Summer’s not quite here and the weather’s as manic as the stock market, yet the urge to break out the ice cream machines and patio umbrellas is fierce. We want our dinner outside (sunglasses down, beach on our horizon), and a sweet finale with a cool touch.
Frozen desserts have a hip, retro feel -- like throwing a polka-dot apron over a landscape of tattoos -- which gives them a certain panache that a bowl of ice cream just wouldn’t have.
They’re also a way to finesse issues of temperature and timing, when you want a sophisticated cold note to the end of your meal but don’t want to waste any of your patio downtime laboring over fussy desserts in the kitchen.
Look for recipes that can be made and assembled ahead of time, desserts that can be kept in your freezer like secret weapons, ready for unveiling.
Individual coviglia al caffe, Italian frozen puddings named for the little cups in which they’re traditionally served, are impressive -- and easy.
Just make a coffee-infused stove-top custard, fold in whipped cream and beaten egg whites, and let the mixture set up in a bowl in the freezer.
After the mousse is half frozen, stir (this adds volume and loft) and pour into small cups. Then just before you’re ready for dessert, take the cups out of the freezer and add a quick spoonful of whipped cream and a shard of shaved chocolate.
Or assemble graceful bonbons from store-bought wafers, a batch of strawberry ice cream and a dish of melted bittersweet chocolate. Make the ice cream -- shot with lime and laced with vanilla bean -- ahead of time.
You can build the bonbons earlier too, then enrobe them with a simple pour of melted chocolate moments before serving; the chocolate sets up prettily as soon as it hits the ice cream.
For a gorgeous finale to a casual meal out on the patio -- under the lingering heat and lengthening rays of the May sun -- offer a slice of frozen flourless cake layered with a luscious hazelnut semifreddo and the golden pixie dust of crushed homemade praline. To save time you can buy the praline too, but the candy takes minutes to make and yields the kind of sultry, caramel flavor that’s worth the effort.
This simple terrine looks more complicated than it is; the entire confection can be made ahead of time. Unlike some frozen desserts, you don’t have to temper it: Just unmold the cake (encased in plastic wrap for an easy exit) and cut a slice. Add a sprig of mint and a few halved kumquats.And make sure to give these desserts their few final touches -- the dip in chocolate, the spoonful of cream -- in front of an audience with a twirl of the apron and a little patio flourish. Sure, all you did was pull them from the freezer, but you don’t have to point this out.
Never underestimate the ta-da effect.