Summer’s balmy temperatures and skimpy dress codes have diners craving desserts that showcase the season’s abundant produce while keeping it light. Restaurants are responding with flavorful, health-conscientious dishes focused on fresh fruit with cool and airy accompaniments. We spoke with two experts for tips on creating summer dessert menus that deliver just the right sweets to keep guests in their seats.
“My favorite healthy-ish desserts for summer are based on meringue,” says Dana Cree, a James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef with experience in Chicago’s top restaurants and plans to open her own dessert shop, Pretty Cool Ice Cream, this summer. “By nature, meringues are fat-free. Once baked, they’re crispy and light, and become the perfect foil for a little bit of rich whipped cream or custardy pudding before you pile them high with fresh fruit.”
Cree suggests innovative takes on two classic recipes that strike the right balance of wholesome and satisfying.
“Pavlovas are particularly lovely, a flat meringue that can be piled with simmered fruit compotes, or fresh fruit-like berries. I like to slip a little sorbet or ice cream on top as well,” she explains. “Another favorite is something called an Eton mess.
"Pavlovas are particularly lovely, a flat meringue that can be piled with simmered fruit compotes, or fresh fruit-like berries."
– Dana Cree of Pretty Cool Ice Cream
It involves crushing meringues and folding them with lightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh fruit, or a little ripple of preserves. Traditionally it’s made with strawberries, but it’s so delicious I can’t stand to lose the dessert once strawberries are out of season.”
Erik Ramirez, the Peruvian-American chef/owner of Brooklyn’s Llama Inn--a 2018 Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand restaurant--likes to blend the exotic with the familiar.
“For our dessert menus, we’re constantly searching for Peruvian ingredients to highlight while mixing them with local seasonal ingredients,” he says. “One combination I’m thinking about for summer is cherimoya--custard apples native to the Andean highlands of Peru--with avocado, in a frozen sabayon with both ingredients swirled together and topped with a cookie for crunch.”
“Another idea I’ve been playing with is a take on a summer berry bowl,” Ramirez continues. “The berries would be poached with sugar, vinegar, and filtered water and served in their own liquid, something like canned fruit. To top, I’m thinking muña (a Peruvian mint from the Andes) ice cream or stone fruit of the same preparation with toasted quinoa ice cream, which has this unique, cereal-like flavor.”
Regardless of what ingredients are used, however, both chefs caution that diners will skip dessert entirely if it’s treated as an afterthought.
“It’s important to show the same enthusiasm for a sweet as you would for a savory,” says Ramirez. “The meal is one cohesive experience, not just dinner or dessert.”
“In my experience the only thing that encourages a diner to choose dessert is making it staff education. If the servers love something, they will sell it,” adds Cree. “Also, working with a consultant to provide you with delicious recipes, built to work within the constraints of your own kitchen, has a bigger payout with repeat business than gimmicks.”