The thought of cranking up the oven in the height of summer may not be on everyone’s to-do list. However, there are a few recipes I will make an exception for. These are the months that you could easily get away with serving platters of sliced stone fruits and dreamy mountains of the most fresh berries, but should your entertaining requirements go beyond this, I have three simple desserts this week to make the most of these long, summer days.
With Irish strawberry season well underway, this strawberry cheesecake tart is a must. This makes a wonderfully light and fresh-tasting summer dessert, and it can easily be made in advance. The pastry is essentially a shortbread mix, which makes a sweet and crumbly base for the tart. The filling is my go-to no-bake cheesecake mix and of course works well with a buttery digestive biscuit base, but this version is slightly more elegant.
Baked Alaska is a total showstopper dessert, and as it’s primarily ice-cream topped with torched meringue, it feels just right for a summer celebration. My version uses a peanut butter brownie base, which is particularly fudgy, but you could stay traditional and use a simple sponge batter or, quicker still, cheat with some store-bought sponge. Either way, expect ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as you serve this table-side — I suggest sparklers for ultimate theatrics.
For something a bit simpler and to showcase the best of the summer bounty, try these dainty summer fruit sheet pan tartlets. A sweet, rough puff pastry is the base for cool, whipped mascarpone topped with macerated fruits spiked with Cointreau. You can prepare the pastry bases in advance and pile on the cream and fruits once ready to serve. Make sure you don’t discard the leftover macerating liquor, as mixing with sparkling water and ice makes for the most refreshing summer drink.
Sweet summer treats to impress!
Time: 1 hour Serves: 6-8
For the shortbread pastry:
300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
200g cold butter, diced
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp cold water
For the filling:
100g mascarpone cheese
100g cream cheese
75g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
250g strawberries, halved
Mint leaves, to decorate
20cm diameter, 4cm deep fluted tart tin with a removable base
1. To make the shortbread pastry, rub the flour and butter together in a bowl with your fingertips until the mixture resembles rough breadcrumbs. Stir through the sugar and 1 tablespoon of cold water until the mix comes together to form a ball. Press it into a flat oval, cover with cling film and place in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
3. Dust a clean surface with a little flour and roll out the pastry to 5mm in thickness and large enough to fit the fluted tart tin. Line the tin with the pastry and press into the sides before trimming the edges.
4. Prick the base with a fork all over and line with foil, shiny side down, and fill with baking beans. Place the pastry shell in the oven to blind bake for about 15 minutes until the pastry is a light golden brown. Remove the tin from the oven, lift out the beans and foil and allow it to cool on a wire rack.
5. Meanwhile, beat the mascarpone and cream cheese with the caster sugar and lemon zest, reserving some for decorating, in a bowl until just combined. Make sure not to overbeat! Fill the pastry shell with the cheese mixture and top with the strawberry halves. Decorate with the mint leaves and the reserved lemon zest. Serve in generous slices.
Time: 1 hour + freezing time Serves: 6-8
1 litre vanilla ice-cream, slightly softened
For the peanut butter brownie base:
50g peanut butter
200g dark chocolate (70pc cocoa solids), finely chopped
275g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
For the meringue:
6 large egg whites
300g caster sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line a 20cm diameter springform tin with baking parchment.
2. For the peanut butter brownie base, melt the butter, peanut butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl sitting over a saucepan of simmering water. When melted, remove the bowl from the heat.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until they are pale and fluffy. Fold through the melted chocolate mixture and the vanilla bean paste. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold through.
4. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes until there is only a slight wobble in the centre. Remove from the oven and set aside on a wire rack until cooled completely. Peel off the baking parchment.
5. Line a freezer-proof bowl with cling film, leaving enough to hang over the sides, and press the softened ice-cream into it. Place the brownie base on top and cover with the cling-film overhang. Place in the freezer to firm up for at least 1 hour (although it will last in the freezer for up to a month).
6. When you are ready to assemble the baked Alaska, preheat the oven to 240C/475F/Gas Mark 9.
7. To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites in a standing food mixer (or use an electric hand-held mixer in a bowl) and whisk until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, continuing to whisk until you have soft, silky, white peaks. Set aside.
8. Remove the ice-cream and brownie base from the freezer, peel the cling film off the top of the bowl and then turn the ice-cream and brownie base out onto a baking sheet, using the cling film to help you.
9. Peel off the remaining cling film and then spread the meringue mix all over the outside of the brownie and ice-cream dome. Place it in the oven to bake for 3 minutes until the meringue is slightly golden. This could also be done with a chef’s blow torch. Serve straight away in generous slices.
Time: 1 hour + chilling time Serves: 6
For the pastry:
385g plain flour
15g caster sugar
1 tsp table salt
110g full-fat cream cheese
210g unsalted butter, cold, grated
110-120ml cold water
1 large free-range egg, beaten
2 tbsp brown sugar
For the macerated cherries:
1 vanilla pod
250g cherries, pitted and halved
1 star anise
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp caster sugar
25ml Cointreau, optional
For the mascarpone cream:
250g mascarpone cheese
50g Greek yoghurt
30g icing sugar
100g strawberries, hulled and cut in half
Small handful mint leaves, to serve
1. For the pastry, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Add the cream cheese and, using your fingers or the whisk attachment, mix in until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
3. Add 110g of the unsalted butter and the water and toss together lightly with your hands to combine — you want to keep some butter streaks within the dough.
4. Remove from the bowl, bring together with your hands and roll out into a rough rectangle. Sprinkle the remaining 100g of grated butter over the rectangle and press into the pastry lightly. Fold the bottom third of the pastry up to encase the butter and then repeat, this time folding the dough down to form a thin rectangle — this is called a letter fold. Wrap the dough in cling film and pop into the fridge for at least 2-3 hours to allow the gluten to relax.
5. For the macerated cherries, remove the seeds from the vanilla pod, reserving them in a large bowl. Place the vanilla pod into a separate saucepan with the cherries, star anise, lemon juice, caster sugar, water and Cointreau, if using. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Then turn down to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes or until syrupy. Pour into a bowl, add the cherries and mix gently to combine. Cover and leave in the fridge while you move on to the next steps.
6. To make the mascarpone cream, add the mascarpone, Greek yoghurt and icing sugar to the vanilla seeds and whisk together until smooth. Then cover and place into the fridge until needed.
7. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
8. When the gluten has had time to relax, roll the pastry out into a large rectangle. With a sharp knife, divide into 6 smaller rectangles. Place the pastry rectangles onto 2 parchment-lined baking trays and, with a sharp knife, score a 2cm border around the pastry. Dock the middle with a fork, brush the borders with egg wash and sprinkle with brown sugar.
9. Bake the pastry rectangles for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and puffed up. Then remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on wire racks.
10. To serve, fold the hulled strawberries through the macerated cherries. Divide the mascarpone cream between the pastries and, using the back of a spoon, spread it out to the edges. Drain the fruit from its macerating liquor and pile on top of the cream. Top with mint leaves and add a final drizzle of the macerating liquor before serving.