Cool Tricks for Hot-Weather Desserts

By Elinor Klivans
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 2, 2008; Page F04

Since cool and easy is what summer "baking" is all about, my dessert plan is to take advantage of gorgeous seasonal fruit and good-quality store-bought ingredients. I aim to dish out desserts that do not involve the oven, yet look beautiful enough for guests.

Well-made bakery poundcakes can be at the center of a fruit- and cream-filled trifle or simply topped with heaps of lightly sugared sliced fruit or berries and lots of whipped cream. But it doesn't take long to create a modern-looking dessert by lining up two of the poundcakes end to end, then cutting layers to be filled with blueberries and mascarpone cream. Cover the sides and top with more cream, then dust them with shredded coconut. Rows of dark blueberries form a striking topping.

Fruit fools that incorporate berries with whipped cream must be the easiest of summer desserts, served in stemmed glassware to show them off. The cream can be flavored with liqueurs that match the fruit in the fool or with melted white chocolate. Additional fruit makes a colorful garnish and hints at the taste.

The coolest trick is to upgrade (and simplify) an ice cream cake recipe. Ice cream cakes are best made with good, but not premium, high-fat ice cream; the premium kind is unnecessarily rich and expensive for this treatment.

Soften the ice cream just until it is easy to scoop and spread over a base of cookie crumbs or cake. The less the ice cream melts, the better it will taste after it freezes firm again.

One technique is to soften the ice cream in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. When layering an ice cream cake with a sauce, the sauce should be pourable but not hot, because a hot sauce will melt the ice cream. Cover the cake tightly with plastic wrap, then with aluminum foil, before storing it in the freezer.

The one I'll be making this weekend uses cookie crumbs mixed with butter to form a base crust that tastes good when frozen. Dark chocolate fudge sauce pairs well with cherries or raspberries, and a white chocolate sauce would work well with peaches. Assemble the cake in a springform pan that can serve as mold, pan and carrying container. Simply remove the pan sides, and the frozen cake is ready to serve.

To keep these desserts in good condition for transporting, chill or freeze them until they are quite firm. (It is a good idea to warn the recipient or host to clear a space in the refrigerator or freezer.)

Fill a cooler with about three inches of ice. It is best to ice down the cooler at least 30 minutes before you pack it with the food. Spread a clean dish towel over the ice and arrange the platter, the cake in its pan or individual serving glasses on the ice. Use towels to wedge the desserts firmly in the cooler so they do not slide around.

Close the cooler, and get ready to make people happy.

Elinor Klivans's most recent book is "The Essential Chocolate Chip Cookbook" (Chronicle Books, 2007).

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