June 21 has come and gone. Ergo, it’s officially summer party season. Flags will flutter for Fourth of July, and families have dusted off the grill and broken out the cotton tablecloths for a season’s worth of picnics and celebrations.

The trick, of course, is making those events memorable and delicious, without making them labor-intensive as well. And a spectacular dessert that showcases summer’s bounty leaves a gorgeous, lasting impression.

So, we turned to a trio of cookbook authors – notable chefs and food writers whose books are zooming up bestseller lists – for suggestions on how to make a special, all-American dessert that’s party perfect, but has all the ease of a summer breeze.

The answers were sublime: raspberry and blueberry tarts, warm cornmeal shortcakes with strawberries, and chocolate cupcakes with a cherry on top – Bing, not maraschino.

In short, the answer begins with beautiful fruit.

“There’s no reason to get a really fussy dessert in summer, when the fruit is practically dessert itself,” says Janet Fletcher, a Chez Panisse alum and James Beard Award-winning writer. Fletcher’s most recent book, “Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers” (Andrews McMeel, 304 pp, $35), is a love letter to the nation’s small, organic farms – and it brims with dessert ideas.

“I love fruit desserts, so I look to the berries and the peaches and the stone fruits of summer,” Fletcher says. “One of the simplest things you can make – it’s a great party dessert because you can make it ahead – is a Summer Fruit Macedonia. It’s basically a fruit salad.”

Fletcher soaks nectarines, plums, berries and cherries in a wine syrup – 1½ cups each wine and water, and a ½ cup sugar, cooked to a syrupy consistency.

“I make it hours ahead and it just gets better, because the fruit gives up its juices. I add a little Sambuca or a little kirsch, and serve it in a beautiful wine glass with a cookie,” she says.

Use the best, most perfectly ripe fruit, says Jennie Schacht, an Oakland, Calif., food writer whose latest book, “Farmers Market Desserts” (Chronicle Books, 208 pp, $24.95), features autumnal pear cobblers and berry-filled dishes for spring.

“Farmers markets are perfect for that. The fruit’s so good, it can speak for itself,” she says. “One of my favorite Fourth of July desserts is a rhubarb, blueberry and cream parfait. Parfaits are really easy to make. You make all the components ahead.”

Schacht tucks a crunchy oatmeal topping between layers of fresh blueberries, sweet cream, and fresh raspberries or poached rhubarb, then serves the confection in tall parfait glasses. Swap yogurt for the cream, and it makes a great breakfast treat.

“And everyone loves a cupcake,” she adds. Her favorite is a chocolate-cherry version, filled with kirsch-soaked fresh cherries and adorned with a rosy Bing – no maraschinos allowed.

Cobblers, pies and galettes make lovely summer desserts too. A simple tart – like the one that adorns the cover of Deborah Madison’s new “Seasonal Fruit Desserts from Orchard, Farm and Market” (Broadway Books, 278 pp, $32.50) – filled with crimson raspberries and glossy blueberries adds patriotic hues to any summer gathering.

Madison was the founding chef at San Francisco’s Greens, but she got her feet wet – or rather, her hands floury – at Chez Panisse, where Lindsey Shere was her “pastry mentor.”

“I was originally going to call this book ‘Desserts for the Pastry-Impaired,’ Madison says, her laughter ringing across the phone lines from her New Mexico home. “If someone shows me a picture of some incredibly constructed pyramid of chocolate layers? Oh my God, that’s for someone else to do. I’m a cook.”

So Madison takes a cook’s approach to dessert. Fresh, seasonal fruit is the star, and the pastry merely a buttery backdrop. So there’s no puff pastry fussiness, and no creme patissiere to distract from the glory of what she calls “Lindsey’s Austere Berry Tart.” Instead, Madison’s tart pans are lined with a forgiving, buttery pastry dough that can be rolled out and eased into a pan, or gently kneaded and patted into place.

“It’s not going to go weird on you,” she promises.

Fill the tart with berries, then pop it back into the oven to release the fruit’s perfume.

“It really can be that simple,” says Madison. “The real message is get out of the supermarket and look for fruit that really has flavor. It’s got to have perfume. You want it to be sensational. You want to be swept off your feet.”


Makes one 9-inch tart

Serve this Chez Panisse-inspired tart with a little sweetened whipped cream, flavored with Kirsch or vanilla.


1 cup all-purpose flour (or ¾ cup white plus ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour)

1 tablespoon organic brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

1 tablespoon cold water

¼ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon almond extract


2-3 cups berries

3 tablespoons raspberry jam or red currant jelly

Confectioner’s sugar

1. Pulse the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter and pulse until the bits are no larger than a baby pea. Combine the water, vanilla and almond extract, then drizzle it in and pulse just until large, moist crumbs form.

2. Gather dough into a mass, shape into a disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Roll tart dough into a 10-inch round. Ease it into a 9-inch tart pan (or smaller individual pans) using excess dough to build up sides to ¼-inch thickness. Chill the pan while you preheat the oven to 375.

4. Line tart pan with foil and pie weights and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove foil, then bake until golden, 12-15 minutes more.

5. Lay berries on a towel. Heat jam with a few teaspoons of water to thin it, then press through a sieve. Brush half on the tart shell. Then fill the shell with berries, wedging them close together in a single layer. Bake 5 minutes.

6. Reheat the remaining jam, then dab a little over each berry. Remove tart from pan, dust edges with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

– Deborah Madison, “Seasonal Fruit Desserts From Orchard, Farm and Market” (Broadway Books, 278 pp, $32.50)



Serves 8


¾ cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

1½ cups sifted, unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2/3 cup yellow cornmeal

½ cup fine semolina

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 cup buttermilk


3 pints mixed juice berries

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

4 teaspoons brandy

1 cup cream

¼ teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly grease a 9- by 5- by 3-inch loaf pan with butter. Coat bottom and sides with flour and shake out the excess.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder and soda together into a medium bowl. Whisk in the cornmeal, semolina and salt.

3. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the sugar gradually, beating until mixture is pale and light. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the almond extract.

4. On low speed, add half the dry ingredients and beat just until blended. Beat in the buttermilk, then remaining dry ingredients, just until blended. Transfer batter to pan.

5. Bake until the cake is firm to the touch and beginning to pull away from the sides, 45-50 minutes. A cake tester inserted in the center should come out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then turn out of the pan and finish cooling on a rack.

6. Meanwhile, combine the berries, ¼ cup sugar and brandy. Stir gently and let macerate at room temperature for 1 hour to draw out the juices.

7. Whisk the cream, 1 tablespoon sugar and vanilla to soft peaks. Chill until ready to serve.

8. Preheat oven to 375. Cut the ends off the cake, then cut the cake into 8 equal slices. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in oven until hot and slightly crusty, 5 minutes. Transfer to individual plates, top with berries and their juices, and cream.

– Janet Fletcher, “Eating Local” (Andrews McMeel, 304 pp, $35)



Makes 12

36 firm-ripe cherries, at least 12 with stems

1 tablespoon kirsch

1 1/3 cups unbleached flour

1 cup sugar

¼ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water

5 tablespoon canola oil

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

¾ teaspoon vanilla


1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1½ cups sour cream, room temperature

1½ teaspoons kirsch

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

2. Set aside the 12 nicest cherries with stems. Stem and pit remaining cherries; cut into halves, if small, quarters if large. Toss with 1 tablespoon kirsch and set aside.

3. Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Blend in the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Fold in cherries and their juice.

4. Fill cupcake papers about two-thirds full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center tests clean, 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

5. For the frosting, melt the chocolates in a double boiler over gently simmering water. Stir in sour cream and kirsch. Set aside to firm up until spreadable, about 20 minutes.

6. Using an icing spatula or a pastry bag fitted with a No. 16 star tip, frost the cooled cupcakes. Top each cupcake with a reserved cherry. Leftover cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

– Jennie Schacht, “Farmers Market Desserts” (Chronicle Books, 208 pp, $24.95)