Food & Home

chia dessert

No-Fuss Summer Desserts

In partnership with our friends at Maple Hill

Our favorite summer desserts all have one important thing in common: They can be made without turning on the oven. No matter how much we love the idea of summer fruit baked into pies and cobblers, preheating an oven to 375°F when it’s approaching triple-digit weather outside is a deal breaker. We’ll leave those baked confections to fall and winter.

The best summer desserts are cool and refreshing, whether they are frozen, refrigerated, or blended with ice and frozen fruit. And unfussy—do you want to make something with seventeen steps when you’re already sweating?

The Trifle Formula

One dessert we come back to again and again is the trifle. A traditional English dessert often served at Christmas might not sound like the epitome of summer ease, but the case for it is strong: A trifle is basically just custard, cake, fruit, and whipped cream beautifully layered and allowed to chill so all the flavors and textures come together—somehow becoming more than the sum of its parts in the process. It’s a simple formula that’s easy to play with.


Making homemade custard (or crème pâtissiere) can be an involved task. Instant pudding works well and is convenient, but it’s tooth-achingly sweet. Our move is to rely on our old pal the chia seed. Chia pudding is as easy as instant pudding, and we were able to make it feel more dessert-y by using high-quality milk. For this, we love Maple Hill’s new Zero Sugar organic milk. It’s whole milk, so it gives the chia pudding the rich and decadent texture of a traditional custard. And it’s ultrafiltered to remove all the sugar, so you can control the sweetness of your trifle (we sometimes add a bit of maple syrup or coconut sugar, but usually the fruit and cake provide enough sweetness).

To make the pudding a little more flavorful, we fortify the milk with freeze-dried fruit before combining it with the chia seeds. Just blitz the freeze-dried fruit and milk in a powerful blender and it adds intense flavor and color without diluting the pudding. There are so many freeze-dried fruits available. We like to match our freeze-dried and fresh fruit—so if we’re going to layer with fresh strawberries, we’ll use freeze-dried strawberries for the milk. But you can certainly mix it up.


We like classic whipped cream made from scratch, and we typically add a little vanilla. You can sweeten it, and if you’re not cooking for kids, you could also add a splash of a flavorful liqueur—cassis, framboise, Calvados, or brandy.


This is definitely one of those “store-bought is fine” moments. Pound cake, sponge cake, angel food cake—they all work. You can certainly make your own, but we did say we weren’t turning the oven on. Plus, the cake ultimately becomes soaked with pudding, cream, and fruit, so no need to be too precious about its integrity. Another idea: Use cookies. Ginger snaps and vanilla and chocolate wafers will absorb the moisture in the trifle and become tender and cakey; just let it set a bit longer in the fridge.


You can go any which way here. All kinds of berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, mulberries), pitted cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines, bananas, even supremed oranges work. For ease, we use the fruit as is, but you could macerate it by tossing with a bit of maple syrup or coconut sugar, and you could use that as an opportunity to introduce some additional flavors. Almond extract, lemon zest, cardamom, vanilla, or even a touch of rose water could add extra dimension.

How to Put Your Trifle Together

It’s riffable, customizable, and very forgiving.

Prepare the
four elements
of the trifle

  1. 1The chia pudding needs to set in the fridge for a little while, so start here: To make the fortified milk, combine about ½ cup of freeze-dried fruit with about 1½ cups of milk (we like Maple Hill Zero Sugar organic milk) in a blender and blitz until smooth. Combine the fruit milk with about ¼ cup of chia seeds and whisk well to combine. Taste, and if you want it a bit sweeter, add a couple teaspoons of maple syrup or coconut sugar. Let sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes, until thickened.

  2. 2Cut up fresh fruit. If you want to go the extra mile and macerate it with some flavorful element listed above, now is the time.

  3. 3Cut the cake into pieces—larger if you’re doing one big trifle in a glass bowl, smaller if you’re doing individual portions (8-ounce Mason jars are nice for this). At this point, you can also swipe a layer of jam onto the cake for extra flavor—we like an all-fruit jam that’s not overly sweet. If you’re using cookies, have them out and ready for when you start layering.

  4. 4Make the whipped cream. We just add heavy whipping cream to our stand mixer and beat on high until soft peaks appear, then reduce the speed of the mixer to low and gently beat in a splash of vanilla.

Assemble the trifle

  1. 1Add a layer of cake or cookies to the bottom of your vessel (jam side down, if using).

  2. 2Add a layer of chia pudding.

  3. 3Add a layer of fruit.

  4. 4Add a layer of whipped cream.

  5. 5Repeat the process until you’ve filled the dish, ending with a whipped cream layer. Then top with a few pieces of fruit for garnish. Adding something crunchy—like toasted coconut, sliced almonds, or cacao nibs—to the top is another nice addition, though again completely optional.

  6. 6Let the trifle chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours before serving.

More Cool Treats

A worthy summer project: working your way through every dessert on our list.