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Sweet summer grilling

Local chefs share their recipes for seasonal grilled desserts

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Tin Pot Creamery co-owner Becky Sunseri cooks Bing cherries in foil packets on the grill. Photo by Natalia Nazarova.

Luscious stone fruits and other produce shine at the peak of their season in summer months. As temperatures rise, local chefs highlight summer's harvest by taking their dessert preparation outdoors, onto the grill.

This Fourth of July (and for the rest of the summer), take their lead and think beyond burgers and grilled veggies: The grill produces equally delicious results for dessert.

Becky Sunseri, co-founder and pastry chef of Tin Pot Creamery in Los Altos, Palo Alto and San Mateo

Becky Sunseri of ice cream shop Tin Pot Creamery uses the grill to amplify the flavors of dark summer cherries.

Served as a topping with Tin Pot's Blackberry Jamble ice cream (blackberry jam with a pastry crumble), the recipe takes advantage of the cherry pit's almond-like essence to add more depth and complexity to the flesh of the fruit as the fruit, pits in, cooks in foil packets on the grill.

"They may not look like much at first, but when you open the packets, they are filled with the these incredibly juicy cherries that have created their own sauce," Sunseri said. "It's like magic."

Bing cherries are the best variety for grilling, she said, as they tend to be sweeter and juicier.

After grilling, Sunseri uses a cherry pitter to remove the pit, but said that the dessert can also be served with the pits still inside.

"It makes for a more adventurous dessert -- just be sure to warn people!" she said.

Although the cherry topping can be eaten on its own, Sunseri prefers to balance the flavors of the tangy cherries with sweet ice cream.

'Magic' grilled cherries

Servings: 4

4 ounces unsalted organic butter

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1/8 - 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (to taste)

2 pounds Bing cherries

Prepare grill for medium-high direct heat. Using a charcoal grill will give you the most flavor (light it with a chimney starter to avoid lighter fluid, which can impart a chemical taste) but the recipe can also be made on a gas grill.

Remove stems from the cherries, wash them and pat dry. Leave the pits in the cherries because this imparts the most flavor into the grilled fruit.

Melt the brown sugar, butter and salt together in a saucepan on the grill. Watch closely so the butter doesn't burn. Whisk the butter mixture until it comes together, remove from the heat and set aside.

Allow the butter mixture to firm up slightly before proceeding, stirring occasionally to keep the mixture emulsified, but you can use it right away if you don't want to wait.

Tear off four large sheets of aluminum foil (about 12x18 inch rectangles) and four sheets of parchment paper that are slightly smaller than the foil. Place one piece of parchment on top of each piece of foil. Make sure to fold up the sides of the parchment before adding the cherries, to keep the cherry juices from running out of each packet.

Place 1/4 of the cherries on each piece of parchment. Divide the brown sugar mixture into fourths and put 1/4 on on top of each pile of cherries. Fold the parchment around the cherries with the seam up, leaving a little room inside the pouch just in case the fruit bubbles while cooking. If you don't leave a little room, the cherry juices may escape from the pouches.

Fold the foil around the parchment seam side up. You should have four cherry pouches. Place pouches on the grill, seam side up, for about 10 minutes until cherries are softened and juices are flowing. Closing the lid of the grill can speed this up a little bit.

Allow the pouches to cool slightly and remove pits before serving.

Brandon Poon, co-owner and chef of Srasa Kitchen, Mountain View

Inspiration for Brandon Poon was found on a humid trip to Cambodia, where his mother grew up. Poon, the co-owner and chef of Srasa Kitchen in Mountain View, happened upon a vendor serving mango sticky rice out of a hand-pushed food cart.

"It was impressive since he used a wood-fired stovetop, without any gas assist or any amenities you would find in America," Poon said. (Plus, it was 90 degrees out with 80 percent-plus humidity.)

Although mango sticky rice is a typical dessert found across Southeast Asia, there are many variations that draw on each region's resources, Poon said. Poon uses coconut cream in his version, for example, due to its availability over dairy milk, a premium resource in Cambodia. When cooking the rice, using a cheesecloth is key to help separate the rice from the rice steamer without oversaturating the grains with excess liquid, Poon said.

He dusts the mangoes with sugar before grilling to allow caramelization.

"Don't be scared of grilling your desserts," Poon said. "Grilling and the use of high heat to char your food components activates the natural sugars and adds complexity and texture to the ingredients."

Coconut sticky rice with grilled mango

Servings: 4

1 cup sweet rice (glutinous rice)

14 ounce can coconut cream

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon lime zest

2 ripe mangoes

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes

3-4 sprigs fresh mint (optional)

In a large bowl, soak the rice with water, covering with at least 1-2 inches over the top of the rice. Let soak for at least 1.5 hours. If time is available, it is highly recommended to let it soak overnight.

Drain the rice. Set up a steamer lined with cheesecloth to cook the rice. Assemble the rice over the cheesecloth in an even layer to allow for even cooking. Cook over high heat for 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender.

If a rice steamer is not available, you can cook the rice in a pot on a stove top. Combine the rice with 10 ounces of water, cover and cook over medium to low heat for 15-20 minutes until rice is fully cooked and tender. Each grain should be individual from one another.

Once cooked, transfer rice to heatproof bowl to allow to slightly cool.

While rice is cooling, make the coconut cream mixture. Using a small saucepan, combine 8 ounces of coconut cream with sugar and bring to a low boil. Create a cornstarch slurry by combining 2 ounces of the hot coconut cream with the cornstarch in a separate bowl. Gently stir to fully incorporate.

Add your cornstarch slurry back into the sauce and whisk frequently. Let cook for roughly 3-5 minutes until a thick consistency is formed. Add a pinch of salt and lime zest.

Once the sauce is complete, add the mixture to the rice and gently mix to incorporate the sauce into the rice.

Grilled mango:

Heat charcoal grill to high heat. Peel, remove core and slice mango into two equal parts lengthwise. Sprinkle sugar onto the flat part of the cut mango and place over the grill to allow caramelization and char. Only cook one side.

Cook for roughly 1-2 minutes. Texture should still be firm from behind with a slightly softened half from the grill marks.

Cut into thin slices. Set aside.

To serve, mound the cooled rice onto plates and top with thin slices of mango. Drizzle the coconut cream sauce over both the mango and rice. Top with toasted sesame seeds, coconut flakes and sprigs of mint. Serve immediately.

Janina O'Leary, executive pastry chef of Bacchus Management Group

Janina O'Leary, who oversees bread, dessert and pastry at all nine of Bacchus Management Group's Bay Area restaurants, said she enjoys playing with savory elements in her desserts to strike a unique balance in flavors.

Inspired by the tangy flavors of cheesecake, the Texas native's whipped goat cheese cream with grilled peaches is one example of that, walking the line between sweet and savory with a smoky twist from the grill. Olive oil, goat cheese, thyme and sea salt also show up in this summertime dessert.

"It covers all of your bases, with something light, sweet, a little bit salty and a little bit of bitter, so it's a dessert to end your meal with a little bit of a punch, but nothing too overwhelming," O'Leary said. "It's just a nice ending."

For those who may be new to outdoor grilling, O'Leary recommends keeping the grill clean with a light brush and damp towel. Keeping the grill heat set to medium-low, paying attention to cooking times and using just-ripe fruit are crucial for this particular dessert, she said.

Grilled peaches with whipped goat cheese cream

Servings: 8

4 ripe peaches, halved and pitted

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Flaky sea salt

3 tablespoons whipped cream cheese

11 ounces goat cheese

1 lemon, zested

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Heat grill to medium high. Brush peaches with olive oil and grill cut-side down, until soft, 3-4 minutes. Flip skin-side down and grill for 3-4 minutes more. Drizzle with honey, vanilla extract and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.

Combine the goat cheese, cream cheese, lemon zest and thyme leaves in a food processor. Whip for 60-90 seconds until smooth. (This can be stored for a few days in an airtight container.)

Serve the grilled peaches over the whipped goat cheese.

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