I love to entertain during the summer — just marinate some meat, fire up the grill, toss a few salads, mix up a pitcher of sangria, and you're good to go. But dessert always throws me for a loop.
Icebox cake has been in my family for generations. It's a combination of boxed pudding, Cool-Whip and graham crackers, layered in a baking dish and refrigerated until the layers soften and meld together. This was exactly what I was after: a cake-like confection that only needed a few hours in the fridge to prepare.
I swapped out a few ingredients: instead of using boxed pudding, I made my own double-chocolate pudding, which only needed a couple of minutes on the stove. I also used real whipped cream. The result? Even better than the original.
Further inspiration came from across the pond, in the form of classic English desserts: fool and summer berry pudding. Both capitalize on the season's fresh-fruit bounty; both are ready after just a few hours in the icebox.
Summer puddings were originally served in mid-19th century England to the sick and elderly as a healthy alternative to heavy custards. Made by lining a mold or bowl with bread, and filling it with berries and sugar, the dessert is hardly healthy, but certainly not as heavy as other desserts. I like to use a little bit of kosher gelatin as well, to help the pudding hold its shape.
The pudding is beautiful to serve and looks far more complicated than it is to make.
Fools are simple treats made by combining puréed fresh fruit and whipped cream to form a mousse-like concoction. I like to think the name comes from the fact that the dessert is so easy to make that any fool can do it, but the name comes from the French fouler, to "press" or "crush." (I still prefer my theory.)
I like to use fresh mangoes or peaches to make a fool, flavored with a bit of honey and lime juice. To give it a bit of tang and keep it from tasting too overwhelmingly sweet, I fold in some Greek-style yogurt.
To really impress your guests, portion the fool into parfait or champagne glasses; garnish with some whipped cream.
My children's favorite no-bake dessert is also the easiest to prepare: classic popcorn balls. Toss popped corn with a quick stove-top caramel, throw in some peanuts to give it an extra Cracker Jack crunch, and shape into balls. They're ready in no time.
The best part about these desserts? There's no real cooking involved, meaning cleanup is a snap. Which leaves you plenty of time for the best part of summer entertaining: no-bake cocktails.
Summer Berry Pudding
1 loaf hearty white bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp. kosher gelatin
1 cup sugar
6 cups mixed berries (if using strawberries, hulled and quartered)
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or other fruit-flavored liqueur
1 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
Line a 1.5 liter glass bowl (like Pyrex) with plastic wrap, leaving plenty of overhang on the sides. When the pudding is finished, you will use the plastic wrap to remove the cake from the pan.
Line the bowl with the bread, trimming any excess that comes above the bowl's rim (be sure to save some bread for the top).
Once the bowl is lined, prepare the filling. Sprinkle the gelatin over the lemon juice in a medium saucepan and set aside to bloom for 1 minute.
Add the sugar and berries, and cook over medium heat until the juices are released and come to a boil. Continue to cook for 1 minute. Add the liqueur.
Pour the warm berry mixture into the prepared bowl and top with the remaining bread (you will have some scraps left over). Pull the plastic wrap over the top to cover. Top with a plate filled with a 1-pound weight (like a block of butter) and refrigerate until set, at least 4 and up to 48 hours.
Turn out the pudding just before serving: Peel back the plastic wrap from the cake and then turn the cake out onto a serving plate (you may have to pull slightly on the plastic wrap to get the bowl off). Gently remove the plastic wrap and discard.
Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar just before serving (if you sprinkle it too soon, it will just dissolve into the cake).
You can also substitute fresh peaches instead.
2 cups mango purée (from 3 to 4 small mangos)
2 Tbsps. honey
4-6 Tbsps. sugar
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt, drained
11/2 cups heavy cream
In a large bowl, combine the mango puree, honey, 2 to 4 tablespoons sugar and yogurt; stir until smooth.
Whip the cream and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to stiff peaks, then gently fold into the mango. Spoon into parfait glasses and refrigerate until set, for at least 2 hours.
Serves 10 to 12.
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 box (14 oz.) graham crackers
11/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsps. sugar
2 tsps. vanilla
To Make Pudding: Whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa and a pinch of salt in a heavy medium saucepan, then gradually whisk in the milk.
Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, until thickened, about 2 minutes.
Remove from heat. Whisk in the chopped chocolate and butter until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
Arrange one single layer of graham crackers in a 9×11-inch baking dish. Top with 1/3 of the chocolate pudding. Repeat with remaining graham crackers and pudding, ending with a layer of pudding. Refrigerate while you prepare the whipped cream.
Combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer, and whip to soft peaks. Spread whipped cream in an even layer on top of pudding.
Garnish? Grated chocolate.
21/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cups corn syrup
1 tsp. vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
18 cups popped corn (8 oz. to 10 oz.)
11/2 cups peanuts
In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, vinegar and 3/4 cup water.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until it reaches 260° on a candy thermometer, 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and add the salt and vanilla. Pour over the popcorn and add the peanuts. Stir to coat evenly. Try to work quickly, as the caramel will begin to harden.
Lightly grease your hands and shape the mixture into 12 equally sized balls about 2 inches in diameter. Place on a greased cookie sheet and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Makes 12 balls.
Keri Fisher is a food writer and the co-author of One Cake, One Hundred Desserts. E-mail her at: [email protected]