We understand your single-minded focus on the barbecue this Fourth of July. We applaud it, even. But don't forget that your burgers and ribs are the perfect lead-in to a treat that's sweet enough to complement the smoke and impressive enough to make your guests ooh and ahh. A classic apple pie or American flag cake will definitely do the trick (and there's an argument to be made for sticking with tradition on this of all days), but if you're looking for something lighter or more unusual, you're sure to find the right fit among the 17 desserts below. America!
American Flag Cake
It doesn't get much more traditional or Fourth-appropriate than a flag cake, and this one is both stunning to look at and surprisingly easy to assemble. The technique can be applied to any white cake recipe you like—just make three layers (one tinted red, one blue, and one left untinted for the white sections).
Raspberry Mousse Pie
This pie is refreshingly cool and a pretty shade of red, making it a lovely treat for an afternoon in July. It requires only a handful of ingredients, is just sweet enough, and feels deliciously light on the tongue.
Spicy Grilled Watermelon
A winning combination of sweet, tangy, and peppery flavors gives depth and sophistication to this Fourth of July picnic staple. Just brush watermelon wedges with a mixture of honey, lime juice, and cayenne pepper, then quickly grill them over a very hot fire.
Soft and Rich Vanilla Frozen Custard
This recipe makes a frozen custard exactly like what you'll find at custard shops around the South and Midwest. Lots of cream and egg yolks make it full-bodied, and a little corn syrup adds extra density. For maximum softness and creaminess, serve the custard within two hours of churning.
American Flag Fruit Salad
This festive flag can be made with any mix of red, white(ish), and blue fruits. In this case, a mix of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries make the red stripes, bananas are the white stripes, and blueberries make up the star section. Serve with ice cream or freshly whipped cream to make it a richer treat.
Grilled Banana Boats with Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Marshmallows
A simple, gloriously gooey concoction that will transport everyone back to their childhood camping trips. Split an unpeeled banana lengthwise, fill with peanut butter and chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, throw it on the grill, and let the insides melt together while the outside roasts. What emerges is an utterly delicious mess to be eaten with a spoon.
A cream-cheese-and-lemon filling in a graham cracker crust, topped with berries, is a hard combination to beat if you want a fresh, summery, and classic dessert. This tart requires a mere 35 minutes of prep time, and looks decidedly patriotic for the occasion.
Best Quick and Easy Strawberry Shortcakes
Shortcakes are an obvious choice for a summer dessert: They make the quintessential fruits of the season (in this case, strawberries, but you could also substitute peaches or other berries) look extra appetizing, and they don't need much time to bake. The super-easy cream biscuits in this recipe are the key to pulling together these shortcakes in 25 minutes or less—you can even make them ahead of time.
Easy Coconut Cupcakes
These moist cupcakes get their flavor from coconut milk and chopped coconut, plus a spoonful of easy coconut glaze over the top. They also make a nice white canvas for some red and blue sprinkles, or red and blue dyed coconut to make them taste extra tropical.
Perfect Apple Pie
No matter how many burgers and hot dogs your guests have plowed through, they'll be hard-pressed to turn down the pure nostalgia of apple pie. And this is the apple pie to end all apple pies. It starts with a foolproof pie crust that's as easy to roll out as it is buttery and flaky. For the filling, use Golden Delicious apples, which have great flavor and enough acid to keep them from turning to mush.
Raspberry Campari Frozen Yogurt
The slightly bitter effects of Campari and orange zest allow you to really taste the raspberries in this beautifully pink frozen yogurt. It's tangy and fruity, but the hint of bitterness gives it a grown-up twist that's way beyond the offerings at your neighborhood fro-yo shop.
Red, White, and Blueberry Shortcakes
Easy-to-make biscuits are topped with a bright and lemony blueberry sauce, fresh berries, and whipped cream. Cutting the biscuits into star shapes will net you extra "awwws" from your friends and family this Fourth. Take our advice and make a little more blueberry sauce than what the recipe calls for—you'll want to keep on eating it after the festivities are done.
Fools are underappreciated here in the States, but their lightness and sweet-tart combination of flavors make them a great choice for warm weather. This version incorporates blueberry compote and that wonderful British innovation of lemon curd. (Yes, it's a thoroughly British treat—but no one ever said we had to declare independence from their desserts, did they?)
Cherry Hand Pies
You can find cherries at their peak this time of year, so pack their natural sweetness into these adorable and classically American hand pies. They provide all the flavors and textures of pie, with the portability that makes them a perfect barbecue dessert.
Red, White, and Blueberry Icebox Cake
Strawberries, blueberries, and fresh whipped cream make this icebox cake the star of the picnic. It requires a bit of assembly, but absolutely no oven time at all—a bonus when it's hot out.
Rum-Glazed Pineapple with Toasted Coconut and Vanilla Ice Cream
Talk about a killer grilled dessert—warm, lightly charred pineapple, glazed and served with ice cream and coconut for a sweet, tart, and smoky dish. The glaze, made of brown sugar, spiced rum, butter, and vanilla, provides flavor reminiscent of a pineapple upside-down cake, while the ice cream cools down your palate.
Easy Stovetop Cherry Grunt (Stovetop Cobbler)
The name is misleading on two levels: This cherry grunt (basically a cobbler cooked on the stovetop) is both appetizing and easy. You get incredibly moist dumplings mixed in with bright, sweet cherries, and you don't need to fire up the oven to do it.