Five easy desserts for summer that make the most of the season's perfect marriages from strawberries and cream and mango and lemon, to vanilla and caramel and rhubarb and custard.
Strawberries with saffron cream
Assemble at the last minute to keep a perfect contrast between the crisp biscuits and soft cream. I suspect this could be good with raspberries too
For the saffron cream
double cream 300ml
saffron 12 strands
icing sugar 2 tbsp
For the biscuits
icing sugar 90g
egg whites 2
plain flour 75g
vanilla extract 1 tsp
salt a pinch
flaked almonds a handful
strawberries 3-4 per person
Warm the cream and the saffron in a small saucepan, turning the heat off just before it reaches the boil, then set aside to cool. Transfer to the fridge.
Make the biscuits: set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Soften the butter in a small saucepan till it is just starting to melt. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the icing sugar, egg whites, flour, vanilla extract and a tiny pinch of salt, then stir in the softened butter. Place generous teaspoons of the mixture on lightly greased baking parchment or a floured baking sheet, scatter over the flaked almonds then cook for about 8 minutes till they have spread and are pale biscuit coloured. Remove from the oven and transfer with a palette knife.
When the cream is cold, strain it through a tea strainer or small sieve to remove the saffron threads, then whip to thick, soft mounds, but not so stiff it will stand in peaks. Gently fold in the 2 tbsp sifted icing sugar.
Hull and halve the strawberries. Drop them into the saffron cream, then crumble the biscuits and fold into the berries and cream. Serve within 15-20 minutes of mixing, otherwise your biscuits will become soggy.
Rhubarb custard tarts
Rhubarb custard tarts. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for Observer Food Monthly
Rather like those crisp Portuguese custard tarts, these little chaps are filled with rhubarb and vanilla bean custard.
rhubarb 2 short sticks
caster sugar 2-3 tbsp
orange juice of 1
puff pastry 300g
For the custard filling
vanilla a pod
caster sugar 60g
egg yolks 3
Make the custard: pour the milk into a saucepan. Slice the vanilla pod in half lengthways, scrape out the seeds with the point of a knife then add them, together with the pod, to the milk. Bring to the boil, then immediately remove from the heat and leave the vanilla to infuse.
Beat together the caster sugar, egg yolks and cornflour, then pour in the milk and mix thoroughly, removing the empty vanilla pod. Wipe the saucepan, then pour in the custard and warm over a moderate heat, stirring almost continuously, till the sauce feels thick and heavy on the spoon. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Chop the rhubarb into short, cork-length pieces, place them in a shallow pan, add the caster sugar and orange juice then leave to cook over a low heat for 10 minutes or until they are soft, but still hold their shape. If you prefer, you can bake them.
Roll out the pastry to a rectangle approximately 40cm in length and 30cm wide, turning it with the longest side towards you. Taking the right-hand edge, roll the pastry up to form a short, tight roll, then slice into 12 discs. Place each piece of pastry on the work surface and press or roll out, using a little flour if necessary, so they will neatly cover the base and sides of each of the buns tins.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Line the bun tins with the pastry, then fill each with a square of greaseproof paper and baking beans or with a ball of crumpled kitchen foil and bake for 12-15 minutes till the pastry is dry and lightly crisp. Lower the oven heat to 160C/gas mark 3.
Remove the paper and beans or foil, fill each case with custard then add 2 or 3 pieces of cooked rhubarb to each. Return the tarts to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes till the custard is lightly set. Remove from the heat, leave to settle for a few minutes then carefully remove from the tins with a palette knife, spoon a tablespoon of rhubarb syrup over each and leave to cool.
Salted caramel and panettone sundae
Salted caramel and panettone sundae.. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for Observer Food Monthly
Sticky, salty and sweet. An indulgence of the first order.
For the sauce
light muscovado 50g
double cream 125ml
vanilla extract a few drops
sea salt flakes ½ to 1 tsp
For the toast
vanilla ice-cream 2-4 balls
Make the caramel sauce: Put the sugar and cream in a small saucepan, add the vanilla extract and sea salt, and bring to the boil, then turn off and remove from the heat.
Cut the panettone into slices, then toast till lightly golden on both sides. Dip the panettone into the caramel sauce, then divide between two plates. Place a ball of ice-cream, or two if you wish, on each piece of toast, trickle over any caramel sauce that hasn't been soaked up by the panettone and serve.
Mango in muscat
Mango in muscat. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for Observer Food Monthly
This will leave you with half a half-bottle of chilled sweet wine: no bad thing. I like these served very cold with the friands below.
moderately priced sweet muscat 2 glasses
Peel the mangoes and remove the flesh from the stone in the thickest pieces you can. Cut the flesh into large chunks and put in a freezer-proof container, even a zip-lock bag will do.
Pour the muscat in with the mango then put in the freezer for an hour or two till very cold, but not frozen. Serve with the poppy seed cakes below.
Poppy seed and lemon friands
You can also make smaller, thinner versions using Madeleine tins, which will yield 16 and require a slightly shorter cooking time. I took mine out at 9 minutes and they were perfect.
plain flour 50g
icing sugar 180g
ground almonds 100g
grated zest of a lemon
poppy seeds 3 tbsp
egg whites 5
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Lightly butter 12 shallow bun tins.
Melt the butter in a small pan and set aside. Sieve the flour and the icing sugar into a wide mixing bowl. Add the ground almonds and the lemon zest. Stir in the poppy seeds.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites till foamy. They should be quite sloppy and incapable of standing in peaks.
Shape a shallow well in the centre of the flour and sugar mixture then pour in the egg whites and the melted, but not hot, butter. Mix gently, making certain there are no floating pieces of egg white foam, then spoon into the buttered tins.
Bake for 12 minutes, remove from the oven, then leave to settle before carefully removing from the tins with a palette knife.
Strawberries with saffron cream. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for Observer Food Monthly