Food & Drink

The Cowgirl Chef’s summer desserts go lighter

A few months ago, I was pretty sick. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I thought was a cold was probably the flu all along, and then it became an awful bronchitis that wouldn’t leave. I gave up coffee for thyme tea. I ate soup and drank smoothies, mostly. Weeks passed.

The funny thing is I naturally stopped craving sugary things like cookies, my go-to daily afternoon snack. I stopped buying ice cream and cut out nearly all dairy. I just wanted to feel better — and after nearly three months, I finally did.

But an even funnier thing happened that I hadn’t anticipated. After the coughing was finally gone and I could breathe again, I no longer wanted to eat sweets every day — and when I had something sweet, I didn’t eat as much of it as I had before.

Big change, people. Tectonic-size shift. That monkey, gone. Off my back.

Which may sound odd since this column is about desserts, but here’s the deal: I’m now trying to find ways to eat slightly lighter sweets — made with less sugar, or sugar that’s not refined, and in some cases without gluten (because a friend of mine simply cannot eat it, and I’m trying to design recipes she can make and not feel deprived).

Or I just go for it and make recipes the usual way and try to use a little restraint, and not eat half of an entire cake and call it dinner because it was made with yogurt and therefore part of the Mediterranean diet and good for me somehow.

I have entered unknown territory. Moderation, I think it’s called.

It’s a weird place for someone who’s always been all-or-nothing, but I’m slowly getting used to it. Not cutting out, but just cutting back.

I still love baking, from cookies and cakes to fruity pies and tarts, and I’m not planning to stop — but I do like that I can once again fit into my skinny jeans.

To celebrate, I’m sharing four great dessert recipes that are perfect for late spring/early summer gatherings— all easy to make, and even easier to share with friends.

Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25).; @cowgirlchef.

Dark chocolate sorbet
Ellise Pierce

Dark chocolate sorbet

Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup sugar
  •  1/4 cup semi- or bittersweet chocolate (chunks or chips)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Whisk together all of the ingredients along with 4 cups of water in a saucepan over medium heat. When the sugar melts, in 3 to 5 minutes, turn off the heat and let the chocolate liquid cool completely.

2. Pour into a shallow pan and put in the freezer. Check on it every half-hour at first, and when ice crystals begin to form along the sides, use a fork to gently scrape them inward to the middle. Every 15 minutes or so, scrape back the ice. The entire process will take about 2 hours, or a bit more depending on the temperature of your freezer. When the mixture is firm but still soft, it’s ready. Serve right away.

Note: If the sorbet freezes too quickly and you’ve got too much of a solid mass, bring to room temperature and, as it thaws, scrape back the ice with your fork. You’re working in reverse, but it should turn out fine.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 6: 232 calories, 4 grams fat, 46 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, no cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 16 percent of calories from fat.

Blackberry-Maple Crisp
Make this gluten-free blackberry-maple crisp once, and you’ll earmark it for the entire summer. Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Blackberry and maple crisp

Makes 6 to 8 servings

For the filling:

  • 16 ounces blackberries (you can use frozen)
  •  3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

For gluten-free crisp topping:

  • 1  1/3 cups oatmeal (quick)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch sea salt

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Put one-fourth of the blackberries in a skillet (I used a 10-inch cast-iron) along with maple syrup, cornstarch and lemon juice over medium heat. Stir and let cook until the blackberries have released some of their juices and you have a thickish mixture. Turn off the heat and fold in remaining blackberries.

3. Make the topping: Stir all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. (You may make this in advance and keep in the fridge or freezer.) Break off small clumps and scatter all over the top of the blackberries. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until the crispy bits are browned and the blackberries are bubbling up all around. Serve while warm, or let cool and serve at room temperature.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 6: 649 calories, 34 grams fat, 80 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein, no cholesterol, 32 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 45 percent of calories from fat.

Meringue cake with strawber
Ellise Pierce

Meringue cake with strawberries

Makes 8 to 10 servings

For the cake:

  • 4 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar

For the whipped-cream layer:

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 16 ounces organic strawberries, hulled and sliced

1. Heat oven to 180 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put egg whites and a pinch of salt in mixer bowl fitted with whisk attachment. Turn on medium-high for a minute or two. As the whites start to become foamy, with the mixer still running, add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase speed to high and mix until the egg whites hold stiff, glossy peaks.

3. Sift cornstarch over the egg whites. Add vanilla and vinegar and gently fold in with a spatula. Pour onto the parchment, making a large circle about 10 inches in diameter. Bake on bottom rack of oven for 1  1/2 to 2 hours, or until slightly firm to the touch (it’ll harden when it cools).

4. When the meringue has cooled, make the whipped cream: Put whipping cream, sugar and vanilla in mixing bowl with a whisk attachment and whip until you have a semi-firm whipped cream. Spread over the meringue and top with strawberries.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 8: 235 calories, 11 grams fat, 32 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 41 milligrams cholesterol, 54 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 42 percent of calories from fat.

Lemon Oatmeal Sablés
Light, citrusy lemon oatmeal sables have all the great texture of the classic French cookie, but without the butter or flour. Ellise Pierce Special to the Star-Telegram

Lemon oatmeal sables

Makes 2  1/2 dozen

A riff on the French butter cookie, the sable — which means sandy — these are made without dairy or flour, making them gluten-free and vegan, but with all of the great sandy texture of the classic cookie.

  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 2 cups oatmeal (quick)
  •  1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil

1. Rub lemon zest in sugar in a mixer bowl to release oils.

2. Add almond flour, oatmeal, salt and baking soda and combine. Mix in coconut oil until the mixture becomes lumpy but will stick together when you pinch it with your fingers. Divide dough into two logs, about 10 inches. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm.

3. To bake the cookies, heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice logs into  1/4 -inch pieces and carefully place on baking sheet 1 inch apart (they don’t spread much, if at all). Bake 10 minutes or until the bottoms just begin to turn slightly brown — don’t worry if they don’t brown on top; they’re not meant to change color. Let cool on baking sheet for 15 minutes, then carefully put them on a baking rack. Let cool for at least an hour.

Nutritional analysis per cookie: 105 calories, 5 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, no cholesterol, 58 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 43 percent of calories from fat.