As much as I want to deny it, summer is coming to an end. In Southern California that doesn't really mean putting away the grill, but even here folks like to get one last cookout in before fall hits. We'll be giving you tips throughout the next week on throwing the perfect Labor Day barbecue, but for now let's start with dessert, an often-overlooked part of a cookout. Saying goodbye to grilling weather also means saying goodbye to summer fruit, so Labor Day is the time to get in one last cherry pie, blackberry cobbler, or batch of strawberry ice cream. Or if you've spent too much time thinking about the savory courses to make a homemade pie, how about something easy like 5-ingredient strawberry shortcakes or an effortless angel food cake? Either way, keep reading for 26 Labor Day dessert recipes to celebrate the end of summer.
Pies, Cobblers, and Grunts
The Best Cherry Pie
Perfect cherry pie is all about the ratios. Making your filling with 5.5% tapioca starch thickens it into a light gel that holds together without turning gloppy, and a 4:1 ratio of fruit to sugar raises the gelatinization rate of the tapioca so that the filling and crust cook at the same speed.
The Best Blueberry Pie
The same ratios that we use for our cherry pie work for other fruits, too. This recipe is exactly the same as our cherry pie recipe, except that it uses blueberries instead. For the best flavor, we recommend using a mix of wild and cultivated blueberries. Another trick: tempered-glass pie plates are more conductive that ceramic ones, so they make for crispier crusts.
Summer Strawberry Pie
I'm not much of a baker, so when I'm in the mood for pie I gravitate toward this ultra-summery recipe. The filling is made of strawberry purée, macerated berries, and gelatin, which gets poured into a simple graham cracker crust. Keeping the filling uncooked doesn't just make this recipe easy—it also preserves the fresh flavor of the fruit.
Old-Fashioned Blackberry Cobbler
If you want the flavors of a traditional cooked pie without having to deal with a crust then cobblers—fruit filling covered with a drop-biscuit crust—are the way to go. This cobbler is filled with blackberries, raspberries, and a pinch of cinnamon. The raspberries are there mostly to help round out the flavor of sour blackberries, so you can use 100% blackberries if they are sweet enough.
Classic Biscuit-Topped Peach Cobbler
Here we fill our cobbler with peaches, which we mix with sugar, lemon juice, and just 3/4 teaspoon of cornstarch. It's also a good idea to add flavorings—bourbon, nutmeg, and almond extract are good choices, but feel free to get creative with it. We again top the filling with biscuit dough, but this time also brush on a syrupy glaze to give the biscuits a crackly crust.
Easy Stovetop Cherry Grunt
You don't have to turn on the oven to make a cobbler—a grunt is essentially the same dish, but cooked entirely on the stovetop. Our cherry grunt starts with frozen sour cherries (though you could use fresh if you can find great ones), which we cook with sugar, cinnamon, and corn starch and top with dumpling dough. Covering the pot lets the dumplings steam to moist, tender perfection.
Texas Sheet Cake
If you're having a big, gut-busting cookout, you can't go wrong by serving a big Texas sheet cake for dessert. Perfect for feeding a crowd, this giant slab of chocolate cake gets topped with chocolate fudge while the cake is still warm, and then toasted pecans are sprinkled all over the top.
Blackberry Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting
This cake gets its striking color from blackberry purée, which stands in for the dairy you'd usually see in a cake recipe. Making the cake with egg whites rather than whole eggs also helps—purple blackberries plus yellow egg yolks will make the cake a rather unappetizing green. A tangy cream cheese frosting pairs wonderfully with the slightly sour blackberries.
Double Strawberry Cake
Strawberries are a more difficult cake ingredient than blueberries, which have a high acidity that keeps the cake light. Strawberry purée just won't cut it—if you added enough to get the acidity you need you'd have way too much liquid. Our solution is to add freeze-dried strawberries, which have concentrated flavor and acidity but no moisture. The result is a fluffy, vibrantly colored cake with an intense strawberry flavor.
Effortless Angel Food Cake
Pillowy angel food cake seems like an impressive dessert, but the truth is it only takes about 15 minutes of work—all you have to do is whip up cold egg whites and sugar to make a meringue, stir in cake flour, and bake. We like to serve the cake with citrusy lemon chantilly and whatever berries look best at the farmers market.
Easy No-Bake Cheesecake
Our no-bake cheesecake recipe is about as simple as it gets: cream cheese, heavy cream, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt whipped together until thick. It would be traditional to spoon the filling into a graham cracker crust, but for something different try using Biscoff instead. You can also play around with whipping up a fruit-flavored no-bake cheesecake.
Cookies and Bars
Sunny Lemon Bars
Individually portioned lemon bars are a natural choice for a party. Lots of lemon bar recipes call for whole eggs and cornstarch, a combination that makes for a stable but murky custard. We leave out the cornstarch, adding extra egg yolks instead to get the texture right. Make sure to use nonreactive cookware (pot, whisk, everything) so that you don't wind up with metallic-tasting bars.
Homemade Oreo Cookies
Don't be the person who just brings a box of store-bought cookies to the party—instead, wow the other guests with these homemade Oreos. The cookies are chocolate shortbread made with Dutch cocoa powder and baking soda and the thick, creamy filling is made with clarified butter.
The beauty of copycat recipes is that you can take classic snacks and make them even better. Our homemade Twix hit all the same flavors as the original, but replace the mass-produced ingredients with flavorful shortbread cookies, buttery caramel, and high-quality dark chocolate.
Cherry Ice Cream
I'm sure you've heard cooking meat bone-in gives it more flavor (it doesn't), but did you know that similar concept can work wonders for some fruit? Our cherry ice cream starts with cherries that we roast whole (in the oven or on the grill)—the pits make the cherries extra flavorful. We then cook the cherries down to a jammy consistency and mix them into an eggless ice cream base.
The Best Strawberry Ice Cream
While our cherry ice cream uses a slow roast to maximize flavor, our strawberry ice cream isn't cooked at all. Making the base with raw strawberry puree and macerated strawberries preserves the fresh flavor of the fruit. You need the best strawberries you can find to cut through the dairy and sugar—store-bought fruit just won't cut it.
Blackberry Ice Cream
If you don't have the greatest strawberries available, but you do have access to some beautiful blackberries, this ice cream is similarly designed to let the fruit's flavor shine. A touch of cinnamon helps preserve that wonderful blackberry aroma, and a hit of lemon juice adds a bit of brightness to the mix.
Homemade Speculoos Ice Cream
Born out of a excess of speculoos leftover from homemade Biscoff testing, this mellow, comforting ice cream works with either homemade or store-bought cookies. Once you have the cookies the rest of the ice cream is pretty simple—the only trick is replacing regular white sugar with caramelly toasted sugar.
Fior di Latte Gelato
This frozen Italian treat contains no eggs, no fruit, no chocolate—nothing but dairy. So it really does behoove you to get the best dairy you can, preferably dairy produced by grass-fed cows, as the quality really comes through in the final product. If a study in simplicity isn't what you're after for your Labor Day dessert, you could also try our straciatella recipe, or our raspberry ripple goat's milk gelato.
Classic Vanilla Ice Milk
If you're looking for a sweet frozen treat that isn't too heavy and yet is plenty refreshing, ice milk is the way to go. Its light vanilla flavor and its silky mouthfeel are strongly reminiscent of Dairy Queen soft-serve.
Who doesn't like a popsicle on a hot day? Our version of Fudgsicles takes the old-school chocolate treat and makes it even fudgier with Dutch cocoa. We turn to gelatin to replicate that distinct Fudgsicle texture—the pops should be icy (but not grainy) and hold their shape as they melt.
Tamarind and Palm Sugar Popsicles With Chili Salt
These popsicles are sweet, sour, and savory, thanks to palm sugar, tamarind, and chili salt, respectively. Modeled on the flavor profile of Pelo Rico candy, they get an extra sour boost from the addition of malic acid. Perfect for a sweltering summer's day.
5-Ingredient Strawberry Shortcakes
Depending on how much effort you've put into the rest of your Labor Day bash, you might not have a lot of energy left for dessert. That's where these super simple strawberry shortcakes come in. The biscuits are made with nothing more than self-rising flour, sugar, and cream and come together in the time it takes the strawberries to macerate.
Grilled Banana Boats With Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Marshmallows
If you've got the grill going anyways, you might as well use it for dessert. Banana boats are a campfire favorite that our bound to be a hit. Our recipe suggests making them with mini-marshmallows, chocolate chips, and peanut butter chips, but you should put out a variety of ingredients and let guests choose their favorites.
Tropical Pineapple, Mango, and Coconut Fools
These bright, refreshing, individually-portioned desserts are perfectly balanced thanks to the combination of tangy Greek yogurt and sweet fruit. We cook the pineapple down into a compote, mix it with whipped cream, Greek yogurt, and coconut, and then layer with fresh mango. More coconut on top emphasizes the dessert's tropical side.
Grasshopper Ice Cream Pie
The retro dessert—based on the cocktail of the same name—gets a modern twist: Instead of the creme de menthe common in older recipes, we use a hit of Fernet Branca, which adds a slight and very welcome bitterness and a whole lot of herbaceousness. The cool and creamy peppermint filling is offset just slightly by a topping of cocoa nib fudge.