There are so many reasons not to serve fruit for dessert–the most important being chocolate–but we find it just a little bit harder to name you the reasons why fruit makes a great ending to a meal. Honestly, we’re sort of believers in doing things to the max, and a bowl of fruit, even a gorgeous one, can feel a little bit like a half-baked attempt at dessert, especially next to Bread Puddings, Tortes, Tarts, and Cookies.
But! Fruit is also light, which means you can stuff your guests silly on appetizers and main courses. Fruit has so much flavor itself, that many desserts featuring it are incredibly low key. Pretty much anyone can eat it–you don’t have to deprive the vegans, dairy-free folk, or low-fat dieters at your table. And it gives you a chance to eat seasonally–though of course you can deduce why this is tough during northeastern winters (can you say apples?). Here’s how to get started.
**Tips and Tricks**
Serve with dip. Perhaps the simplest way to serve fruit is in bite-sized portions with a dipping sauce on the side. Think crudité, but sweet. Start with berries and homemade whipped cream, but branch out into crazier combinations ASAP. Try banana slices with hot fudge and fluff; pineapple wedges with caramel sauce; and blackberries with minted white chocolate ganache–a deconstructed version of this tart.
Macerate. Macerating is basically a reverse-osmosis process where you place your fruit in flavored liquid, and, while marinating, the fruit swaps some of its own juices for this liquid. The liquid can be fruit juice, but most commonly it’s liqueur. Macerated fruit is great for dinner parties because you can prepare it ahead of time, clearing your mind and counter for the rest of the party’s food. Try this fantastic combination: 2 cups mixed sliced strawberries and whole raspberries; 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or Triple Sec; and 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice. Leave in the fridge for 2-3 hours. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.
Just add cake. Some of our favorite fruit desserts are berries coupled with cake. These are more substantial than plain fruit or fruit with cream, and if you’re not a cook, you can buy a simple pound cake from your favorite bakery. This Pound Cake with Strawberries and Crème Anglaise has guests making their own strawberry shortcakes–with as much crème anglaise as they can stomach. Trifles fit this mold too–try our Olive Oil Pound Cake Trifle with Raspberries.
Arrange individual portions. If your fruit dessert is simple, a small plating job can make a dish of berries and cream seem kind of fantastic. These Blueberries with Lemon Cream are utterly plain, yet eminently serve-able.
Go exotic. If you skip past the apples and the oranges, forgo the bananas and the pears, try buying off-the-beaten-track fruit, like starfruit, durian (hold your nose), fresh coconut wedges, or even kiwis. Interesting fruit offerings can exempt you from serving any accompaniment at all. Do watch the prices on these–exotic fruit can get expensive. It may not be exotic exactly, but watermelon fits this bill well too.
Cook it. Compotes distill the flavor of any fruit. You can serve Blueberry Compote as a sauce on simple tarts or cakes, or on its own. In the winter, this saucy Apple Compote is a fine ending to a hearty meal. Both are great over ice cream too; make a fruit sundae by loading ice cream (vanilla, dolce de leche, or cinnamon) with your chosen compote and some crumbled Gingersnaps or Shortbread.
Fake it. If you just plain aren’t a fruit person, make a cake in the shape of a fruit.
Bake it! Fruit can give novice bakers a leg up. Adding it to cakes, quickbreads, and tarts ensures lots of flavor and moistness, even if baking’s not your strength. Try serving warm slices of Banana-Chocolate Bread with scoops of vanilla ice cream. This Blueberry Tart is to-die-for–and you can even make it without the crust, cutting down on necessary cooking skill (double the amount of fruit and load it into a small glass baking dish. Top with the crumble and bake as instructed).