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Favorite summer fruit desserts made lighter.

What makes a summer dessert different from any old dessert? Usually, dessert recipes for summer are all about fruit -- think of strawberry shortcake and peach pie. After all, ripe and ready fruits come a-calling all summer long, from berries and cherries to tree fruits: peaches, plums, pears, and apricots.

Since I grew up in California, a lot of my own summer dessert memories revolve around the strawberry. My mom made a mean strawberry cheesecake. And I remember whipping up a couple of batches of strawberry shortcake every July, starting when I was old enough to hold a pastry cutter. My husband fondly remembers fruit crisps a la mode being served in his kitchen on warm summer nights.

Fruit desserts usually involve pastry, streusel topping, biscuits, or batters. They're called everything from crisps and cobblers to crumbles and buckles. From what I can tell, a crumble looks like a crisp, with crumb topping featuring the likes of sugar, oats, flour, butter, and nuts. A buckle, meanwhile, seems to be a fruit filled cake with a crumb topping.

No matter which fabulous summer dessert you're whipping up, keep these tips in mind to trim some calories and boost the fiber and nutrients:

  • You can usually use less sugar in the fruit portion than the recipe says. Start by using 1/4 or 1/3 cup less per cup of sugar the recipe calls for.
  • If a recipe calls for both white sugar and brown sugar, cut back on the white sugar first. The brown sugar usually adds extra color and flavor to the dessert.
  • Replace half the white flour called for with whole-wheat flour. Whether you're making a piecrust or biscuits, this 50/50 rule of thumb usually works.
  • The fat ingredient can usually be cut back by 1/4 to 1/3. You can substitute another, less fatty ingredients, to make up the difference in moisture. Try light cream cheese, low-fat buttermilk, or fat-free sour cream.
  • If the recipe calls for melted butter or shortening, you can often switch to canola oil instead, and use a little less than called for.
  • Start collecting recipes for summer desserts, like pie crust, that call for canola oil or vegetable oil instead of shortening or butter. I know they're out there, because I've developed some of them.
  • When a dessert recipe for summer calls for half-and-half, use fat-free half-and-half or whole or low-fat milk instead.
  • If you're serving a summer dessert a la mode, try to find a light ice cream that still tastes great but has less fat and calories per serving than most. You can usually find a wonderful light vanilla ice cream with 100 calories and 3 or 4 grams of fat per half-cup serving.

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