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Grilling Sweet

Eating – and cooking – al fresco is the best part of summer. So why go back inside to make dessert? Exploring the sweeter side of grilling.

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“So you’re making dessert? On the grill?” my dad asked, with a somewhat concerned look on his face.

“Yeah, I thought I’d give it a go,” I say.

“You remember all those desserts you used to make up when you were a kid, right? Those were awful,” he says. He’s right – I didn’t have the best track record of culinary experimentation. In elementary school, I’d concoct truly awful desserts, which often consisted of canned pears, crushed stale graham crackers, chocolate syrup, and marshmallows, all heated up in the microwave and served in my favorite Winnie the Pooh bowls.

“It’s not like that!” I retort. “These recipes are from a cookbook!”

“Okay, well as long as they’re from people who know what they’re doing…”

The cookbook in question is Patio Pizzeria: Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads on the Grill. It’s the latest book from self-proclaimed “BBQ Queens” Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (who, according to their website, both hold Ph.B., or Doctor of Barbecue Philosophy, degrees). The two Missourians have collectively written over 20 cookbooks. The majority of the book focuses on savory pizzas, flatbreads, and sandwiches. According to the authors, “we like pizza because it’s full-flavored without being heavy, ethnic without being ‘weird,’ and can be customized any way we like it.”

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Homemade pizza dough and grilled toppings make for fast dinners, and there are many recipes I plan to try later. But the entries that intrigued me the most were the desserts. I had never heard of grilling anything other than burgers, hot dogs, and vegetables. But the concept of grilling dessert opened up a whole new world of treat-eating, and I’m not one to say no to more dessert options. Also quick and easy, these desserts are light and perfect for enjoying al fresco, something that particularly appeals to my Southern roots.

I grew up in Tennessee on the banks of the Mississippi River, meaning my summers were hot, muggy, and long. But, being a true Southerner, I spent the majority of my childhood summers outside, playing basketball, swimming in friends’ pools, and, of course, sitting at the plastic picnic table in my backyard as my parents served up all the summer favorites: corn on the cob, potato salad, and burgers fresh off the grill. For that reason, there is a special place in my heart for eating outdoors. Even though the grill does nothing to help with the heat, there’s something very satisfying about cooking outside. Whether that’s because of an American tradition or because our ancestors routinely cooked over open flames back in the cave days, is a mystery. But one thing’s for sure: it’s a great way to spend the summer.

Adler and Fertig’s desserts embody the summer dining experience perfectly: light, seasonal ingredients prepared outside and served immediately, preferably with lots of friends and, if the cookbook’s photos are any indication, lots of wine, as well.

I prepared all three desserts at once, and, from start to finish, it took me all of about 20 minutes. So next time you’re looking for a nice summery dessert to finish off your cookout, look no further than Adler and Fertig’s grilled treats.

These desserts were satisfyingly crunchy on the edges and chewy in the middle. The sweetness of the chocolate (Adler and Fertig recommend at least 45% cacao) in the Brioche Bruschetta with Dark Chocolate and Fleur de Sel is offset perfectly by the salt. This is a truly rich dessert, hence the small portion sizes. The Raspberry Bruschetta and Peach Melba Brioche, on the other hand, were fresh and very light, the perfect endings to a large summer cookout. With so much fruit, you can even convince yourself that it’s healthy! And, according to my dad, these desserts are “way, way better” than my childhood treats. This is why you trust the pros – or, in this case, the Queens.

Peach Melba Open-Face Brioche

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Ingredients

4 ripe peaches, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 1-inch-thick slices brioche loaf or challah
1 pint fresh raspberries
Honeyed Greek yogurt

Instructions

Prepare a medium-hot fire in your grill.

Place the peach halves cut-side down on the grill. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes, turning once, until the peaches are tender and blistered.

Transfer the peaches to a work surface. Remove the skins, cut the peaches into thin slices, and place in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice and toss to blend.

Grill the brioche slices for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until they have good grill marks.

To serve, place each brioche slice on a plate and top with peaches, raspberries, and a dollop of honeyed Greek yogurt.

Makes 4 bruschetta

Brioche Bruschetta with Dark Chocolate and Fleur de Sel

Ingredients

4 ¾-inch-thick slices of brioche
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 5- to 6-ounce dark chocolate bar, broken into squares
Fleur de sel for sprinkling

Prepare an indirect medium-hot fire in your grill, with heat on one side and no heat on the other.

Place the brioche slices on a baking sheet and lightly drizzle the top sides with olive oil.

Grill the brioche slices for 1 to 2 minutes per side, until they have good grill marks and are golden brown. Remove from grill.

Lay 4 squares of chocolate (arranged like a 4-pane square window) in the olive oil side of each grilled brioche slice. Place each brioche slice, chocolate-side up, on the indirect side of the grill and close the lid for a couple of minutes.

Transfer to a cutting board and cut the bread into 4 squares.

Lightly sprinkle with a pinch of fleur de sel and eat warm.

Makes 16 small bruschetta

Raspberry Bruschetta with Lavender Honey Ricotta

Ingredients

1 cup red raspberries
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, plus more as needed
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons lavender honey, plus extra for drizzling
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 ¾-inch-thick slices sourdough bread
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow raspberries
4 small mint sprigs for garnish

Instructions

Prepare a medium-hot fire in your grill.

Place ½ cup of the red raspberries in a bowl and mash with the sugar. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar, if needed.

In another bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with the lavender honey and lemon juice, whisking until smooth.

Lightly coat the sourdough bread with olive oil and grill for about 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until they have good grill marks.

On plates, slather each piece of bread with the ricotta mixture. Spoon some of the mashed red raspberries on top of the ricotta. Then, arrange the remaining yellow and red raspberries on each bruschetta and top with a sprig of mint.

Makes 4 bruschetta

Tuscan Schiacciata with Black and Purple Grapes

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Tuscans have their own term for focaccia — schiacciata — which means “flattened down” or “squished.” It is traditionally found in bakeries at grape harvest time and is made with sangiovese grapes dusted with sugar. This version uses a two-color mix of grapes, but other wine grapes could be used, as could blackberries, blueberries, or even raisins. Top it with honeyed whipped cream and sip a glass of Vin Santo or other dessert wine.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon cornmeal
1 recipe Stir-Together Flatbread Dough (below)
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 cup seedless black grapes
1 cup seedless red grapes
¾ cup dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
½ cup dark honey

Instructions

Prepare an indirect medium-hot fire in your grill, with heat on one side and no heat on the other. Lightly sprinkle the cornmeal in the bottom of a 12 x 10-inch disposable aluminum pan.

Dollop the dough down the center of the prepared pan. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and carefully spread the dough to the edges of the pan so that the dough is an even thickness throughout. Lightly make some indentations. Cover the dough evenly with the grapes, lightly pressing them down into the dough. Sprinkle with the brown sugar, a drizzle of olive oil, and the salt. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rise a second time for about an hour.

For the honeyed whipped cream, with an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, 6 to 7 minutes. Fold in the sour cream and honey. Set aside or keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Set the pan on the indirect side of the grill or on top of 2 or 3 bricks placed on the grill grates to elevate the focaccia and cook for about 30 minutes, until it is well browned and firm in the center, and the dough registers 190°F.

Serve warm or at room temperature, dolloped with the honeyed whipped cream.

Serves 6 to 8

Stir-Together Flatbread Dough

A simple stir in a bowl, a rise on your kitchen counter, a quick pat or roll into shape, and you’ve got flatbreads ready to sizzle on the grill grates. The loose, floppy dough makes irregular shapes rather than perfect pizza rounds, which adds to the rustic appeal. For a vegan dough, substitute agave for the honey.

Ingredients

2 cups bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant or bread machine yeast
1 cup lukewarm water, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions

In a medium bowl, stir the flour, salt, and yeast together. Combine the water, honey, and olive oil and stir into the flour mixture until the dough comes together. If the dough is dry, add a tablespoon of water at a time until the dough is just moist. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 3 days before baking. Let come to room temperature before using.

Makes 1 pound dough for 4 individual flatbreads.

Lead photo by Mike McCune via Flickr (Creative Commons). Recipes and recipe photos reprinted with permission from Patio Pizzeria © 2014 by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, published by Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group

Maggie Heath is a Global Journalism student at Drexel University. She has written for Grid Magazine, The Triangle, and Cincy Magazine, and she blogs for the Drexel Publishing Group. Her favorite food is Twizzlers, but has been known to cook herself real food on occasion.

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