Food & Drink

Cool summer desserts: Fast, easy, fun and tasty

Left: Coconut tapioca and diced mango make an eye-catching and mouth-watering parfait. Right: fresh lemon gelatin with strawberries.
Left: Coconut tapioca and diced mango make an eye-catching and mouth-watering parfait. Right: fresh lemon gelatin with strawberries. MCT

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, keep the following in mind:

Take advantage of fruit. It's easy to put together a great dessert when you start with farm-fresh peaches, juicy plums or strawberries. Recipes that require little or no cooking, such as watermelon and blackberries in ginger syrup, or grilled peaches with mascarpone and honey, are my favorites 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, why not try an equally refreshing alternative, such as a cool parfait of coconut tapioca and mangoes, or a zingy lemonade gelatin mixed with local strawberries?

Be whimsical. A barbecue is no occasion for a serious chocolate gâteau or a fancy crème brûlée. It is the right time to pass around desserts, say raspberry and marshmallow cream-filled whoopie pies, or fresh strawberry hand pies. For the most refreshing result with this fruity recipe, make sure your syrup and fruit are well chilled.


Watermelon and blackberries with ginger syrup

½ cup sugar

1 cup water

One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

3 cups ½ -inch watermelon cubes, chilled

½ cup blackberries, chilled

Combine sugar, water and ginger in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Turn down 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 as long as 1 week.

Spoon watermelon and blackberries into dessert goblets. Pour syrup over fruit and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Mascarpone, or Italian-style cream cheese, is available at specialty food stores and most supermarkets. You may substitute fresh ricotta cheese or crème fraîche in this recipe.

Grilled peaches with mascarpone

4 ripe but firm peaches, halved and pitted

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

½ cup mascarpone

¼ cup best-quality honey

Preheat gas grill to medium-high. Brush cut sides of peaches with butter.

Grill, 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.

When using puff pastry for this tart, be sure to pierce it all over with a fork before arranging the plums, so you don't get large air bubbles in the crust as the tart bakes. Peek into the oven at the 15-minute mark, and if you do see bubbles forming, deflate with a fork or the tip of a sharp paring knife. I use the Pepperidge Farm brand puff pastry, available in the freezer section at supermarkets.

Plum and puff pastry tart

One sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

¼ cup sugar

¼ 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 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 ½ -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.

Other tropical fruits — diced pineapple, kiwi — may be combined with or substitute for the mangoes here.

Coconut tapioca and mango parfaits

3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 can (13.66 ounces) light coconut milk

¾ cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon coconut extract

2 small mangoes, peeled, pitted and cut into ¼-inch dice

Whisk together tapioca, sugar, salt, eggs, coconut milk and milk in a medium-size heavy saucepan. Let stand 10 minutes without stirring.

Bring tapioca mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and coconut extracts. Transfer to a bowl, cover surface with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours and as long as 2 days.

Layer chilled tapioca and diced mango in parfait glasses and serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

For a pink lemonade effect with this recipe, add a little bit of grenadine syrup to your gelatin while it is hot.

Fresh lemon gelatin with strawberries

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

2½ cups water

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup fresh lemon juice (requiring about 7 or 8 lemons)

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon grenadine syrup (optional), available at supermarket

2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved or quartered if large

Sprinkle gelatin over ½ cup water and let soften for 5 minutes. Combine remaining 2 cups water, 1 cup 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; add grenadine syrup if using. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate until firm, at least 6 hours and as long as 3 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.

A cookie scoop or small ice cream scoop is handy for making cookies of even size in this recipe. Other flavors of jam — blueberry, strawberry, apricot, orange — may be substituted for the raspberry according to taste.

Chocolate-raspberry whoopie pies

For the cookies:

1 cup unsweetened natural (i.e. not Dutch-process) cocoa powder

1 cup boiling water

½ 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

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

For the filling:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

¼ cup confectioners' sugar

¼ cup raspberry jam

Pinch salt

¾ cup Marshmallow Fluff

To make cookies: Preheat 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 mixing bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Set aside.

Combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add butter, and with an electric mixer, mix on low speed until 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 bowl once or twice as necessary.

Use a small ice cream scoop to drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto lined baking sheets, leaving 2½ inches between cookies. Bake until tops are cracked and dry, 8 to 9 minutes. Remove from oven and let cookies firm up on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

To 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 filling onto flat side of a cookie. Sandwich with another cookie. Repeat with remaining cookies.

Makes about 20 cookies.

If you'd like, you can fill, seal and glaze these hand pies in advance of serving. Lightly drape them with plastic wrap and refrigerate right on the baking sheet for as long as a day before baking.

Fresh strawberry hand pies

For the pie dough:

1 cup sugar

1 cup (8 ounces) chilled cream cheese

1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter

2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

For the filling:

2 cups finely diced strawberries

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Pinch salt

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Sanding sugar or granulated sugar for sprinkling

To make dough: Combine sugar, cream cheese and butter in large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add flour and salt, and beat on low speed until dough comes together. Press into two balls, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 2 hours and as long as 1 day.

To make filling: Combine strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla in a large bowl. Let stand, stirring several times, until sugar is dissolved.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one dough ball to a ½ -inch thickness. Use a 4½ -inch biscuit cutter to cut into circles. Use a metal spatula to lift dough from countertop as you roll, and sprinkle more flour on countertop and rolling pin as necessary (this dough is sticky). Transfer circles to parchment-lined baking sheets. Reroll scraps and cut more circles. Repeat with remaining dough ball.

Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling onto one side of each circle. Fold circles in half and seal by pressing edges together with tines of a fork dipped in flour. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar or granulated sugar. Freeze for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake until pastry is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes 14 pies.