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Chill out

(article, Keri Fisher)

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I love to entertain during the summer — just marinate some meat, fire up the grill, toss some salads, mix up a pitcher of sangria, and the party’s good to go. 


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But dessert always throws me for a loop. I usually cop out and serve fresh berries with whipped cream, or ask my guests to bring something, although relying on guests usually results in a freezer full of Good Humor bars. (What can I say? We all have kids.) 

This year, however, I'm taking a different tack. I love grilling, because it allows me to cook without turning on the oven. Why not take the same approach to dessert?

[%image reference-image float=right width=350 caption="Chocolate icebox cake."]

My Aunt Rita has been serving her grandmother's classic icebox cake for years, and though I always loved it, it was more of a childhood indulgence. Made from graham crackers, Cool Whip, and boxed Jell-O pudding layered in a baking dish and refrigerated until the layers softened and melded together, it was a dish I would never make myself. (What can I say? I'm a dessert snob.) Yet every time Aunt Rita served it, I dove right in.

This was exactly what I wanted in a no-bake summertime dessert: a cake-like confection that only needed a few hours in the refrigerator to prepare. So I took Great-Grandma Anna's approach, swapping out a few ingredients in the process. Instead of using boxed pudding mix, I made my own double-chocolate pudding, which only needed a few minutes on the stovetop. I also used real whipped cream instead of frozen Cool Whip. And even though the maraschino cherries Aunt Rita puts on top are more "traditional," I traded them in for some simple chocolate shavings. The result? Even better than the original. (What can I say? I’m proud of it.)

Further inspiration came from across the pond, in the form of two classic English desserts: summer pudding and fruit fool. Both capitalize on summer's bounty of fresh fruit, and both are ready after just a few hours in the fridge. 

[%image pudding float=left width=350 caption="Berry-rich summer pudding."]

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 layers of bread and sugared berries, the dessert is hardly healthy, but certainly not as rich as other desserts. I like to use a little bit of gelatin as well, to help the pudding hold its shape. The pudding is beautiful to serve — the berry juice soaks the bread, turning it a bright reddish-pink — and looks far more complicated than it is to make. 	

Fools are simple desserts made by combining puréed fresh fruit and whipped cream to form a mousse-like treat. I like to think the name comes from the fact that the dessert is so easy to make, any fool can do it, but the fact is that the name comes from the French verb fouler, meaning to press or crush. (I still think my theory is better.)

I like to use fresh mangoes or peaches to make a fool, flavored with a bit of honey and lime juice. And 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, which you can garnish with a bit of whipped cream if you're so inspired. Of course, the fool tastes just as good served out of a big bowl in plastic dishes.

The best part about these desserts? There's no real cooking involved, meaning clean-up is a breeze. Which leaves you plenty of time for the best part of summer entertaining: no-bake cocktails. 

p(bio). Cookbook author Keri Fisher (One Cake, One Hundred Desserts) has written for Saveur, Gastronomica, and Cook's Illustrated. She lives outside Philadelphia with her sister, her husband, and her three children, and keeps a blog about living in a communal household.

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