Genius Recipes

30 Genius Summer Desserts That Couldn't Be Easier

Like foolproof pie, no-churn ice cream, and magic chocolate mousse.

May  5, 2021

It’s the season of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, and watermelons—oh, I could go on. All this is to say: It’s the season of dessert.

In the interest of eating as much of this as possible, while spending as much time in the sun as possible, we’ve gathered our 30 easiest summer sweets, all 100% Genius–approved. Over the years, every recipe made our own Genius Kristen Miglore go, “Whoa!” for one reason or another. Think: lemon juice to thicken no-churn ice cream, or a one-ingredient chocolate mousse, or a deep-dish pie that comes together in 10 minutes. Whoa.

How many of these can you make between now and September?


Easy as Pie

1. Atlantic Beach Pie

This pie takes every shortcut in town and doesn’t apologize for it. Instead of making butter-based pastry from scratch, you turn to Saltines. And instead of making a stovetop custard, you combine sweetened condensed milk, lime juice, and egg yolks. And instead of making meringue, you whip cream.

2. Slab Pie

If you don't have a pie pan but do have a sheet pan, you're in luck with this crispy-edged slab pie. Martha Stewart uses a foolproof, food-processor dough and fills it with anything from sour cherries to peaches.

more genius...for your ears

3. No-Bake Nutella Cheesecake

Oh, Nigella, you know us so well. Her cheesecake stars a buttery crumb crust with a Nutella–cream cheese filling and plenty of toasted hazelnuts on top. “Don’t be tempted to let the cheesecake come to room temperature before serving,” Nigella writes. “It slices and tastes better with a bit of fridge-chill on it.”

4. 10-Minute Lime Cracker Pie

Like a Key lime pie, but it comes together in 10 minutes, and gets served out of a casserole dish (yippee!). You can thank Ritz crackers, which give this pie its creamy, cakey structure. Besides that, all you need are sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and lime juice and zest.

5. Renee Erickson’s Peach Cobbler with Hot Sugar Crust

When beloved Seattle chef Renee Erickson took over Boat Street Café from Susan Kaplan in 2003, she inherited this quirky peach cobbler recipe along with it. The café closed in 2015, but its spirit lives on through a half dozen other Erickson restaurants, and in recipes like this one. The peaches aren’t peeled or even thickened with flour or starch, because the fruit is the point—juicy and textured however it may be. It’s brightened with lemon juice and zest and nothing else, a counterweight to the sweet batter and sugary top.

6. Rose Levy Beranbaum's Fresh Blueberry Pie

This is a brighter, lighter blueberry pie than you're used to, one that keeps all the texture and integrity of blueberries intact. You can use your go-to pie crust—just roll out a single crust and blind bake it—or I've included Beranbaum's recipe, which is excellent, and has all sorts of clever tricks. You can also adapt her dough to the food processor if you're feeling lazy.


Piece of Cake

7. Olive Oil Cake

If you have two bowls and a whisk, you have all the special equipment you need to whip up this community-favorite cake, with a crackly crust and ultra-moist center. It’s the perfect foundation for slouchy whipped cream and sugared summer fruit.

8. Meringue Gelato Cake With Chocolate Sauce

“Much of the wonder of this dessert may lie in its semi-homemade ease,” writes our resident Genius, Kristen Miglore. “You’re doing little more than bashing up store-bought meringues and folding them into whipped cream.” Where can we sign up?

9. Strawberry & Butterscotch Whipped Cream Cake

This is pastry chef Jami Curl's simplest-ever vanilla cake: You can go from scooping flour to tearing off a hunk of warm shortcake in under an hour, and top it any which way: fresh berries and cream, frosting and sprinkles, or her pitch-perfect strawberry compote and brown sugar whipped cream.

10. Fudgy Chocolate Eggplant Cakes

What started as a way for cooking school owner Ian Knauer to use up 80 pounds of eggplant turned into a rich, moussey cake that needs no oil, cream, or butter (and whizzes together superfast in a blender). Trust us on this one.

11. Cory Schreiber & Julie Richardson's Rhubarb Buckle with Ginger Crumb

There's a secret ingredient in here: ginger (times two). Fiery candied ginger is minced up in the crumb topping, and ground ginger in the cake too—just enough to give it a warm, flirty je ne sais quoi that doesn't try to shout over the rhubarb.

12. Erin McDowell's Strawberry Not-So-Short Cake

This is the grandest and most eye-popping way to make strawberry shortcake for a crowd, and you’re not really baking a cake at all—you’re making three giant drop biscuits and piling on whipped cream and strawberries in imprecise amounts. It’s altogether a lot more like building a Jenga tower than baking anything in the pastry case.


Mousse

13. One-Ingredient Chocolate Mousse

Yes, the one ingredient is chocolate. The other honorary ingredient is water. How the heck do these two turn into fluffy, creamy mousse? A lot of science and a little magic. You’ll see.

14. Greek Yogurt Chocolate Mousse

Another chocolate mousse miracle. This time, it’s all about Greek yogurt, which gets combined with a milk-based chocolate ganache. Serve with a dollop of orange marmalade on top, or whatever jam you like best.


Frozen

15. One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream

Frozen bananas plus a food processor equals, uh, ice cream? Could’ve fooled us. I love adding tahini to the mixture and drizzling honey on top. And yes, you can definitely eat this for breakfast.

16. Frozen Yogurt

An ingredient list so simple, you could memorize it: 1 quart whole-milk yogurt, 1 cup sugar, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Just whisk, chill, and churn (whoa you can memorize the instructions, too).

17. No-Churn Coffee Ice Cream

You don’t need an ice cream machine to make great coffee ice cream. All this recipe needs is a whisk—to turn heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, instant espresso, and espresso liqueur into fluff—and a freezer.

18. Cardamom & Rose Water Kulfi

Traditional Indian kulfi “takes hours of vigilant simmering and stirring to reduce milk down to a quarter of its volume,” writes Kristen. This version from cookbook author Meera Sodha skips all that and uses heavy cream and evaporated milk instead.

19. No-Churn Fresh Lemon Ice Cream

While most no-churn ice creams rely on sweetened condensed milk for custardiness (see #12), this one harnesses the power of lemons instead. Their acidic juice naturally thickens heavy cream, creating something as creamy as it is bracing.

20. Strawberry Lemon Sorbet

This was the very first Genius Recipe we fell in love with back in 2011, for good reason. Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray taught us that just strawberries, sugar, and a whole lemon slushed together in a food processor don't make a bitter mess, but a sweet-tart sorbet that sings with summer fruit.


Just Add Ice Cream

21. Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Old-school chocolate chip cookies ask you to pull out a stand mixer and soften butter and cream it with sugar. This vegan version from the bakery Ovenly calls for a more relaxed, bowl-and-spoon method instead. Keep baked cookies in the freezer for spontaneous ice cream sandwiches.

22. Instant Aged Balsamic Vinegar

You already know that you love hot fudge and caramel sauce on ice cream, but did you know that you love syrupy balsamic vinegar, too? You do. Go on, try it.

23. Spicy Chocolate Chip-Hazelnut Cookies

Cookbook author and molecular biologist Nik Sharma invented these crisp-chewy cookies as a nod to Nutella, but in so doing he also streamlined the chocolate chip cookie process to a one-bowl, summer-friendly endeavor (and made it gluten-free, to boot).

24. Slow-Roasted Strawberries

Toss strawberries with sugar, stick them in a 250°F oven, wait for three-plus hours. Which is to say: Do next to nothing, wait three hours, get the best-ever topping for vanilla ice cream.

25. Roasted Cantaloupe

Don’t let a lackluster cantaloupe get you down. By cubing and roasting it, you end up with the intense, sweet flavor you were after in the first place. Perfect to spoon on top of mint ice cream.

26. No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

These classic boiled—read: not baked—cookies, shared here with extra handy tips from chef Scott Peacock, are perfect for melty ice cream sandwiches—and any bits stuck to the pot can be crumbled over, too.

27. Estela's Candied Sesame Seeds

This is one of the more rewarding ways to spend 10 minutes. As you stir sesame seeds in a sticky syrup, suddenly the water disappears and a dry crystalline layer of sugar pops to the surface. At Estela, chef Ignacio Mattos’s curve-shattering restaurant in New York City, they roll scoops of caramelized white chocolate in the candied seeds, but the seeds are also just as good sprinkled over ice cream or paletas, or topping a brownie or a slice of cheesecake—anywhere you want a little crunchy sesame-flavored twinkle.


Just Add Fruit

28. Crème Fraîche Whipped Cream

Plain whipped cream is great. This is better. Nancy Silverton adds a spoonful of crème fraîche, which both makes the flavor more complex (tangy! cultured!) and the look more elegant (shiny! smooth!).

29. Yogurt Whipped Cream

Just like Nancy’s recipe (see #18), but with yogurt instead—and more of it. By using half cream, half yogurt (unstrained and strained both work), you end up with something confidently tangy and tart. Pair with extra-sweet, juicy-ripe fruit.


Toast (Wait, What?)

30. Raspberry Ripple Sandwich

Let’s make dessert toast a thing. This Genius creation comes by way of English food writer Nigel Slater. All you have to do is sweeten and whip cream, swirl in mashed berries, and plop this on warm toast. It’s the sort of why didn’t I think of that? dessert to make on a weeknight, over and over, just because it’s that easy, and that good.

Psst: This article was updated in May of 2021 with even more easy-peasy summer desserts.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it Kristen’s way (and tell her what’s so smart about it) at [email protected].

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

9 Comments

Yirgach May 5, 2021
Here's a very simple but powerful fruit based overnight jam, take 5 minutes:
8-10 oz Fresh Fruit Berries (Blue, Rasp, Straw, etc)
2 TBS Chia Seeds
1 TBS Maple Syrup
1 TBS Powered Vitamin C (5000 mg/TBS)
1-2 TBS of chopped fresh Herb (Thyme, Basil, Arugula, etc)
Splash of Balsamic

Muddle all ingredients in a non-reactive bowel, place a Glad Wrap skin on the top of the muddle and refrigerate overnite.

Et voila, an instant very fresh berry jam.
Store for quite a while in the non-reactive container with the Glad Wrap on the surface to reduce air contact and maintain freshness.

 
Eleanor G. August 12, 2020
I know it must be hard to write about food day after day in a way that invites interest, but “Genius?” “Addictive?” Spare me the silly superlatives and talk about the taste, please.
 
Andrea G. August 13, 2020
This is an uplifting successful website, please don’t inform the chefs how to write with your rude comments. That is not community.
Food52 Superfan
 
Eleanor G. August 13, 2020
You are right, of course. We are all looking for uplifting these days. It is, as well, a successful website with delightful recipes. Many of these I use. If I find it annoying to see psychological terms used for recipes, it is on me to excuse myself, which I will now do. Thank you for speaking up for something of value.
 
Andrea G. August 13, 2020
You are clearly a thoughtful, good woman and I would like to apologize if I hurt your feelings. I am so fond of these smart and creative women that I couldn't help but be defensive! Your response was lovely and appreciated.
 
Linlol August 13, 2020
I commend your very civilized slight disagreement. You both settled nicely.
 
Lynn E. August 12, 2020
I just joined, was looking for The best Waldorf Salad, and the History, John Jacob Astor, a Wealthy Magnate gave his life on the Titanic, this originated at his famous Hotel, The Waldorf Astoria.
 
OldGrayMare August 12, 2020
I can honestly say that the lemon ice cream is the best thing on planet earth! It is the easiest dessert and never fails to wow. Perfect perfect on hot summer nights. And DO go the extra mile and make the candied sesame seeds.
 
MLa July 10, 2019
Wishing you total luck! I love your genius series.... whether I make the recipes or not.