Is there a better time for dessert than summer, when late sunsets encourage us to linger at the table for an extra course? The best warm-weather desserts are fuss-free and made with seasonal ingredients. When choosing a recipe to end a weeknight supper, family barbecue or a casual beach picnic, consider the following:
Take advantage of fruit: It's easy to put together a great dessert when you start with farm-fresh peaches, juicy plums or blueberries. Recipes that require little or no cooking, like Watermelon and Blackberries in Ginger Syrup or Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone and Honey are delicious at this time of year.
Look past ice cream: A chilled dessert is always welcome in the summer. But instead of reaching for ice cream, try an equally refreshing alternative, like a zingy lemonade gelatin mixed with local berries.
Be whimsical: A barbecue is no occasion for a serious chocolate gateau or a fancy creme brulee. It is just the right time to pass around desserts like raspberry and marshmallow cream-filled whoopee pies.
In this recipe, for the most refreshing result, make sure your syrup and fruit are well chilled.
> Watermelon and Blackberries with Ginger Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 -inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
3 cups 1/2 -inch watermelon cubes, chilled
1/2 cup blackberries, chilled
Combine sugar, water and ginger in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl or glass measuring cup, let cool, discard ginger, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 week.
Spoon watermelon and blackberries into dessert goblets. Pour syrup over fruit and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
> Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone
4 ripe but firm peaches, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup mascarpone (or use fresh ricotta cheese or creme fraiche)
1/4 cup best-quality honey
Preheat gas grill to medium-high. Brush cut sides of peaches with butter. Grill peaches, uncovered, until just softened and warmed through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to dessert plates, spoon some mascarpone alongside peaches, drizzle with honey and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
For this dish, be sure to pierce the puff pastry all over with a fork before arranging the plums, to prevent large air bubbles in the crust as the tart bakes. Peek into the oven at the 15-minute mark, and if bubbles are forming, deflate them with a fork or the tip of a sharp paring knife.
> Plum and Puff Pastry Tart
One sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 small ripe but firm plums, about 10 ounces, pitted and thinly sliced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons apricot jam, well-stirred
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unfold thawed puff pastry sheet on top of paper. Prick all over with a fork. Place in freezer for 15 minutes.
Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle chilled puff pastry with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar. Arrange plums, overlapping them slightly, on top of pastry, leaving a 1 1/2 -inch border of pastry all around. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar. Brush edges of pastry with egg.
Bake until crust is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Brush plums with apricot jam as soon as tart comes out of oven. Let cool completely on baking sheet, slice and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
> Fresh Lemon Gelatin with Strawberries
2 1/2 cups water
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice (requiring about 7 or 8 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon grenadine syrup (optional), available at supermarket
2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved or quartered if large; other berries can be used
Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup water and let soften for 5 minutes. Combine remaining 2 cups water, sugar, lemon juice and zest in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, whisking to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and whisk in gelatin mixture. (For a pink lemonade effect, add a little bit of grenadine syrup to your gelatin while it is hot.) Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least six hours and up to three days.
Combine berries and remaining tablespoon sugar in a medium bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, to dissolve sugar. Spoon a couple of berries into dessert goblets, top with some gelatin, spoon a few more berries in and continue to layer berries and gelatin until goblets are full. Serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
> Chocolate-Raspberry Whoopie Pies
1 cup unsweetened natural (i.e., not Dutch-process) cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
For the filling:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup raspberry jam (or another flavor jam)
3/4 cup Marshmallow Fluff
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together cocoa powder and boiling water in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside to cool. Combine sour cream, egg yolk and vanilla in a medium-sized mixing bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Set aside.
Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and, with an electric mixer, mix on low speed until the butter pieces are no larger than small peas. Stir in sour cream mixture and mix on low to moisten. Add cocoa mixture and beat on medium-high speed until combined, scraping down sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary.
Use a small ice cream scoop to drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto lined baking sheets, leaving 2 1/2 inches between cookies. Bake until tops are cracked and dry, 8 to 9 minutes. Remove sheets from oven and let cookies firm up on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
Make filling: Cream butter and confectioners' sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Stir in jam and salt. Stir in Marshmallow Fluff. Beat on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Refrigerate until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
Spoon 1 generous teaspoon of the filling onto flat side of a cookie. Sandwich with another cookie. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Makes about 20 cookies.