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No-Oven Desserts

Far be it from me to knock baking, which I did for five years at the Co-op’s Production Kitchen. Nevertheless, there comes a time of year, particularly in the Midwest, when nobody gets excited about going home and turning on the oven. What to do when the sugar cravings strike? Well, of course, outsourcing is an option. Buying a Sheba Bar from the Co-op is always a great choice, because of course, the Production Kitchen operates year-round. If you want to make something for a dinner party or a potluck, though, or just for an everyday dessert, that’s what this article is going to delve into. No-bake desserts can call to mind a particular kind of traditional cookie known to many, though going by different names in different areas. Truth is, the category goes far beyond that. And, thanks to their lack of flour that would require an oven, a lot of no-bake desserts are naturally gluten-free. Without cooking a crust or shell, many frozen desserts can stand alone. What’s more, many can also be made vegan. In this article, we’ll go over a broad array of delicacies to fit a number of diets.

Raw Food

For adherents to a raw food diet, definitions vary: raw food enthusiasts say that the maximum temperature for raw food is anywhere from 104-120ºF. If you want to find a smorgasbord of no-bake recipes, look no further than the large selection of raw food cookbooks now available. I found several specifically about raw desserts that were easily available within the Madison public library system. That being said: most of these recipes go above and beyond simply not turning on the oven, since they are specifically designed to have no cooked ingredients. Raw food enthusiasts will extol the benefits of this diet, and if you’re interested in trying it, there’s a whole world to explore. The methods and recipes that we’ll be reviewing in the rest of this article will include some completely raw options, but also others that involve cooking—just not with your oven. The book Living in the Raw: Desserts by Rose Lee Calabro recommends four basic pieces of equipment if you’re going to dive into the world of completely raw desserts: heavy-duty blender, dehydrator, food processor, and electric juicer. Not all recipes will require all of these, but if you intend to go in-depth on this route, you may find you need them.

Of all the books I checked out from the library about raw desserts, one in particular stood out as having lots of great in-depth information about recommended techniques, and that was Sweet Gratitude: A New World of Raw Desserts: Recipes of Café Gratitude by Matthew Rogers and Tiziana Alipo Tamborra. Check it out if you’re interested.

Raw Cookies

Here’s a recipe for raw cookies with one of my favorite spices, cardamom. This recipe does call for the use of a dehydrator, but if you don’t have access to one, rest assured that there will be plenty of recipes later in this article that don’t require one.

Cardamom Cookies

Adapted from Everyday Raw 

Desserts by Matthew Kenney

3 c. shredded coconut

2 c. almond flour

1 c. agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

1 vanilla bean, scraped

1/2 Tbs. cardamom powder

1 tsp. salt

1/2 c. coconut oil, melted

36 almonds for garnish

Directions: In a food processor, combine the shredded coconut and almond flour. Process until well combined. Add the remaining ingredients and process into dough. Scoop cookies with a tablespoon or small ice cream scoop, making small 1 to 1 1/2-inch cookies. Press an almond into each cookie. Dehydrate for at least 24 hours. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Using Pre-baked Ingredients

If your goal is less “eat a raw food diet” and more “just don’t turn on the oven,” one popular method is to use some pre-baked ingredients in your desserts. The whole category known as “icebox cakes” offers a world of mash-ups...boxed cookies plus other frozen and fluffy ingredients. This idea can be expanded to any sort of combination of boxed cookies and sweet additions, such as these: 

Orange Chocolate Almond Bars

Recipe adapted from Lynne Hodgman

10.5 oz. crunchy cookies (preferably chocolate and/or orange flavored)

6 Tbs. butter, melted

10-12 oz. good quality chocolate—can combine very dark with medium-dark with milk with unsweetened baking chocolate

7-8 oz. heavy cream

1 Tbs. orange liqueur

1/2 c. roughly chopped salted roasted Marcona almonds

Directions: Spray an 8” square glass baking dish generously with cooking spray. Place cookies in food processor and pulverize. Drizzle in melted butter, processing until it clings to the sides. Pat mixture firmly into prepared dish, cover, and freeze for 30 minutes or more. Meanwhile, break up chocolates into heatproof bowl. Heat cream to nearly boiling and pour over chocolates. Using wire whisk, stir until chocolate is melted and incorporated into cream (you have now made ganache!). Add the orange liqueur and stir. Pour on top of crust.  (Lick bowl with secret glee…) Top with almonds, pressed in slightly. Cover and refrigerate and wait until it sets up (an hour or so). To serve, cut into small squares (about 36), and cover or surround each plated portion with whipped cream. Goes well with ice cold milk or espresso.

Microwave Cakes

Trendy on social networks, single-serve microwave cakes are a snap to make. Try this recipe adapted from the Food Network:

Whisk 1/4 c. flour, 5 Tbs. sugar, 2 Tbs. cocoa powder, 1 egg, 3 Tbs. milk, 3 Tbs. vegetable oil and a dash of vanilla extract and salt in a large mug until smooth. Microwave until puffed, about 2 minutes.


Of course, no-bake cookies are an option, but also consider the following: if you have a toaster oven, you can bake a few cookies at a time without turning on the whole oven, keeping dough in the refrigerator to take out bit-by-bit. This is a trick I learned from my mother. Look in a vegan cookbook or on the internet for egg-free chocolate chip cookie dough if you’re worried about raw egg dough sitting in the fridge. Note that baking times may differ in a toaster oven; keep an eye on them and go by color and smell. Daily fresh cookies are within your reach!

Mousses & Puddings

Mousses are the lighter and fluffier cousins of puddings; both are made stove-top without the use of an oven. Mousse is lightened by folding in whipped cream or whipped egg whites. In the case of vegan mousse, coconut milk is trending currently (as it is in all spheres of vegan life). Check out this three-ingredient vegan peanut butter mousse recipe from Minimalist Baker: 


Personally, I almost think I actually like making curds better than baking! Sometimes the process can be tedious, particularly when making large quantities; but it’s very satisfying. Curds are magic—you start with a thin liquid, and stir it for longer than you think you’ll need to, and right when you think it’s never going to get anywhere, it starts to thicken; and then the process speeds right along and you have a glorious, spreadable fruit curd. You do need the stove, but you don’t need the oven. Curds can be enjoyed in a parfait cup with a spoon, maybe topped with a little whipped cream; though if you do want to create a pie or tart without turning on the oven, you can try a raw dessert technique for crust. Another possibility: put a dollop (small or huge) on your waffles or pancakes.

Here’s a lemon curd recipe: Are you vegan or otherwise avoiding eggs? Try this vegan lemon curd recipe:

Ice Cream (Dairy & non)

What’s the opposite of a kitchen-heating dessert? Making ice cream! If you already have an ice cream maker, you probably already know how to make ice cream (or have access to information on how to do it). If you don’t (like me!), well, it turns out you can make ice cream without any special equipment at all. Truth be told, I found out that ice cream makers aren’t a super-expensive piece of kitchen equipment—you can get a good one for $30, and of course, fancier versions at increasing price points. But if you’re on a tight budget or you aren’t sufficiently committed to the idea of making ice cream to justify another kitchen gadget, it’s totally possible to go low-tech. Food website Thekitchn recommends a method that simply involves using a mixer or whisk twice, once when first mixing the ice cream, and later after freezing in the freezer surrounded by ice cubes. For complete instructions, refer to their guide at 

For a non-dairy ice cream recipe:


Candy-making might make you think of the holidays, or of something mainly done by professionals, but it doesn’t have to! There’s a whole gamut of candy recipes ranging from extremely simple to advanced-but-achievable. Candies often require the use of a stove, but not an oven.

One of my favorite desserts of all time is maple sugar candy—the crystallized kind that melts on your tongue so sublimely. What I didn’t know until relatively recently is how dang simple it is to make. You do have to pay attention and work quickly, but the process is extremely uncomplicated. Try out this recipe, adapted from

Ingredients: 2 c. pure maple syrup

Special equipment: candy molds

Directions: In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Boil until syrup reaches 235°F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and cool to 175°F without stirring, about 10 minutes. Stir mixture rapidly with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes until the color turns lighter and mixture becomes thick and creamy. Pour into molds. Set aside to cool. Once cool, unmold candy. Store in airtight containers up to 1 month.

Believe me, your friends and family willbe impressed.

What about chocolate candy, though? Truffles generally have a few more steps and ingredients, and while they don’t require an oven, they do still require the stove…unless you’re making raw vegan date truffles. 


Adapted from

2 c. high-quality soft dates, pitted

2-3 Tbsp. raw cacao or carob powder, additional for coating

optional ingredients: 1 Tbs. coconut oil, 2 Tbs. chopped nuts, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, sea salt to taste

Directions: Blend your high quality soft dates and cacao/carob powder in a high speed blender or food processor until you have a very smooth uniform consistency. Use your tamper or spatula to scrape the dough down until it’s well combined as you blend. Scoop out mixture, roll into small balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Mixture will be very sticky; wet or lightly coat hands with coconut oil to make it easier to manage. Roll balls into cacao/carob powder. Place truffles in the refrigerator for at least one hour to firm up.

Notes: If you are not using high-quality soft dates, soak in warm water for at least an hour beforehand, pour out excess water, and dry off dates very well.

Add coconut oil if the dates are too hard while blending.

Store truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Beyond maple and chocolate, there is still a huge world of candy-making to explore. Caramels can be made on the stove (though they involve a bit more standing over the pot, which might be less ideal on super-hot days). Toffee is somewhat similar to caramel in process, with a little less oversight required. Check out a candy cookbook or the internet for more recipes.

Drink Your Dessert

Who says you have to eat your dessert? Break out the blender! Pick one or more frozen ingredient and one or more liquid ingredient, and add to a blender. Your liquid should come no higher than the top of the frozen ingredients, maybe slightly lower, for a good consistenc—it’s easier to add more liquid if necessary than to add more solids (though you can totally do that too, if you need to).

Frozen: ice cream, frozen fruit, plain ol’ ice cubes, tea ice cubes, coffee ice cubes

Liquid: milk, juice, water, tea, coffee, portion of alcohol (along with another liquid)

If you’re using an unsweetened ingredient from one category, you’ll probably want to pick at least one sweetened ingredient too, or what you’ll get will be more like a refreshment than a dessert. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if that’s what you’re going for. 

Other ingredients to consider adding: cocoa powder, fruit, boxed cookies, chocolate chips. The sky’s the limit...just don’t break your blender. 

Think Seasonally, Think Creatively

Throughout the summer, assuming optimal weather, local berries abound. Berries topped with a little bit of half-and-half, heavy cream, or whipped cream make an excellent dessert all on their own—or, combine them with several of the ideas above to make a deluxe parfait from some combination of fruit, whipped cream, curd, mousse, and ice cream.

There’s Always Cheese

One final idea: there’s a European tradition of serving a cheese course to finish off a meal. You can add a touch of sweetness to your cheese plate with honey or dried fruits and nuts. And if you want to get fancy, you can candy the nuts on the stove—no oven needed! Consider creating a cheese plate with a variety of cheeses—three or four total, from categories such as hard, soft, blue, goat, cow, and sheep. If you want help selecting an assortment, the Co-op Cheese department staff will be more than happy to advise you.

Summer in Madison can be a beautiful thing. Sooner than we may want, the time will come when turning on the oven and putting on cozy sweaters sounds like just the thing. Until then, I’ll be right along with you relishing some of these summery sweets. Here’s to enjoying it while it lasts!


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