It's practically your patriotic duty to stuff your face with hot dogs and`potato salad on July 4th, so we understand if you don't usually leave room for dessert. But after a big meal of smoky grilled meats (maybe a few hours after), a little something sweet can be just the pick-me-up you need. Plus, entertaining is a great opportunity to whip up all sorts of tasty desserts you may not take the time to make just for yourself—succulent grilled peaches and juicy strawberry pie to celebrate peak summer-fruit season, cooling homemade ice creams and popsicles, a light and creamy basil mousse that showcases just how well the fragrant herb pairs with dairy. Whatever strikes your fancy, you'll find the perfect match in this collection of 17 Fourth of July dessert recipes.
Grilled Peaches and Pound Cake With Cider Vinegar Caramel Sauce
To really get the most out of that roaring fire in your grill, use it for your dessert along with your burgers. All three elements of this elegant dish—peaches, caramel sauce, and pound cake—are given some time over the fire, where they absorb a tantalizing whiff of smoke to complement their sweetness. We cut the peaches in half and dip them in sugar before placing them on the grates, allowing them to develop a crisp crust. You could certainly make your own pound cake, but the final dish here is so delicious, no one will notice at all if you go store-bought.
Grilled Banana Boats With Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Marshmallows
For a simpler grilled dessert that's also kid-friendly, it doesn't get much easier than stuffing split-open bananas with candy, chocolate, and marshmallows, then grilling them right in their peels for a messy, melty treat. Our recipe calls for mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, and peanut butter chips, but the sky's really the limit—just set out a spread of possible fillings and let your guests choose their own adventures.
Sunny Lemon Bars
These outrageously bright and tart lemon bars start with a fully cooked custard made with equal parts whole eggs and egg yolks, producing a soft, rich texture that's just firm enough to slice without falling apart. The extra yolks help stabilize the custard without the need for cornstarch, keeping it stunningly clear. A bit of lemon zest added to the simple butter-and-sugar crumb fortifies the bars' citrusy flavor.
DIY Pudding Pops
A popsicle on a hot day is one of life's purest simple pleasures. It's hard to say no even to a plastic-wrapped pop from the freezer section, but these homemade takes on Jell-O's long-discontinued Puddin' Pops will truly blow the crowd away. What's more, they're easy to whip up, using a simple vanilla custard thickened with tapioca starch. To make them extra special, dip the pops in a mixture of chocolate and coconut oil to form a crispy shell, then coat in sprinkles, cocoa nibs, or another crunchy topping of your choice.
Tamarind and Palm Sugar Popsicles With Chili Salt
Inspired by the sticky, spicy-sweet tamarind candy Pelon Pelo Rico, these thoroughly grown-up popsicles package the same flavors into a refreshingly frosty treat. Though harder to find than white sugar or standard brown, palm sugar lends a unique caramelly sweetness to offset the tart tamarind concentrate, while a dip in chili salt mixed with malic acid gives the pops a little hot, sour bite.
Fresh Basil Mousse
We don't often think of basil as a dessert ingredient, but to anyone who's ever enjoyed a Caprese salad or a margherita pizza, it should be no surprise that it pairs well with dairy. What's a little more surprising is the inclusion here of white chocolate, which has a floral aroma that complements basil beautifully and helps add richness and body to this light mousse. It's thickened with gelatin, making it easier than an egg-based version and safe for any egg-allergic friends.
Texas Sheet Cake
Everything's bigger in Texas, and that includes dessert—this supersized cake will easily feed a party of two dozen Independence Day revelers. (It also keeps well enough that a smaller group could nibble on it for a week.) The buttermilk-enriched chocolate batter is poured into a thin layer in a sheet pan, where it bakes up fluffy and moist. But the real magic happens when it's doused in molten fudge icing—the fudge seeps into the cake, turning the top of it delightfully gooey. A layer of toasted pecans gives the otherwise soft cake and fudge some crunch.
Homemade Brownie Mix
Stella's best from-scratch brownies are indeed fantastic, but they require browned butter and a couple hours' worth of prep time. If you're looking for a quicker route to brownies, try stirring together a batch of this homemade brownie mix in advance. On the day of, simply add the wet ingredients, pulse in a food processor or mix by hand, pour, and bake. Made with Dutch-process cocoa powder, chopped dark chocolate, malted milk powder, and refined coconut oil, the mix will last for up to a year on the shelf (or until the expiration date of the coconut oil), and it tastes better than anything you can buy.
Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate chip cookies are an obvious crowd-pleaser, whether you choose to make our ultra-involved, best-ever cookies or an old-fashioned, quick and easy variety. But if you'll be celebrating the Fourth with anyone who eschews eggs, dairy, or both, this vegan recipe will make not only them happy but those with no such dietary restrictions, too. Here, an oat slurry stands in for eggs, coconut oil replaces the butter, and a mix of dry malt extract and nutmeg gives the cookies some of the toasty, nutty flavors that butter takes on in the oven. We add hand-chopped dark chocolate to the batter rather than commercial chips, for better flavor and to help thicken the dough.
Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream
Can't decide between cookies and ice cream? This recipe gives you the best of both worlds, but there are no crushed-up cookies involved. Instead, we opt for a deconstructed approach, mixing crispy oats, crunchy pecans, and chewy dried fruit into a brown sugar base infused with cinnamon, toasted oats, and vanilla bean. The oats do double duty—we steep them into the base to give it a nutty flavor, then bake them into clusters to use as a mix-in.
The Best Cherry Pie
You don't need any magical tricks to turn out a delicious, perfectly thickened cherry pie—just the right ratio. Pair the fruit (fresh or frozen cherries will work great) with 25% of its weight in sugar and 5.5% of its weight in tapioca starch, and the filling will come out thick but juicy every time. Using a mix of different cherry varieties, sweet and sour, yields the best flavor.
The Best Blueberry Pie
The best part about the above ratio from our cherry pie is that it works perfectly for many other fruit pies, too (though not all—apple and peach pies, for example, need a different treatment). Here, that means blueberries, preferably a mix of cultivated and wild for greater depth of flavor. As pretty as ceramic and stoneware pie plates may look, you'll actually get a crispier crust that's less prone to sogging with inexpensive tempered glass.
Fresh and Creamy Lime Pie
A twist on an old-fashioned lemon cream pie, this tart, bright pie is akin to a cross between Key lime and lemon meringue—and just as delicious as that sounds. We cook the simple custard on the stovetop, then pour it into a blind-baked whole wheat crust, which we find delivers a graham cracker–like flavor that pairs nicely with the lime. It's all topped off with fluffy peaks of meringue that toast to a nutty brown in the oven.
Grasshopper Ice Cream Pie
Another dessert of days past, grasshopper pie was traditionally made by mixing crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and cream with melted marshmallows. Our updated take uses a custard filling that's decidedly more grown-up, flavored with Fernet Branca (to enhance the minty flavor while offsetting the sweetness) and a dash of mint extract, plus melted dark chocolate instead of the usual chocolate liqueur. An intense cocoa-nib caramel drizzled over the top completes the dessert.
Summer Strawberry Pie
It's one thing to make a pie that's served cold, but in July, the real win is one that keeps all the prep work cold, too. This summery pie requires no baking and no cooking, unless you count a quick trip to the microwave to melt the gelatin. That helps to thicken a filling of strawberry purée and macerated fruit, which we pour into a homemade graham cracker crust, then refrigerate until set.
No-Bake Cheesecake With Freeze-Dried Fruit
As much as we love our seasonal berries and peaches, you don't need great summer fruit to make a great summer fruit dessert. The moisture in fresh fruit will actually ruin a no-bake cheesecake, so we turn to powdered freeze-dried fruit instead—you can order all sorts online, including strawberries and blueberries, bananas, and cherries. Think of our recipe as a template, and make it your own by experimenting with different combinations of fruit and crust. You can't go wrong with strawberry and Oreos, banana and Biscoff, or mango and gingersnaps, but those are just for starters.
American Flag Fruit Salad
An American flag–shaped dessert is a time-honored tradition on the Fourth of July, and this one happens to be exceptionally easy as well. Artfully arranging berries, cherries, banana, and bits of apple turns a plain old fruit salad into a patriotic centerpiece. Of course, feel free to swap out these specific fruits for whatever appropriately colored options look best at your local market.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.