Icebox desserts get you out of the heat

Lemon-ginger icebox pies are super-cute when made in individual-size springform pans or ramekins. (Food styling by Mark Graham.) (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Credit: Michael Tercha

Credit: Michael Tercha

Lemon-ginger icebox pies are super-cute when made in individual-size springform pans or ramekins. (Food styling by Mark Graham.) (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

OK, so you signed up to bring dessert to that neighborhood potluck, family reunion or backyard cookout. But geez, it’s been so hot, and the very idea of firing up the oven to bake a cake or pie for an hour or more just makes you swoon and fan yourself like Blanche Dubois.

Icebox desserts are your go-to in the sweltering season. Cool, rich and ever-so-easy to prepare, they’re fast, take little or no cooking, and wait patiently in the refrigerator until you call them to the table. And any of them makes a festive, cooling treat for any summer parties coming up.

Creamy lemon icebox pie, an old Southern standby, has the texture of Key lime pie, but gets its potent zing from a double hit of lemon — both freshly squeezed juice and finely grated zest. It’s fabulous after a meal of grilled fish or anything, really, where a citric bite to refresh the palate would be welcome. Rev it up with a gingersnap crust and a garnish of crystallized ginger. Clouds of whipped cream are the traditional accompaniment.

The Brits know how to use berries in their high season, and a berry mix stars in a traditional summer pudding. It’s not pudding in the American sense, of course; to the English, the word “pudding” just means dessert. A juice-soaked bread exterior conceals an interior that is nothing but fruit, a wee bit of sugar and lemon juice to sharpen the berries’ flavor. It’s among our favorite purple desserts.

A deliriously rich chocolate pate, served with or without a light hazelnut cream sauce, is the perfect conclusion to a light supper that might otherwise be uninteresting — salad, say, or chilled soup. Make it up to a week in advance, or freeze and thaw when you need it. The hazelnut cream also makes a surprising and superb dressing for fruit salad.

It can be your little secret, how easy these pleasing desserts are to make. Tip yourself into your favorite chair, prop up your feet and enjoy a tall glass of iced tea or a generous pour of wine.

And if someone catches you humming “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” just smile mysteriously.


The berry filling for the summer pudding stains the bread slices with its vibrantly colored juices. (Food styling by Mark Graham.) (Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Credit: Michael Tercha

icon to expand image

Credit: Michael Tercha


Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Chill: 8 hours or overnight

Makes: 6 servings

Use any combination of fresh berries you prefer here, but if you use strawberries, hull and quarter them and don’t cook them with the other berries. Just stir them into the cooked berries before filling the lined mold. Some people like to spread the bread pieces with soft butter or jam before using them to line the mold. A much-loved British dessert, summer pudding really requires firm, close-textured bread, such as a Pullman loaf or Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread. Regular white bread would end up all squidgy and depressing.

1 unsliced rectangular loaf of brioche or good quality firm white bread, crusts removed and allowed to stale slightly

3 cups fresh blueberries, about 1 1/2 pints

4 cups fresh raspberries, about 2 pints

1 cup blackberries, about 1 half-pint

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Sour cream sweetened with a little sugar to taste

1. If your loaf of bread is whole, remove the crust and cut it into about 14 slices. Lay the slices out on a rimmed baking sheet and leave them at room temperature to get a little stale, about 2 hours.

2. While the bread is staling, combine the blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, until the blueberries pop, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and using a sieve, drain the juices from the berries into a large measuring cup. Set juice and berries aside to cool.

3. Generously butter a large mixing bowl with a small bottom and a large top diameter. Line it with plastic wrap. Cut a piece of bread to fit the bottom, then cut remaining slices into “soldiers” — long, rectangular slices. Line the sides of the bowl with the soldiers (like the staves of a wine barrel), overlapping as needed to make sure the bowl’s sides are fully covered.

4. Spoon the fruit and half of the juice into the bread-lined bowl. Reserve remaining juice for serving. Cover the top of the fruit with slices of bread, then waxed paper. Place a plate that fits inside the bowl atop the fruit, and weight the plate with canned goods or other weights.

5. Refrigerate weighted pudding and juices at least 8 hours or overnight.

6. To serve, remove weight, plate and waxed paper from refrigerated pudding. Invert a platter over the bowl, then invert the platter and unmold the pudding, removing the plastic wrap. Pass the reserved juices at table for spooning over each serving, and offer sweetened sour cream as a garnish.

Nutrition information per serving: 451 calories, 8 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 92 g carbohydrates, 50 g sugar, 7 g protein, 356 mg sodium, 11 g fiber


Prep: 40 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Chill: 4 hours or overnight

Makes: 8 servings

We haven’t called refrigerators “iceboxes” in decades, but this famous old Southern cooler never goes out of style. A happy accident taught me that I prefer a gingersnap crust to the more traditional graham cracker version, but the same amount of graham cracker crumbs can substitute, if you prefer. For a fun twist, you can serve the pies in individual springform pans or ramekins.


1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs, divided

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

3 tablespoons butter, melted


2 cans (14 ounces each) sweetened condensed milk

1 cup fresh lemon juice

6 egg yolks

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest


1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Lemon slices and crystallized ginger

1. For the crust, heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine 1 1/4 cups gingersnap crumbs with the powdered sugar. Add the melted butter, and stir to combine. Press the crumbs into a deep dish pie dish or a 9-inch springform pan, working the crumbs up the sides of the dish and pressing down firmly with your hands or the bottom of a measuring cup. (Or divide among six individual springform pans, a scant 1/4 cup in each.) Bake the crust, 10 minutes; remove from oven and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes.

2. For the filling, combine the condensed milk, lemon juice, egg yolks and lemon zest in a medium bowl, stirring until well blended. Pour the filling into the pre-baked crust (or in the individual pans), and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven, let cool at room temperature about 30 minutes, then press plastic wrap tightly on the top of the filling. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

3. To serve, whip the heavy cream into soft peaks with a beater or whisk. Add the powdered sugar and continue to beat until firm peaks form. Remove the plastic wrap from the top of the pie. Top the refrigerated pie with the whipped cream (piping big rosettes around the outside looks pretty), and shower the remaining 1/4 cup gingerbread crumbs over the whipped cream. Garnish with thin slices of lemon and crystallized ginger, if desired, and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 558 calories, 26 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 205 mg cholesterol, 73 g carbohydrates, 66 g sugar, 12 g protein, 220 mg sodium, 1 g fiber


Prep: 20 minutes

Chill: 4 hours or overnight

Makes: about 8 servings

Oh my, this is richness and luxury on a plate. The silky chocolate ganache steals the show, while the hazelnut cream adds luxury. If you don’t need all eight servings, freeze the remaining unsliced pate for up to 1 month. Refrigerate any leftover hazelnut cream, and use within a week.


8 ounces dark chocolate

8 ounces semisweet chocolate

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing pan

3/4 cup sugar

4 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt


1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread, such as Nutella

Fresh raspberries or chopped toasted hazelnuts

1. For the pate, generously butter a 4-cup loaf pan (8-by-4 inches). Using several pieces of plastic wrap, line the loaf pan, pressing carefully into corners. Leave some of the plastic wrap overhanging the edges of the pan.

2. Chop the chocolates coarsely and put it in a heatproof bowl over, but not touching, simmering water in a larger pan. Add the cream, butter and sugar; heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is completely melted, about 15 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks one by one. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and salt.

3. Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared loaf pan, using the overhanging plastic wrap to cover the pate. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

4. For the sauce, combine the sour cream and hazelnut spread in a small bowl. Whisk until well blended, thinning with a bit of cream or milk if needed. Refrigerate until serving time, up to a day ahead.

5. To serve, unmold the refrigerated pate onto a platter. Use a piece of unflavored dental floss (or a hot, wet knife) to cut the pate into 8 slices. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the sauce over each serving, garnish with raspberries or hazelnuts, and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 681 calories, 49 g fat, 27 g saturated fat, 149 mg cholesterol, 59 g carbohydrates, 48 g sugar, 8 g protein, 179 mg sodium, 7 g fiber