It’s hot outside, and you want to spend time in the kitchen about as much as you want to sit in the dentist chair. But friends are coming for dinner, and you’d like to end the meal in delicious style. What I do in this kind of weather is jazz up a readymade frozen gourmet treat with another knock-their-socks-off component or whip up something simple yet fun myself (see Popsicles).
Upgrade a Simple Dessert With a Great Topping
Great store-bought items include brownies, pizzelles and crunchy meringues, and they’re fairly easy to find. Even more common are premium ice creams and sorbets in an array of exotic flavors. An easy way to wow company is to serve up one of the above with my almost-as-good-as-sex salted caramel sauce ladled on top. (Recipe below.)
A sweet combo that appeals to most dessert lovers is orange and chocolate. These days, boutique ice cream makers sell blood orange sorbets that are like the basic version on steroids. They're tangy and intense-tasting and a perfect partner for dark chocolate.
For a decadent update on classic French oranges givrées (hollowed-out oranges filled with orange sorbet), buy the sorbet and oranges, then prepare a thick, fudgy chocolate sauce — the kind made with heavy cream, expensive chocolate, sugar, butter and vanilla — and blend in some Grand Marnier or Triple Sec. (Confession time: When I’m tired or pressed for time, I’ve been known to buy a jar of the best-quality fudge sauce I can find and add the booze.)
Just cut the tops off the oranges and set aside. Scoop out the flesh and fill the bottom third with slightly softened sorbet. Then spoon the fudge sauce in the next third and finish with more sorbet. Re-cover with the tops and freeze until you’re ready to serve. At that point, garnish the oranges with a mint leaf and drizzle a little extra sauce on the plate.
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What to Put Under the Ice Cream
I like cookies better than almost any other sweet, but when you’re trying to impress guests, let’s face it: A plate of cookies is just a plate of cookies. No matter how good they are, they just don’t have a wow factor.
Enter pizzelles, those flat Italian cookies with an appealing waffle-like pattern reminiscent of ice cream cones. They’re a fun base or garnish for ice cream and sorbet.
But no need to bust out the pizzelle press (if you even have one) and heat up the kitchen. (Save that project for a crisp winter day.) Instead, buy them at Whole Foods or order them online. In addition to the plain “cookie” flavor, they’re also available in vanilla, chocolate, anise, etc.
Jazz Up Frozen Desserts With Fruit
As much as we love fresh, ripe summer fruits, peeling, dicing and freezing them for sorbets and ice creams isn’t much fun, nor is cleaning up all that juice on your counter and floor. So head to your local supermarket for IQF (individually quick frozen) peach or mango chunks or whole berries that have been harvested at the peak of ripeness and flash-frozen to preserve their quality. Keeping bags of these in your freezer: They can inspire all kinds of original sorbets and sauces — even quick tarts with a unique twist.
In the mango-coconut sorbet (recipe below), the taste of floral, sweet mango becomes creamier and richer with the addition of canned coconut milk. Lime juice nicely complements the sweet fruit, and nutmeg adds a unexpectedly stylish note.
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Popsicles: The Hottest Cool Summer Trend
Speaking of fruit, one quintessential summer drink is sangria (made with red or white wine or Champagne). Using this beverage to make popsicles elevates the childhood treat to a grown-up level, especially appealing on sweltering summer nights. The texture can be smooth or chunky. I love to kick back and slurp the wine-and-triple-sec bars along with a Mexican wedding cookie or two.
If you can find popsicle molds in playful shapes, all the better. Otherwise, fill Dixie cups and freeze for an hour or so until the mixture begins to set; then insert small wooden ice cream spoons or sticks and freeze until solid, another couple of hours. Once you start down the frozen-boozy-dessert-on-a-stick path, there’s no limit to the possibilities — think Prosecco and peaches or strawberries, orange juice and Campari. Even frozen Irish coffee with a piece of rich, dark chocolate on the side would work.
The trick to making solidly frozen popsicles is not letting the liquid get too alcoholic, as I once learned while trying to make grappa-lemon sorbet. My friend Sally and I kept tinkering and tasting — and had to abandon the project when we couldn’t see straight. The mixture never froze. As it turns out, grappa contains somewhere between 35 and 60 percent alcohol, or 70 to 120 proof. Since high levels of sugar and alcohol affect the temperature at which liquids freeze, figure somewhere around 10 to 12 percent alcohol as a good cap for a popsicle, unless you have a tested recipe. (This holds true for any frozen dessert, including sorbet.)
Wine is less alcoholic than vodka (traditionally 40 percent alcohol) and triple sec (typically 30 percent). So if you want a frozen cosmo on a stick, you’ll need to up the cranberry juice and add some superfine sugar or simple syrup to avoid a slush. Once you unmold the popsicles, return them to the freezer in small plastic bags or on a flat pan until ready to eat.
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Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes 2 cups
This is a perfect topping for ice cream on pizzelles, meringues or brownies. It can also serve as a delicious dipping sauce for thick pretzels.
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, finely crushed
- In a heavy medium-size saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Cook until the syrup turns a rich amber color, about 6 minutes, swirling the pan and washing down any crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent them from burning.
- Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream (it will bubble up, so be careful), butter and salt. Set the sauce aside and allow it to come to room temperature if serving on ice cream.
Makes 3 cups
This sorbet, with a hint of rum and nutmeg, is delightfully refreshing. Serve it on spice cookies or small slices of lemon pound cake. Fresh-cut fruit adds a nice accent.
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen mango chunks
2/3 cup canned coconut milk
3 tablespoons fine sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (fresh-ground is best)
Ginger snaps, molasses-spice cookies or lemon pound cake cut into slices about 1 x 1 x 3 inches
1 cup cut-up summer fruits (such as honeydew, cantaloupe, pitted cherries) for ganish
- Combine the mango, coconut milk, sugar, lime juice, rum and nutmeg in the jar of a food processor and blend until smooth.
- Scrape into a flat, shallow metal pan and freeze until solid.
- Before serving, remove, cut into cubes and process until smooth. (If it's too soft at this point, return it to the freezer. If it gets too solid, microwave it for 5 to 10 seconds.)
- Put scoops on cookies or lemon pound cake. Spoon the fruit around the sorbet and serve.
Red Sangria Popsicles
If you like a little texture in your sangria, finely dice one of the peaches and add it at the end. Otherwise, add both peaches in the beginning. Serve with Mexican wedding cookies (or any simple cookies of your choice).
2 ripe medium-size peaches, peeled and pitted
3 tablespoons extra-fine sugar
3/4 cup red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup ginger ale
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons triple sec (or Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
Popsicle molds or Dixie cups
- Cut up one of the peaches and place it and the sugar in a blender and purée until smooth. (Or purée both peaches.) Add the wine, orange juice, ginger ale and triple sec.
- Finely chop the remaining peach and add to the mixture, if you did not use it in the beginning.
- Pour the liquid into six popsicle molds, leaving about ½-inch space at the top for expansion as it freezes. Add the handles and chill until solid, at least 6 hours. Or use Dixie cups, adding small wooden sticks or spoons after the mixture begins to freeze.
- Remove from the freezer. Run each popsicle individually under hot water for a few seconds to loosen, slide out the popsicle, place it in a plastic baggie and store in the freezer until ready to serve. Popsicles will keep for at least a week — if they're not devoured immediately.
Joanna Pruess is an award-winning author and journalist who writes about food, travel and women's issues. She is the author of The Griswold and Wagner Cast-Iron Cookbook: Delicious and Simple Comfort Food (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009).