After a summer that felt like a steam bath way too often, let's think about impressive desserts that don't require turning on the oven. Something beyond summer's default meal-enders of plain ice cream and watermelon -- not that there's anything wrong with those.
Here's a host of time-tested ideas, along with recipes for five of them. The most that's required in the way of heat is a quick stop in a saucepan.
"Sophisticated" often has to do with presentation and unexpected touches. Chocolate mousse looks classier in a goblet than in a cereal bowl. Add some lemon zest to that dollop of whipped cream on top, garnish with a basil flower instead of a mint leaf, and you've got a memorable dessert.
Or take peach sorbet. Served up in a goblet it's nice, but why not go for the Inn at Little Washington treatment: Place a scoop each of peach ice cream, vanilla ice cream and peach sorbet in a fancy ice cream dish with sliced peaches and peach puree and sprinkle it all with a little peach schnapps or peach liqueur. If you want a homemade touch in that palatial presentation, whiz a fresh peach into the puree with a bit of honey and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Sorbets or sherbets frozen in a fruit shell (that is, lemon sorbet presented inside a hollowed-out lemon half) never fail to charm guests. It's easy to blend fresh strawberries with whipping cream and sugar to make your own ice cream. It's just as easy to make Nora Ephron's perky Key lime pie (make it the lazy way with juice from a bottle).
And it's nearly as easy to make a no-bake chocolate cheesecake, using chocolate wafers in the crust and folding together melted chocolate, toasted pecans, cream cheese, whipped cream and egg whites. Rest assured you'll get a nice serving of oohs and ahs when you take it out of the freezer.
Upgrade summer's luscious abundant fruit by sprinkling it with wine, citrus juice or zest, grated fresh ginger, herbs or spices. Marie Simmons, in her book "Fresh & Fast" (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), suggests a ratio of 4 large peaches, 2 teaspoons sugar and 2 cups full-bodied red wine, such as Chianti or zinfandel, divided among four dishes.
Another combination from Simmons: Slices of watermelon sprinkled with a chilled fruity white wine (think white zinfandel, chenin blanc, Muscadet) and refrigerated for an hour before serving.
Made in a flash is a divine fresh plum puree that you can serve over sweetened ricotta and peach slices.
Taking the tiniest bit more time -- but no extra effort -- is soaking nectarines in a fruity Italian dessert wine and filling them with hazelnut cream right before serving.
See how easy that was? No sweat.
Freelance writer and editor Lois Baron enjoys whipping up desserts in her newly expanded kitchen in Arlington.