During the height of summer heat a couple of years ago, I decided to make a bread pudding. But, unlike other bread puddings, this one required no baking.
The recipe came from a delightful little book called “A Year in an Irish Garden,” by Ruth Isabel Ross (A. & A. Farmar;1999). Summer Pudding is a classic British dessert, known in its earlier days in the 19th century as “hydropathic pudding,” and it was served at health resorts where pastry was “forbidden,” according to “The Oxford Companion to Food” by Alan Davidson (Oxford University Press; 1999). The dessert is a layering of white bread with a slightly stewed berry compote, molded into a dish lined with plastic wrap. The berry juices are allowed to soak into the bread as all chills in the fridge, resulting in a beautiful pinkish dome turned out onto a plate, then topped with more juices and decorated with more berries. I had my doubts about this dish as I made it. Just how good could something be that was just berries and bread?
The fruit juices had seeped throughout the bread to not only turn it a rosy color, but transform it into something heavenly, like a berry shortcake with the amazing flavors of summer.
And I never broke a sweat while making it. That’s the beauty of no-bake desserts. They can be as impressive as those coming out of the oven, but they keep things cool.
If you are a dessert person or are on dessert duty for the next summer gathering, let your fridge do most of the work with some cooler, make-ahead possibilities.
Fruits are a natural for the summer to star in no-bake desserts. A simple fruit tray, with berries or cut melon on skewers as kabobs would likely be the refreshing hit of any party. If you already have the grill going, make room on it for some peach halves or wedges of pineapple. Grilling these fruits draws out some special flavor in them, perfect with a mound of vanilla ice cream and a little chocolate or caramel sauce.
One to try: A classic and amazingly simple fruit dessert is Peach Melba, created and named by Auguste Escoffier for Australian opera soprano Nellie Melba in 1892, according to “Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer (Scribner; 1997). The dessert is a simple poached (or grilled) peach half, drizzled with raspberry sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. And if the peaches are ripe enough, you don’t need to cook them at all.
No-Bake Cheesecakes and Pies
Classic cheesecake is baked, but I’ve always favored cheesecakes that are not. Creamier and easier, they are usually a blend of just a few ingredients including cream cheese and gelatin. Other creamy no-bake pies can be made in a wink with pre-made cookie crusts, gelatins, pudding mixes and cream or whipped topping.
One to try: Possum Pie, outside of the name sparking conversation, this recipe (originally from Arkansas) features an innocent “playing possum” top of whipped cream and pecans that hides beneath it layers of cream cheese, chocolate and vanilla instant puddings and more pecans in a ready-made crust … you will want seconds before you’ve even made it.
“Icebox Cake” has been around since the 1920s, when Nabisco began selling those thin chocolate wafer cookies (recently discontinued) with the recipe on the back of the box where you layered cookies and sweetened whipped cream, then frosted the whole thing in more whipped cream. The cake sets up in the “icebox” to a sliceable chocolate-tinged delight. Any number of possibilities can stand in for the cookie component, including thin Oreos, thin chocolate chip cookies, graham crackers, gingersnaps and shortbread. Make it in a round springform pan, loaf pan or oblong dish.
Kin to the icebox cake is Italian tiramisu, where ladyfingers are dipped in espresso or rum and layered with coffee-infused cream. Old-fashioned banana pudding, a favorite in the South (and pretty much everywhere else), is a layered dessert with vanilla or banana pudding, slices of banana and vanilla wafers built up in an oblong dish or individual servings.
One to try: While trifles are usually layers of ready-made cake, fruit and cream layers served in a large glass bowl, why not have a build-your-own trifle party, and let guests compose their own. Use store-bought cake and other elements: chocolate loaf cake, chocolate pudding, whipped cream and raspberries; lemon cake, lemon curd or pudding, whipped cream and blueberries; or vanilla pound cake, vanilla pudding or custard and fresh strawberries. Guests fill their own dishes, and you get to chill.Summer Pudding Build Your Own Trifle Peach Melba Possum Pie
Rebecca Howard grew up in Kansas and currently writes the food blog, “A Woman Sconed.”