candy toppings. Peanut butter bars and truffles are other great ways to use this delicious and cheap product for dessert.

ICE CREAM

A generous scoop of ice cream at the end of a meal is a classic that's hard not to embrace. At less than $1 per serving, it's an easy and low-cost way to enhance a meal with something sweet. Spruce it up by topping with crunchy cereal or a pitcher of chocolate sauce warmed in the microwave.

POACHED PEARS

Especially good in the fall, when a wide variety of pears are available, poached pears are easy to make, as well as elegant and flavorful. The Food Network advises simply peeling and halving pears, then poaching them in a sweet liquid such as honey and spices with water, or white wine for extra complexity.

POUND CAKE

This classic and simple cake combines inexpensive household ingredients such as flour, sugar, and butter. MyRecipes uses a touch of vanilla and almond extract to enhance the naturally rich flavor. The dense, rich cake is indulgent enough that a small piece is a full serving.

SUGAR COOKIES

Humble household ingredients such as sugar, flour, eggs, and butter are easily transformed into sugar cookies. Allrecipes has the basic mix. To make the cookies more festive, cut them into shapes and decorate with colored frosting.

BAKED APPLES

Even out of season, apples are easy to find for $1 or less. When cored, sprinkled with cinnamon, and baked, apples turn into an apple-pie-like dessert. These healthy and cheap treats are a good replacement for the usual calorie-saturated desserts of the holidays.

LEMON CAKE

Infusing a simple cake with lemon can transform it from boring to unique. Simply add the zest and juice of a lemon to a regular recipe or boxed mix to add a twist and enhance the flavor profile of an inexpensive favorite.

CHOCOLATE

A few small pieces of good-quality chocolate go a long way. Find gourmet chocolate in bulk for a better price per ounce and serve it broken in small portions for a satisfying cap to a meal.

BLUEBERRY CRISP

A basic crisp can be made from any fruit, fresh or frozen. Blueberries are available year-round at low prices in the frozen section of most grocery stores. Combine with an oat-based crisp topping for a winning dessert using a recipe recommended by Martha Stewart.

CINNAMON SUGAR BITES

Try this dessert when making dough for pizza or bread, although premade pizza dough works just as well: Simply pan-fry small pieces of dough in a little oil on the stove, then coat with cinnamon and sugar. These bites cost next to nothing, but they're just as good at home as they are from a concession stand at the county fair.

FROZEN BANANA

Turn a banana into a delicious frozen dessert by arranging it on a popsicle stick or wooden skewer. Roll it in chopped nuts, possibly drizzled with chocolate syrup, before freezing on wax paper. Frozen bananas can be kept wrapped in wax paper for up to a month.

MILKSHAKE

This American classic uses just a couple dollars' worth of ice cream, milk, and other flavorings such as chocolate syrup and vanilla. A small serving of a thick and tasty milkshake is a fun way to cap a family meal. The Cheat Sheet has seven flavors with as few as three ingredients, but some call on a blender to incorporate graham crackers, Oreos, or even cake doughnuts.

SWEET POTATO PIE

As one of the least-expensive ingredients available all year, sweet potatoes are ideal for budget-conscious cooks. Two large sweet potatoes and a few other cheap household staples, such as eggs and sugar, are enough for a pie that easily serves eight. Today has Patti LaBelle's recipe.

GRILLED FRUIT

Take fruit to the next level with this unexpected and fun dessert. Grilling works especially well with stone fruit such as peaches and tropical fruits such as pineapple. This caramelizes the sugars, enhancing the natural sweetness, and creates a unique, smoky char.

BISCOTTI AND COFFEE

bought biscotti are less than $1 per serving -- or less if you choose to make your own. Even without the brandy suggested by Epicurious, this is a sophisticated choice for dinner parties and diners who don't want anything too sweet.