- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

One early summer evening a while back, I was treated to a memorable dessert at the house of a visiting British friend. It was unseasonably warm that year, too hot for anything that demanded much kitchen time.

She served English summer pudding in a tall, straight-sided glass bowl, filled with fresh fruits and wine-soaked bread. Low-fat vanilla yogurt topped each serving. It looked complex to prepare, but she swore it took just 30 minutes. The pudding was light and airy, full of flavor, and cooled us delightfully.

Although rich and decadent desserts top most people’s list of fun-to-eat things, summer isn’t the right time for them. When the days are long and bright, most people want a treat that’s refreshing and light to put a cool end to a hot day. Summer desserts that are quick and easy to prepare are a treat for the cook, too.

You can make light desserts taste rich and tempting by using in-season fruits at the peak of their flavor. The main thing to look for in summer fruits is brilliant color, rich fragrance and plump and unwrinkled skin. Most summer fruits taste better if used immediately and not stored for a long time in the refrigerator. Berries are the perfect example. If you must store them for a few days, leave them unwashed until serving.

Low-fat and nonfat dairy products pair nicely with fresh fruit, as in the Italian orange-ricotta dessert that follows. Such desserts are creamy and satisfying but not overloaded with fat. My goal with such recipes is to make them taste decadent without being so. If I puree the dairy products to a creamy consistency, it’s hard to distinguish them from the higher-fat products.

Individual summer puddings

This summer pudding is close to the version my British friend served, but I prefer it served in individual ramekins.

2 cups fresh blueberries

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

2 cups fresh raspberries

cup maple syrup

cup Sauternes or nonalcoholic white wine

12 slices old bread (preferably brioche), crust removed

cup low-fat vanilla yogurt

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine blueberries, strawberries and raspberries with maple syrup and wine. Simmer 5 minutes and cool.

Lightly oil 6 ramekins (small souffle dishes about 4 inches across) or a 4-quart straight-sided glass dessert bowl. Line with bread. Fill center with fruit mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 12 hours.

To serve, unmold ramekins onto dessert plates or serve large pudding out of a glass dessert bowl. Top with dollops of yogurt. Makes 6 generous servings.

Italian orange-ricotta dessert

When whipped to a smooth consistency, ricotta cheese is a low-fat way to create a delicious creamy dessert.

1 cups part-skim ricotta cheese

4 ounces reduced-calorie cream cheese (Neufchatel)

cup honey, or to taste

3 tablespoons Grand Marnier, optional

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

1 cup mashed fresh strawberries

⅓ cup maple syrup

teaspoon vanilla

In blender or food processor, whip together ricotta, cream cheese, honey, Grand Marnier, if using, and orange rind. Adjust sweetening if desired. Spoon mixture into shallow serving dish.

In another bowl, combine mashed strawberries, maple syrup and vanilla. Spoon over ricotta mixture, spreading with a spatula to cover top evenly. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 hours. Makes 6 servings.

Plum ice

This dessert makes good use of fresh plums. It was inspired by a recipe from food writer Jan Belleme.

6 medium-size ripe plums

⅓ cup apple juice

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

⅓ cup honey, or to taste

1 teaspoon lemon juice

teaspoon grated lemon rind

Halve and pit plums. Place in 2-quart noncorrosive saucepan with apple juice. Simmer over medium heat 15 minutes, or until plums have softened. With slotted spoon, transfer to blender, leaving cooking liquid in pan. Sprinkle gelatin over cooking liquid and let stand until dissolved.

Puree plums in blender, then stir in apple juice, unflavored gelatin, honey, lemon juice and lemon rind. Adjust sweetening to taste. (Mixture should be slightly sweeter than preferred since freezing will dull the flavors.)

Pour into shallow baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap. Freeze 2 hours. Stir to break up ice crystals. Freeze another 2 to 3 hours or until solid. Spoon into blender and briefly blend to smooth texture before serving. Makes 6 servings.

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