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Fuss-free summer dessert ideas

Summer desserts3

In light of the recent heatwave, here is a reminder that there is no need to spend hours slaving in the kitchen to make a luscious summer dessert that will wow guests and family members alike.

Summer is a time of bounty and plenty, particularly when it comes to tart, juicy berries and tender stone fruit, so it makes sense to make the most of nature’s unadulterated offerings.

This rainbow of delights needs very little to coax out flavour, and shop-bought cheats are a wonderful way to transform them into something worthy of a Parisian patisserie counter.

When you can’t stand the heat, outdoor cooking is the way forward, and you might be surprised to know that even the barbecue can be deployed to rustle up something sweet for a summer night.

Here are some ideas for making the most of summer produce for those with a sweet tooth and a desire to maximise sunny hours outside the kitchen.  

Barbecued delights

You may think barbecues are for steaks, sausages and skewers alone, but they can be surprisingly versatile when it comes to ending a meal on a sweet note. Here are some ideas for making the most of your barbecue on those lazy summer evenings:

  • Wrap halved, de-stoned fruit such as apricots, peaches and plums in a foil parcel, adding a splash of sweet liquor (amaretto is perfect, or a rich dessert wine), a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme and a drizzle of honey. Wrap tightly, leaving a little space for the steam, then place on the embers of the barbecue once the main food has finished cooking. Remove 15-20 minutes later for beautifully soft, syrupy fruit. Perfect with a scoop of ice cream or thick crème fraiche.
  • Cut slits lengthways into just-ripe bananas and stuff with dark chocolate buttons and some crumbled pecans. Wrap in foil and bake in the same way as the fruit, above, for a luscious, molten pudding to eat from the banana skin with a spoon and a drizzle of cream.
  • Grill ripe peach halves, brushed with a little flavourless oil, on the barbecue until slightly soft. Drizzle with honey, a squeeze of lemon and some mint leaves and serve with ice cream, toasted almonds and fresh raspberries for a variation on the classic Peach Melba.

Fabulous fruit tart

For an easy, fuss-free alternative to a fancy fruit tart, try the following cheats:

  • Blitz biscuits (shortbread, ginger nuts or digestives work particularly well) in the food processor, bind together with a little melted butter, and press into a tart or cake tin to form a crust. Top with mascarpone sweetened with a little honey or icing sugar and vanilla, then scatter over your choice of summer fruit – strawberries are particularly good – and garnish with some baby mint or basil leaves.
  • Roll out shop-bought puff pastry to a 1cm thick rectangle. Score a 1-inch border around the edge, without cutting all the way through the pastry. Thinly slice some apricots, nectarines or plums and scatter over the pastry within the border. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and a drizzle of honey, brush the border with beaten egg, then bake until the pastry is puffed and golden and the fruit is soft. Sprinkle over some lemon thyme leaves and serve in slices with ice cream or crème fraiche.

Brilliant berry ideas

To make the most of summer berries in all their tart, juicy glory, turn to the cosseting magic of dairy. Here are some ideas:

  • A fruit fool is a wonderful way to transform almost any fruit into a decorative delight, but they work particularly well with tangier offerings. Try simmering gooseberries, blackcurrants or rhubarb into a puree with a little sugar. Allow to cool, then fold into whipped cream along with a little more sugar, to taste, and a little vanilla paste (or elderflower cordial, if using gooseberries – the two are fantastic together). Sprinkle with crumbled amaretti biscuits or serve dainty shortbread biscuits (shop-bought are fine) on the side. A garnish of mint leaves looks professional, too.
  • To make a cheat’s raspberry ripple ice cream, choose the best shop-bought vanilla ice cream you can afford, then allow it to soften a little out of the freezer. Stir in a homemade raspberry compote, made by simmering the berries with a little sugar until just collapsed and left to cool, and a handful of crumbled amaretti biscuits, then return to the freezer for an hour or so to firm up before serving. This also works well with blackcurrants.
  • For an easy cheesecake, make a biscuit base with crushed biscuits and melted butter, then spoon the mix into individual glasses or ice cream bowls. Press down with a spoon, then top with a mixture of mascarpone, thick cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla, before spooning over a berry compote made by simmering your choice of berries with a splash of water and a little sugar (liqueurs are also a nice addition – try cassis with raspberries or blackcurrants, and elderflower cordial with gooseberries). Chill in the fridge before serving.

Fancy fruit salad

A fruit salad may be all you can face on hot evenings, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Here are a few suggestions for jazzing up a plate of fruit:

  • Hollow out a watermelon – save the fruit flesh for smoothies and salads the next day – and use it as a serving bowl for your choice of chopped fruit. Garnish with mint or basil leaves and, if you really want to push the boat out, some kitsch cocktail umbrellas!
  • Try lifting your fruit salads with a simple syrup. Simmer water and sugar (in a ratio of 2:1) with your choice of aromatics until syrupy – lemongrass stalks, vanilla pods, herbs and spices such as cinnamon sticks or cloves can all work well – then leave to cool. Drizzle over your fruit salad and toss gently before serving. Lemongrass works particularly well with tropical fruit salads, while cinnamon is beautiful with summer stone fruit like peaches and plums.
  • Try selecting a choice of fruit in the colours of the rainbow – strawberries, oranges, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries, raspberries, purple dragonfruit – and arrange it in a pinwheel pattern, by colour, or lengthways along a rectangular platter in a rainbow pattern. Garnish with baby herbs – basil, mint, lemon verbena, lemon thyme – for a beautiful, light way to end a summer meal.

Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for travel and all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes or planning her next cultural odyssey, she is an English literature academic, specialising in children’s literature.


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