In Season: Fast, easy and fun

Is there a better time for dessert than summer, when late sunsets encourage us to linger at the table for an extra course?

Dessert311 (photo credit: Doug Young/MCT)
(photo credit: Doug Young/MCT)
Is there a better time for dessert than summer, when late sunsets encourage us to linger at the table for an extra course? My favorite 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, I keep the following in mind:
Take advantage of fruit: It’s easy to put together a great dessert when you start off 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 beyond 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 like 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 creme brûlee. It is just the right time to pass around desserts like raspberry and marshmallow cream-filled whoopee pies or fresh strawberry hand pies.
For the most refreshing result, make sure your syrup and fruit are well chilled.
✔ 1⁄2 cup sugar ✔ 1 cup water ✔ 5-cm. piece fresh ginger, peeled ✔ 3 cups 1-cm. 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.
PLUM AND PUFF PASTRY TART Makes 4 to 6 servings
 Be sure to pierce the puff pastry all over with a fork before arranging the plums, so you won’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, simply deflate with a fork or the tip of a sharp paring knife.
✔ One sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed ✔ 1⁄2 cup sugar ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon ✔ 3 small ripe but firm plums, pitted and thinly sliced ✔ 1 large egg, lightly beaten ✔ 2 tsp. apricot jam, well stirred
Preheat oven to 180º. 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 Tbsp. cinnamon sugar. Arrange plums, overlapping them slightly, on top of pastry, leaving a 3-cm. border of pastry all around.
Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. 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 the oven. Let cool completely on baking sheet, slice and serve.
Mascarpone, or Italian-style cream cheese, is available at specialty foods stores and most supermarkets. You may substitute fresh ricotta cheese or sour cream, but it will not be as good.
✔4 ripe but firm peaches, halved and pitted ✔ 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted ✔ 1⁄2 cup mascarpone ✔ 1⁄4 cup best-quality honey
1. Preheat gas grill to medium-high.
2. Brush cut sides of peaches with butter.
3. 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.
Other tropical fruits – diced pineapple or kiwi – may be combined with or substitute for the mangoes here.
✔ 3 Tbsp. quick-cooking tapioca ✔ 1⁄4 cup sugar ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. salt ✔ 2 large eggs ✔ One can light coconut milk ✔ 1⁄4 cup milk ✔1 tsp. pure vanilla extract ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. coconut extract ✔ 2 small mangoes, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1-cm. 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 up to 2 days.
Layer chilled tapioca and diced mango in parfait glasses and serve immediately.
Makes about 20 cookies
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.
For the cookies:
✔ 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
✔ 1 cup boiling water
✔ 1⁄4 cup sour cream
✔ 1 large egg yolk
✔ 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
✔ 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
✔ 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
✔ 1 tsp. baking soda
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. salt
✔ 1⁄4 cup (50 gr.) butter, softened
For the filling:
✔ 5 Tbsp. butter, softened
✔ 1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar
✔ 1⁄2 cup raspberry jam
✔ Pinch salt
✔ 1⁄4 cup Marshmallow Fluff
Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 175º. 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 tablespoons onto lined baking sheets, leaving 5 cm. 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 tsp. of the filling onto flat side of a cookie. Sandwich with another cookie. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
(MCT) Newsday