But feel free to bust them out any time of year. 

By Stacey Ballis
July 26, 2019
Antonis Achilleos

I like a fancy, fussy dessert as much as the next person. Nothing makes me happier than to make every element of a meal-finisher. I am totally that  insane person who has been known to bake the cookies that get crumbled for the pie crust, and yes, I often make the ice cream instead of buying it from the store.

But as much as I have a good time with baking, there are days when I simply have neither the bandwidth nor time to go hog wild in the kitchen. I entertain a lot on weeknights, and unless I am testing a baking recipe to share, I’m likely to be swamped all day with work, which means that dessert making  gets taken off the list. Because you can totally have people over for dinner on Wednesday and then not offer them a cake, but you cannot have them over and then not offer them dinner. It’s gauche.

This gets worse for me in the summer because I live in a place where the temperature often tops 100 degrees with eleventy million percent humidity. Crusts sog out and cookies get limp and no one wants to have the oven on anyway when already battling hair frizzing and imminent guests.

But just because the weather or timing don’t always comply doesn’t mean I don’t entertain and it certainly doesn’t mean we always skip dessert. Just like I have the option of a ponytail or messy bun when my hair is not behaving, I have a few dessert options in my back pocket for busy times or hot weather. No muss, no fuss, all delicious. Ideal for summer, but feel free to bust them out any time of year.

Fruit and Chocolate

Stacey Ballis

This is my number one, no-fail, first choice dessert. A bar or two (or three) of really great chocolate, a pile of berries or bowl of plums or figs, maybe a mound of nuts if I’m really feeling into it. It is a communal activity, breaking off bits of chocolate, reaching for another strawberry or walnut, the talking doesn’t have to stop, and you can linger with a coffee or tea or glass of port or madeira. In the summer, when asked to bring a dessert to someone else’s house, I will often show up with bars of my favorite chocolate and some fruit and nuts. I don’t need you to make room in your fridge or oven, and dessert is ready whenever my host is.  

Obviously, the star here is the chocolate, so make it count. My go-to brand is Tony’s Chocolonely, a premium chocolate bar I discovered in Amsterdam a few years back and used to fill my suitcase with until they finally started selling in the States.  (Not specifically because I asked them to, I don’t think, but it was a relief nonetheless.) The chocolate bar with the silly name has amazing flavors, and I love how the bar is divided into uneven and irregular chunks. People always fight over the one circle piece! 

Tcho and Lindt also make some great flavors for sharing and are smaller sized bars so that you can taste more or serve a smaller crowd. I keep a stash in my pantry in a storage box so that I am always ready. Your fruit choice should be something people can eat with their fingers, and it should ideally be fruit that’s in season. Berries, figs, plums, donut peaches, and clementines are all great for this. Nuts should be roasted and lightly salted to help balance the sweetness of the chocolate and fruit.

Watch: How to Make Peach Ice Cream

No-Churn Ice Cream

Yep, I love to make ice cream. Real ice cream with eggs and stabilizers that rests overnight before churning into happiness.  But not midweek. Luckily, no-churn ice creams are super simple. Just whip a pint of heavy cream with a can of sweetened condensed milk to soft peaks, then flavor away. Extracts like vanilla or coffee are easy, chocolate syrup or cocoa powder will give you a great chocolate flavor, jam or jelly can make for easy fruit flavors. Stir in nuts or fruit or chopped chocolate. Add a tablespoon or two of rum or other liqueur to help prevent it freezing too solid. Pile into a container and freeze for a minimum of 4 hours, and let sit at room temp for 15-20 minutes before scooping.  

Cheese

Nothing says dinner party like a cheese course, and in many European countries, cheese IS dessert. A small selection of well-chosen cheeses with some bread, crackers, maybe some honey or fig jam or quince paste, dried fruit or nuts, you have a meal-ender that is all about assembly. Be sure to take your cheeses out of the fridge at least an hour before you want to serve,two hours if your house is really well air-conditioned.

Grilled Fruit

If I am grilling the main course for my meal, then grilled fruit becomes the easiest possible dessert. Halved stone fruits or sliced pineapple work best for this. While it is a cooked dessert, you are just using the residual heat from your coals or leaving the gas on a little longer in service of sweetness. Lightly oil your fruit with a neutral oil or cooking spray, and grill two to four minutes per side for grill marks and to intensify sweetness and flavor. Serve hot, warm or room temp with sorbet, ice cream, or my favorite, premium full-fat yogurt mixed with brown sugar and vanilla. Top with chopped nuts or toasted coconut flakes or shaved chocolate if you are wanting to go the extra mile.

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