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Fairweather sweets

These desserts can adapt to anything the weather gods throw at you

  • Molten chocolate cake.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Molten chocolate cake.

    Hot or cold desserts.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Chilled chocolate cake.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Chilled chocolate cake.

    Hot or cold desserts.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Dulce de leche topped grilled pineapple.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillry Nelson for the Monitor

    Dulce de leche topped grilled pineapple.

    Hot or cold desserts.

    Hillry Nelson for the Monitor

  • Dulce de leche with banan "soft serve."<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Dulce de leche with banan "soft serve."

    Hot or cold desserts.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Molten chocolate cake.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Chilled chocolate cake.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Dulce de leche topped grilled pineapple.<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillry Nelson for the Monitor
  • Dulce de leche with banan "soft serve."<br/><br/>Hot or cold desserts.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

The weather in early June is fickle. One moment it’s an oppressive 90 degrees, the next cloudy, drizzling and 50. Which makes planning a dinner party tricky: Opt for a barbecue and it’s bound to rain; set the table with china and silver indoors, and the soup will get cold as your guests linger on the lawn till sundown.

Here are two desserts designed to handle anything the weather gods might throw at you. The first is a rich chocolate cake that goes together in a snap and is baked in individual servings. On a cool evening, it can be served straight from the oven, tipped onto a plate and garnished with whipped cream. When guests dive in, the hot center oozes out, forming a lovely puddle of hot chocolate sauce to go with the cakey exterior.

If the weather is predicted to be sultry, the same cake can be baked ahead, popped in the refrigerator and served cold, sliced in half and filled with a pillow of whipped cream. Either way this cake is a showcase for good chocolate, so choose the best you can afford.

The second recipe is for homemade dulce de leche, a classic Latin American dessert.

Made by cooking milk, sugar, a pinch of baking soda and an optional vanilla bean very slowly, the result is a potful of delicious caramel, the perfect base for any number of desserts. Because it takes some time to make, and it keeps well in the refrigerator, it’s worth making a lot of dulce de leche at once.

You’ll find all sorts of uses for it, like filling cakes and cookies, pouring over fresh berries, even swirling into yogurt.

On a cold night, try warming it up along with a slug of rum to drizzle over hot grilled pineapple. And when the weather is steamy, try your dulce de leche swirled over faux “soft-serve” banana ice cream – frozen bananas whizzed in a food processor with a little fresh orange juice.

Hot or Cold Individual Chocolate Cakes

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus a little more for greasing the molds)

6 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chips

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

6 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon flour (plus a little more for the molds)

cocoa, powdered sugar and whipped cream for serving, if desired

You will need 6 small heatproof ramekins or custard cups (even tea cups can work – they should hold about 4 ounces each).

Grease each of the molds with butter, then coat the butter lightly but evenly with flour. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, 425 degrees if you have a convection oven.

Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each burst of microwaving, until the butter and chocolate are completely melted and the mixture is homogenous. Set aside to cool a little.

Combine the eggs, yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip with the whisk attachment until the eggs are very thick, light and fluffy. On low, add the flour and mix in well. Mix in the warm chocolate mixture until completely combined.

Divide the batter between the molds. If desired, the molds can be covered at this point and refrigerated for several hours. Bring them back to room temperature before baking.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes, turning once. The cakes will puff up and crack on top. The batter will look uncooked where it shows through the cracks – this is as it should be.

Let the cakes sit for a minute or so before turning them over gently on to individual plates. Garnish with a sprinkling of cocoa, powdered sugar and whipped cream, if desired.

If serving cold, let the cakes come to room temperature in their molds, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

When serving, run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen, then turn them out.

If desired, cut them in half. Place the bottoms on individual serving plates, cover them with whipped cream, replace the top and add another scoop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Dulce de Leche

4 generous cups sugar (2 pounds)

1 gallon whole milk (don’t use reduced fat milk)

1 vanilla bean, split in half the long way (optional)

1 teaspoon baking soda

Combine all the ingredients in a large, heavy pot, place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

Simmer the milk to reduce it, continuing to stir now and then. After a few hours, the milk will begin to caramelize and thicken. When it begins to thicken, lower the heat and stir often to prevent the mixture from scorching on the bottom. Toward the end of cooking you will need to stir constantly.

The mixture is done when golden brown and very thick.

The easiest way to tell if the dulce de leche is done, is with an instant read thermometer. It can be removed from the heat anywhere between 215 degrees (more fluid) and 225 degrees (quite thick). If you’re worried about scorching, take it off at the lower temperature.

If at any time you see bits of scorched milk coming up from the bottom of the pot, immediately pour the dulce de leche into a bowl, and do not scrape the pot. If necessary, strain and return to a clean pot to finish cooking.

Cool the dulce de leche by pouring it into a bowl and setting the bowl in a larger bowl of ice and water (be careful not to let the water get into the dulce de leche). When cooled, store in glass jars or plastic containers in the refrigerator. It will last for several weeks.

Grilled Pineapple
with Rum-laced
Dulce de Leche

1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into long pieces

neutral flavored oil

1 cup of dulce de leche

1 tablespoon dark rum (or to taste)

Heat a grill pan or grill, then brush it with the neutral oil, to prevent the pineapple from sticking.

Lay the pieces of pineapple on the grill and cook on each side until distinct grill marks show.

Meanwhile, combine the rum and dulce de leche; if desired, heat the sauce over low heat until warmed. When the pineapple is done, drizzle with the sauce and serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Banana “Soft Serve”
with Dulce de Leche

6 ripe bananas, peeled, wrapped in plastic and frozen

juice of 2 large oranges (about 2∕3 cup juice)

1 cup cold dulce de leche, divided (more if desired)

Cut the frozen bananas into chunks and place them in the bowl of a food processor (if your food processor is on the small side, you may need to do this in two batches).

Add the orange juice and 1∕2 cup of dulce de leche, then pulse until the mixture becomes smooth but is still softly frozen.

Scoop the soft serve into individual pre-chilled bowls, and drizzle with the remaining dulce de leche. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

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