It's true that with all the many Memorial Day grilling recipes we've shared recently, you might not end up with much room in your stomach for dessert. But what's a cookout without something sweet? After a meal of smoky, savory grilled meats, dessert can be a great opportunity to show off the fruit that's just starting to come into season—think flaky, golden-crusted pies bursting with fresh cherries or blueberries; a moist and tender blackberry cake topped with tangy cream cheese frosting; the best strawberry ice cream; and more. Don't let the fun stop with fruit, though. Chocolate chip cookies and Texas sheet cake will please guests of all ages and are ideal for serving a big crowd, while frosty DIY pudding pops make a picture-perfect nostalgic summertime treat. Whatever you're in the mood for, you'll find the right recipe for your cookout in this collection of 25 Memorial Day dessert recipes.
Cookies and Bars
The texture of this tangy, bright dessert falls somewhere between lemon curd and lemon meringue pie—soft, rich, and just firm enough to hold its shape when you cut it. A custard made with equal parts whole eggs and egg yolks and cooked on the stove is the key. We also briefly bake the bars in the oven after making the custard, but only to help the filling spread out into a beautifully smooth, satiny layer.
Chocolate chip cookies are classic for a reason—who doesn't love them? Our ultimate recipe requires resting the dough overnight, but if you don't have that kind of time, this version comes together in just 45 minutes and is utterly delicious. The key is ditching the mass-produced chocolate chips in favor of hand-chopped bar chocolate—we like to use a mix of dark, milk, and white chocolate, for variety's sake. Not only does bar chocolate taste better than chips, chopping it with a knife produces a cocoa dust that infuses every bite of cookie with chocolaty flavor.
These cookies are really a type of peanut butter fudge, but don't let that scare you—with the help of a digital thermometer, this stovetop-only recipe is super easy. You can make the cookies with either instant or old-fashioned oats, but the best option is to use a mixture of the two for a thick, chewy texture. A combination of Dutched cocoa powder and dark chocolate gives the cookies a great flavor that's mellow enough after cooking to be kid-friendly.
This recipe combines the salty pretzels and potato chips you might normally see on a party table with chocolate and marshmallow, making a savory-sweet, Rice Krispies Treat–inspired dessert. We bind the pretzels and chips with a homemade marshmallow flavored with bitter stout—be sure to let the beer go flat first, to avoid a sticky boil-up—and finish the bars with stout-infused chocolate to boost the sweetness.
These jammy fruit bars make a lovely sweet breakfast, but they make for an equally good, and relaxed, cookout dessert. Inspired by Icelandic Hjónabandssæla, the bars are hearty and rich, with a crisp crumb topping. Fill them with your favorite fruit jam, or opt for fresh in-season fruit from the market instead.
Cakes, Pies, and Cobblers
We may be about to hit peak produce season, but the best choice for adding fruit flavor and vivid color to our no-bake cheesecake is powdered freeze-dried fruit—the excess of moisture in fresh fruit will ruin the texture. A graham cracker crust is a classic choice for cheesecake, but you might also try experimenting with different cookies depending on the fruit—consider Oreos paired with strawberry, Biscoff with banana, or gingersnaps with mango.
Fruit pies can feel like an exercise in frustration—how many times have you followed a recipe to a T and still ended up with a filling that was way too loose or gloopy? Turns out, the secret to the best fruit pie comes down to science. If you combine the fruit with 25% of its weight in sugar and 5.5% of its weight in tapioca starch, you'll end up with a thick but juicy pie every time. The formula works with either fresh or frozen fruit, so you can make this pie even if cherries haven't appeared at your farmers market yet.
The ratio of fruit to sugar to tapioca starch works just as well with other fruits as it does with cherries, so you can use it to make a perfect blueberry pie as well. A mix of wild and cultivated blueberries produces the best depth of flavor, though it's not essential. Our preferred pie plate is made of inexpensive tempered glass, which yields a crispier crust than ceramic or stoneware.
Turning on the oven long enough to bake a pie doesn't always sound like my idea of a good time. Come Memorial Day, I'm much more likely to whip up this fruity, eye-catching no-bake dessert, made with a combination of macerated strawberries and strawberry purée in a graham cracker crust. Rather than cooking the filling on the stovetop, we simply thicken it with gelatin quickly melted in the microwave—minimizing cooking helps preserve the fresh flavor of the berries.
If I'm busy prepping for a big cookout, the last thing I want to do is struggle with a pie crust. A cobbler has all the fruity deliciousness of a pie, but pairs it with tender drop biscuits instead, a much less labor-intensive project. We thicken this lemon-tinged peach filling with a bit of cornstarch, but moisture is less of a concern than it is with a pie—there's no bottom crust to get soggy, and cobblers are meant to be messy anyhow.
Our blackberry cobbler relies on three key ingredients: baking soda (to tame the acidity of the fruit), cinnamon (which intensifies the flavor of the blackberries), and—perhaps surprisingly—a small amount of raspberries. The latter adds a complex sweetness to balance out the blackberries, which can be prone to bitterness if they're not perfectly ripe. Beyond that, the recipe is just a matter of mixing the filling ingredients together, topping with a simple drop-biscuit dough, and baking until the filling is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown.
Making a fruit-flavored cake isn't as simple as adding fruit purée to your favorite cake recipe—a properly hydrated cake batter can't take the extra moisture. Instead, you'll need to replace the other wet ingredients entirely with the fruit, which works with blackberries because they're acidic enough to tenderize the cake and help it rise. Making the batter with egg whites instead of whole eggs allows you to achieve the lovely purplish hue you see here; yolks will turn the cake an unpleasant shade of green.
A successful strawberry cake is a very different animal from the blackberry cake above: Strawberries aren't as acidic as blackberries, so if you try to use strawberry purée in the batter, you'll end up with a poorly risen, off-tasting cake thanks to the un-reacted baking soda. Our solution is freeze-dried strawberries, which add a concentrated dose of acidity without affecting the hydration of the dough. As an added benefit, the freeze-dried berries also improve the cake's color and flavor.
Need a dessert that can handle a big crowd? This sheet pan–sized chocolate cake can easily be cut into two dozen pieces (or, if I'm in charge, maybe five or six). The thin cake itself is made with buttermilk and natural cocoa powder, giving it a relative lightness that's immediately counteracted when you douse the whole thing in hot fudge. For a crunchy finish, shower the cake with toasted pecans.
Ice Creams and Frozen Treats
Strawberry ice cream can be tricky: When it's made with fresh berries, the fruit's moisture easily turns to ice; make it with cooked berries, and you lose that fresh strawberry flavor. Using the best strawberries you can find (for a more concentrated flavor and less moisture) and macerating them rather than cooking yields ice cream that's both flavorful and creamy.
Who could say no to a popsicle on a hot day? If you're a child of the '80s, you probably have fond memories of Jell-O's Pudding Pops, those chocolate or vanilla or butterscotch swirl popsicles that managed to be both creamy and bracingly cold. Since they haven't been in stores for years, you'll have to take matters into your own hands if you want to relive the experience. Our recipe is made with a simple vanilla custard thickened with tapioca starch. You can enjoy them just like that, or dip them in a mixture of chocolate and coconut oil for a crispy shell reminiscent of a Klondike Bar—dunk them in sprinkles or cookie crumbs, too, if you're feeling extra fancy.
If you've got a well-insulated cooler and you're already planning to use it to keep beer nice and cold for your cookout, throw some homemade chipwiches in for good measure. You can customize these ice cream sandwiches with any of your favorite ice creams—yes, even a store-bought one if time is tight. Package them individually in plastic wrap, and you're good to go.
These strawberry shortcake ice cream bars aren't actually made with ice cream. Instead, we make a fluffy Swiss meringue, and cut it with milk and cream to add richness to the base. The bars are frozen in popsicle molds until solid, then coated in a bright, pretty mixture of white chocolate, freeze-dried strawberry, and puffed-rice cereal.
This light, refreshing ice cream will balance out the endless burgers, chips, and dips of a successful Memorial Day cookout. The buttermilk makes for a bright and tangy base, and while it's delicious all on its own, this ice cream pairs perfectly with any seasonal fresh fruit you snag at the market.
Fresh goat milk has a sweet, clean flavor which lends itself to this lovely, fruit-swirled gelato. A spoonful of orange water bolsters the raspberry flavor, which otherwise can become muted at freezing temperatures. Serve the gelato on its own, or with another spoonful of the fruit syrup.
For this seasonal crisp, we cook down tart rhubarb in a sweet, thick sauce and bury it under a streusel made from brown sugar, whole wheat flour, rolled oats, cinnamon, anise seed, and Chinese five-spice powder (plus lots of butter, of course). The anise and five-spice powder may surprise you, but these secret ingredients complement the rhubarb nicely and help to bring out more of its flavor. We cook the rhubarb in two stages, leaving some of it meltingly tender and the rest with a little bit of a bite.
Rhubarb is definitely an acquired taste, and a common tactic for toning down its assertiveness is to pair it with strawberries, for a flavor that's both sweeter and more complex. We use the same ratio of fruit to sugar to tapioca starch as we do for baking pies, ensuring that the filling is gooey but not gloopy.
A traditional British fool is made by folding stewed fruit into a creamy custard, a dessert that can feel a little too heavy for summer. Modern fools often replace the custard with whipped cream, which is more refreshing but not as rich. Here, we find a middle ground by mixing whipped cream with Greek yogurt and pairing the result with both cooked and macerated strawberries. Check out our pineapple-mango and lemon-blueberry fools, too.
These conveniently no-bake, conveniently individual parfaits offer a triple dose of chocolate, with an Oreo crust and fillings made by whipping cream cheese with Nutella and dark chocolate. Finish each one with a dollop of whipped cream, toasted hazelnuts, and crushed Oreos—because can you really ever have too much chocolate?
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