Before the summer is out, we will slather everything from chicken breast to chili peppers with barbecue sauce. Neither salmon nor spud will be safe from the threat of our roaring charcoal. But when it comes to dessert, most of us will snuff out the fire and head inside.
This is a shame, for the dying embers of a fire are just the thing for warming a fruit compote or toasting a slice of pound cake. A chocolate fondue can melt lazily over leftover coals -- while we finish the main course -- and peaches or cherries glazed with honey and rum will blend in an envelope of foil until they're ready to gild a wedge of shortbread or sponge cake.
Any fruit that can be cooked can benefit from a turn on the grill. The only requirement is that they be large enough to balance on the rungs of a grilling rack without falling through.
Dense, hard, fiber fruits, like apples and pears, must be sliced no wider than a half-inch thick, so that they heat through in the time it takes for them to brown. Softer fruits like bananas or peaches should be sliced thicker to help maintain their shape during grilling. Small fruits or very delicate ones should be protected with a wrapper of foil.
Grilling is a harsh dehydrating cooking method, which requires ingredients to be either high in fat, or moistened with fat before and during heating.
Because almost all fruits are low in fat, it is necessary to protect them with sauce to keep them from scorching and drying out. Typically a marinade, containing nut oil or melted butter, is used to coat them before grilling and to baste it periodically during cooking. In addition, sweeteners, citrus juice, liquor or vanilla can be added to the sauce to help flavor the fruit.
Another way of adding flavor is to combine ingredients in a foil pouch that's placed directly on the coals. Toss sliced apricots with shreds of candied ginger, or soaked dried fruit with cinnamon sticks and clove. Wrap up a banana with juliénned orange zest and a vanilla bean, or cherries with chocolate chips.
Plain sturdy cakes, such as pound cakes and shortcakes, are wonderful when brushed with a bit of butter and toasted over a grill. Serve them with ice-cream, fruit or chocolate sauce.
But be careful when grilling cakes or other items that are high in sugar. They scorch very easily. Make sure that the fire has died down before starting, and be ready to turn pieces frequently.
Unfortunately, timing directions for grilled items can only be approximated. Even though many grills have a thermostat, exact temperatures are impossible to control. Fires can flare up or die away without warning, so it is imperative to check foods regularly. It's more important that the food be done through and properly browned than it is that it sit over the heat for the prescribed time.
Do not allow the fire to go uncontrolled. Though some amount of scorching is unavoidable over an open flame, it's never desirable. To ensure an even doneness, turn the food frequently and move it away from flare-ups. It's also helpful to keep a spray bottle of water by the grill to douse any flames immediately.
Grilled Pound Cake With Honey-Butter
1/4 lb. unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsps. honey
6 slices pound cake
5 Tbsps. melted butter
6 small bunches grapes
2 navel oranges, peeled and separated into sections
Beat half the butter with the honey until well-blended. Set aside. Melt the remaining butter, and brush the slices of pound cake lightly on both sides.
Grill six inches from a medium fire until lightly browned, about 90 seconds per side.
Serve with the honey-butter, and surround with grapes and oranges.
Makes 6 servings.
Grilled Caramelized Apples-and-Cheese
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp. apple-cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. walnut oil
2 large Granny Smith apples
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
8 oz. cheddar, Camembert or Brie, cut in wedges
Mix the honey with the vinegar and oil in a bowl.
Core the apples and cut off the ends. Slice into 1/2 -inch-thick rounds and place in the honey mixture so that all the slices are completely coated. Allow the apples to rest in the honey mixture for 10 minutes.
Grease a rack over a moderately hot fire with the oil. Grill the apple slices for 4 to 5 minutes per side, turning frequently, until golden brown.
Serve with wedges of cheese.
Makes 4 servings.
Bananas Grilled With Vanilla and Candied Ginger
4 peeled bananas
1 vanilla bean, cut in quarters
2 tsps. chopped candied ginger
4 tsps. butter
4 tsps. honey
1/4 cup orange liqueur
Place each banana on an 8-inch piece of foil.
Place a quarter of the vanilla bean and 1/2 teaspoon of the ginger next to each banana.
On top of each, place a teaspoon of butter, a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon of orange liqueur. Wrap each piece of foil around its contents, sealing tightly.
Cook for 5 minutes on a rack placed four inches from a hot fire.
Serve in foil or on top of ice-cream.
Makes 4 servings.
Grilled Peach Compote
1/4 cup dark raisins
1/4 cup golden raisins
8 dried apricots, whole
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup brandy
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 peaches, pitted and sliced
2 Tbsps. honey
1 Tbsp. minced candied ginger
Tbsp. butter, melted
Soak the raisins and apricots in the hot water for 30 minutes.
Toss with the brandy and vanilla.
On a work surface, criss-cross two large sheets of aluminum foil to form a large "X." Mound the peach slices in the center. Drizzle with the honey, ginger and melted butter.
Fold the sides of the foil up to form walls, and pour the dried fruit and its liquid over the peaches. Wrap the flaps of foil over top, sealing in the fruit and liquid completely.
Top with another large sheet of foil and wrap around the package, which will completely seal the fruit on both the top and bottom.
Place the package directly onto a bed of hot coals. Cook on both sides for 5 minutes each.
Remove from the coals and serve alone, or over ice-cream or plain cake.
Serves 4 to 6.
Chocolate Fondue on a Grill
1/2 cup light cream
1 Tbsp. instant coffee powder
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup dark rum, brandy or fruit liqueur
1 pint strawberries, washed and dried
2 small bananas, cut in thick slices
1 navel orange, peeled and separated into sections
4 slices pound cake, cut in fingers or 8 butter cookies
8 pretzel sticks
Over a low charcoal fire, put a small saucepan containing the cream and coffee powder; bring to a simmer.
Move the pot to the edge of the fire and whisk in the chocolate. Stir in the rum, brandy or liqueur, and keep the chocolate warm by the side of the fire.
Serve remaining ingredients on a large plate accompanied by long skewers, and allow each guest to pick up his or her choice of fruits, cakes and pretzels for dipping.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and author.