When I'm hosting a cookout, I tend to prioritize savory dishes. Scratch that—I really tend to prioritize beer (and other drinks), but grilled main dishes and sides usually come next on the list. It's a bad habit I'm trying to break myself of, though, because a well-thought-out homemade dessert really is the best possible way to end any get-together, as even I have to admit when I try a good one at a friend's house. Sure, it may still be hot enough where you are that you won't want anything that's too heavy or complicated, or that requires a lengthy baking time. And you may hope, in a way, that the guests at your Labor Day barbecue will be so enamored of the delights coming off the grill that they couldn't spend a single bite to dessert. But there are plenty of sweet options that are so light and easy, you won't think much about adding them to your menu, and your friends and family won't think much about adding them to their bellies. A no-bake strawberry pie or a fruity-and-creamy fool made with fresh berries and lemon curd is a good bet. Got a little extra time on your hands? Try a home-churned mint chip ice cream or vanilla frozen custard, a flaky-crusted cherry or blueberry pie, or conveniently portable DIY Twix and Devil Dogs. Keep reading for 20 dessert recipes to make sure no sweet tooth goes unsatisfied this Labor Day.
The Best Strawberry Ice Cream
The combination of fresh strawberries and ice cream sounds perfect, but reality is a bit more complicated. Commercial versions of strawberry ice cream are frequently icy and bland. To mitigate the first problem, we add corn syrup to our base; to address the second, we add hulled, quartered raw strawberries at the end of the churn, ensuring lots of fresh fruity flavor. Macerating the berries in liquor first (vodka works; Cointreau is better) helps draw out some of their excess water.
The Best Mint Chip Ice Cream
We have a fondness for the blast of minty flavor that you'll find in store-bought mint chip ice cream, which comes courtesy of mint extract. Still, our goal here was to produce an ice cream with the nuanced, grassy flavor of fresh mint. For this more grown-up version, we steep mint leaves in the cream used for the base—while it won't have the same aggressive minty-ness of the commercial brands, the extra complexity more than makes up for it.
Bold and Bracing Coffee Ice Cream
If you drink your coffee black, you'll appreciate a coffee ice cream that's equally assertive. This recipe leans heavily on the beans and lightens up on the cream for a blend that's dark, mildly bitter, and refreshing. If a latte's your coffee drink of choice, our Milky and Mild Coffee Ice Cream will satisfy—it's richer and creamier, with a more restrained coffee flavor.
30-Minute Philadelphia-Style Ice Cream
The time required to cook and cool the base usually turns ice cream–making into an all-day affair. But because Philadelphia-style ice cream is made without eggs, it's a lot speedier—just mix together the ingredients, pour them into your ice cream maker, and freeze. Removing the eggs also allows for a cleaner dairy flavor, along with a lighter, fluffier texture.
Dense, Chewy, and Rich New England-Style Ice Cream
New England–style ice cream is distinctive for its chewy consistency, the result of a very slow churn that's impossible to replicate using a consumer-grade ice cream maker. You can mimic the texture at home by keeping the butterfat content in check, using several egg yolks and corn syrup, and adding a stabilizer in the form of arrowroot. Mix-ins are an important part of the New England scoop-shop experience, so serve yours with candy, pretzel pieces, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
Soft and Rich Vanilla Frozen Custard
In my birth state of Wisconsin, the frozen-dairy dessert of choice is rich and creamy frozen custard, and, as with New England–style ice cream, making the real deal requires specialized machinery. This recipe will produce a delicious vanilla frozen custard using just an egg- and cream-heavy base, corn syrup, and a regular old home ice cream machine.
Pies and Cakes
The Best Blueberry Pie
There's nothing magical about making perfect blueberry pie (or most fruit pies, for that matter). It all comes down to a couple of simple ratios—use a quantity of sugar that's equal to 25% of the fruit's weight, and use tapioca starch in an amount equal to 5.5% of the fruit's weight. Combine it with our pretty-much-foolproof Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough, and the result is a pie that bakes up beautifully thick and sliceable, yet juicy. As for the fruit itself, a mixture of wild and cultivated blueberries yields great complexity of flavor, but you can use cultivated only if you prefer.
Fresh Cherry Pie
The above proportions work equally well with cherries, whether they're sweet or sour (we like a mix of the two) and fresh or frozen. Try using lightly toasted sugar for balance and a restrained sweetness, and be sure to save the pits if you're using fresh fruit—you can use them to make a pretty cherry pit whipped cream.
Summer Strawberry Pie
This no-bake, chilled strawberry pie is both a refreshing dessert and the perfect way to save yourself sweat in the kitchen. Built on a simple graham cracker crust, it's loaded with fruit flavor from macerated strawberries combined with a strawberry purée. We thicken the purée with just a bit of gelatin, though not so much that it turns into Jell-O.
Effortless Angel Food Cake
Most angel food cake recipes start with a fragile French meringue, which means they're incredibly fussy. Turns out, you don't need to make a meringue at all to create the airiest, most delicate angel food cake you've ever had: Simply beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a stand mixer, then fold in bleached cake flour. If you avoid gluten, be sure to try our Gluten-Free Angel Food Cake instead—it's almost lighter and fluffier than the original.
More Fruity Desserts
Thai Coconut Sticky Rice With Mango (Khao Niao Mamuang)
This simple, not-too-heavy Southeast Asian dessert is made by mixing Thai glutinous rice (a.k.a. sticky rice) with sugar and coconut milk, topping it with a sweet and lightly salty coconut sauce, and serving it alongside sliced fresh mango. If possible, skip the red-and-green-skinned Tommy Atkins mangoes you may be used to seeing in the market, and choose sweeter, less fibrous Ataúlfos instead.
Easy Stovetop Cherry Grunt (Stovetop Cobbler)
My kitchen feels like a sauna when I turn on the oven, so any dessert that can be made on the stovetop is a blessing. This stovetop cobbler is made by simmering the fruit rather than baking it, helping to keep your kitchen cool and simultaneously cutting down on your cooking time. Here, we combine juicy cherries (frozen sour cherries work well) with sugar, top the fruit with scoops of biscuit dough, and cover the pot to allow the dough to steam into fluffy dumplings.
Best Quick and Easy Strawberry Shortcakes
These shortcakes do require turning on the oven, but they bake so quickly and the entire process is so simple that it's not much of a sacrifice. You'll need a grand total of five ingredients: strawberries, sugar, cream, flour, and vanilla extract. The super-quick fluffy biscuits are made with self-rising flour, cream, and a dash of sugar; top them with strawberries macerated in sugar and vanilla-scented whipped cream for a lovely and low-stress dessert.
Grilled Banana Boats With Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Marshmallows
To make the most of your grill and let your guests get a little hands-on and messy when it's time for dessert (especially if your guests include kids), classic campfire banana boats are the way to go. Split an unpeeled banana in half lengthwise; stuff it with milk chocolate, peanut butter chips, mini marshmallows, or whatever other delicious melty tidbits you like; then grill them directly over the fire until you've got a sticky-sweet, gooey treat.
Tropical Pineapple, Mango, and Coconut Fools
This recipe replaces the thick custard in a traditional British fool with a mix of whipped cream and yogurt, creating an appropriately light summer dessert that's beautiful when layered in a glass so you can see every element. The fruit component is a blend of stewed pineapple compote and fresh mango, plus toasted coconut flakes for added tropical flavor and textural contrast.
A blueberry compote is joined by a tangy lemon curd, adding lots of brightness to this fool. We use half of the lemon curd straight up and mix the rest with whipped cream and Greek yogurt. Top with fresh blueberries after layering all the other ingredients.
Sunny Lemon Bars
The best lemon bars combine a rich, stable custard and a light, buttery crust. We make our custard thick and smooth by using equal weights of egg yolks and whole eggs, to get a sliceable consistency without having to resort to cornstarch. The flavor is tart and refreshing, like a glass of lemonade, and a dusting of powdered sugar really helps the bright yellow color pop.
Homemade Devil Dogs
Devil Dogs, for the uninitiated, are something like the commercial version of the whoopie pies beloved in the Northeast. Our DIY snack cakes are made with a soft chocolate cake similar to devil's food, piped onto trays and baked. Homemade Cool Whip or your favorite vanilla frosting would be the most traditional filling, but cherry pit whipped cream will make these feel a little bit fancier.
Chocolate-Covered Caramel-Filled Shortbread Cookies (a.k.a. Homemade Twix)
We can't fault the Twix bar's genius combination of shortbread, caramel, and chocolate—at least in theory—but the commercial product is made with lackluster ingredients that leave a lot to be desired. At home, though, you're free to upgrade with crisp homemade shortbread, caramel made with butter rather than palm oil, and high-quality dark chocolate, repackaged in delectable cookie form.
Waffled Almond Sandwich Cookies
Some of my best experiences at Serious Eats resulted from our waffle iron experiments. Daniel Shumski literally wrote the book on unconventional waffle iron uses, and this recipe is a great one, using a shallow-divot iron to make toasty almond cookies. Sandwich the cookies around whatever you'd like—chocolate ganache, lemon curd, jam, and dulce de leche are all fine choices.