Bathing suit season strikes fear in the hearts of many, but that's no reason to ditch dessert. In fact, your guests can still have their bathing suits and eat sweets, too.
To help us all, catering experts keep desserts small, light and refreshing to tempt even the most calorie-phobic guests.
Frozen desserts may be perfect for summer palates but are known for causing catering meltdowns. “Ice cream is a nightmare in the summer, unless we are doing butlered tiny cones of it,” says Linda Sample, president of A Thyme to Cook in North Stonington, Conn. “We try not to do anything that melts or is obviously drippy, sticky or gooey.” For her part, pastry chef MaryLou Jaso of San Francisco's Bar Tartine warns against custards, gelees and cream-based desserts, which “are all very perishable and generally don't hold up in the heat,” she notes.
Still, frozen desserts have their cool, refreshing place on the menu. Both Sample and pastry chef Mariah Swan of Los Angeles-based Grace are fans of Popsicle-style treats. Sample gives hers a heavy hit of chunky fruit while Swan infuses the fruity confection with adult flavors, such as tea and herbs, or goes for all-out nostalgia with layered colors and flavors.
And Swan doesn't shy away from ice cream, despite its difficult reputation. She's a fan of milkshakes, ice cream floats and ice cream sandwich bars at events where guests select their flavor combos. “I've gone so far as to flambe meringue on top of a milkshake,” Swan says, “but it's a work in progress.” While flavors are decidedly adult, a youthful soda fountain serves as inspiration — expect colorful straws and whipped cream.
CHOCOLATE: OUT IN THE COLD?
Chocolate may be a crowd-pleaser, but chefs prefer to take the summer off from this favorite. “I don't discourage it, but I always let people know that choices with chocolate in the summer are limited since I don't like to use stabilizers, corn syrup, etc.,” Swan says. “Temperature is an issue. It's also really heavy. People love it though, so when I do use it, I make sure to pair it with items that really make it pop, so that people get their chocolate fix.”
Sample agrees: Love of chocolate continues unabated, no matter the weather. “One of our most popular desserts is a selection of four different single-origin chocolates presented in chunks on wooden boards for guests to compare the subtle flavor differences,” she notes. Sample also likes to mix chocolate with unexpected flavors and textures, such as a layered dessert with a spicy chocolate sauce, house-made marshmallow and fresh berries, topped with crushed popcorn-peanut brittle.
For the most part, caterers steer clear of plated desserts and opt for cute and contained treats. Sample likes tiny shot glasses or interesting glassware for desserts, which she transports on racks. For garnish, she turns to flavored isomalt — a sugar alcohol — often left over from an A Thyme to Cook specialty: liquor lollipops.
Sometimes containers are edible themselves. Sample likes edible spoons, cookie-like and flavored with cinnamon, from Different Tastes in Boston. Swan, on the other hand, favors baked meringue shells in lieu of pie crusts, filling them with lemon curd or fruit jam and topping them with berries to create a Pavlova. They “travel really well and can sit at room temperature during an event without the quality of the product being compromised,” she notes. Jaso favors meringues, too. “If you dare to serve ice cream, a meringue nest makes a nice and neat vessel,” she says.
A Thyme to Cook
Chefs' favorite summer desserts tend to be frozen or fruity. Here are highlights:
Milkshake shooters — caramel tequila, blueberry malt or chocolate oatmeal stout spiked with whiskey (Grace)
Spiked floats — lime sorbet, elderflower soda with gin or strawberry tarragon sorbet with champagne (Grace)
Chunky fruit “Popsicles” — mango with lemon verbena, Key lime with apricot chunks or black currant with blood orange “dust” (A Thyme to Cook)
Frozen mascarpone cheesecake with chile-chocolate crust (ATTC)
Semi-frozen biscuit tortoni with amaretti crumbles (ATTC)
Summer pudding with berry compote and mascarpone cream (Bar Tartine)
Roasted nectarine with blackberries, blackberry coulis and mascarpone (Bar Tartine)
Sweet, edible spoons with “pearls” of strawberry, orange and blueberry (ATTC)
Dessert cocktails — pina coladas with a rum-based gelee and pineapple sorbet topped with coconut cream, or a Cosmopolitan with a citron vodka gelee, orange panna cotta, cranberry coulis and lime zest (ATTC)
Strawberry tarts — shortbread cookies with white chocolate vanilla mousse and strawberries tossed in orange blossom syrup (Grace)