Showstopper summer dessert ideas for the perfect garden party

Finally, summer is here, which means garden parties at the ready and a range of showstopper summer dessert ideas for inspiration. From traditional summer classics like trifles and panna cottas with a creative twist, to zingy lemon possets frozen into a hollowed-out lemon, these crowd-pleasers are bound to be the centrepiece of your summer tablescape.

Lemon possets

There’s not much easier when it comes to a refreshing, showstopper summer dessert idea than a lemon posset – it only uses three ingredients after all. James Martin has one of the best recipes around, using 600ml of double cream, 150g of caster sugar and two large lemons (zest and juice only). He says to “place the double cream and the sugar into a large pan over a low heat and bring to the boil slowly. Boil for three minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.”

Then you just add the lemon juice and zest and whisk well. You could pour the mixture into serving glasses, but you could also use hollowed-out lemons (cut a slice off the bottom if you’re doing this, so it has a flat surface to stand on). Then refrigerate for three hours.

Laura Jackson also does a great version with clementines. James Martin serves his with a side of little lemon shortbreads.

Lemon possets are the perfect way to enjoy a refreshing summer dessert
Image credit: Wayfair

Use edible flowers on your icing

With the rise of edimental gardens – ones which are both edible and ornamental – edible flowers are on the rise. They look fabulous adorning an iced cake in the middle of your garden party tablescape. Plus, there’s a more comprehensive list of which flowers you can use than you might have imagined.

If you’re looking at growing your own, She Grows Veg is a heirloom seed company with a beautiful array of options. Try the viola brushstrokes in shades of purple and yellow (She Grows Veg recommend them in butters and summer rolls, or used to decorate cakes and pavlovas). There’s edible dahlia bishop’s children, with their vivid pink, corals and orange, gorgeous giant black pansies, and nasturtiums ranging from bloody Mary to peach melba and purple emperor.

Use edible flowers to do the talking on a showstopper cake for a summer garden party
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Invest in an ice cream maker

When the mercury tips, ice cream, sorbets and gelatos are a crowd pleaser. Making your own ice cream is actually super easy, and with many of the ice cream makers on the market you can pre-freeze the bowl the night before, so when it comes to the party, you can churn the ice cream fresh in around 30 minutes. Make sure you measure up your freezer drawer before you choose one, they can be on the bulky side, but are absolutely worth it.

Lakeland do a great range of pre-freeze ice cream makers, which have a capacity of 1.8 litres and digital display to count the churn time.

If you’re more of a gelato fan, then the Gelato Magimix works a treat. Traditional gelato is denser than ice cream (gelato is typically made with milk, sugar and often a small amount of cream, while ice cream is made with a base of cream, milk, sugar and often egg yolks).

The gelato setting of the Magimix uses a churning programme that has 10 minutes on and then a four-minute rest to incorporate less air. There are ice cream and granita settings as well.

Try an ice cream maker as a quick and easy way for a showstopper dessert idea
Image credit: Quiet Mark

Mille crêpe cake

For a showstopper summer dessert idea for a centrepiece, a mille crêpe cake (or a gâteau mille crêpes) is a good one to try. Mille (meaning a thousand in French), is the many layers of crepes that make up the cake, although there are typically 20 delicate layers not a thousand. Each layer is filled with a light pastry cream.

For riffs on the theme of a mille crêpe cake, Lady M has plenty of inspiration like the green tea mille crêpe, lavender matcha crepes, salted caramel, or tiramisu. Keep it chilled until the moment it’s ready to serve.

For a more rustic version, there’s a lemon drizzle recipe to try with layers of sweet crepes and a zingy citrus lemon and cream filling.

A crepe cake will plenty of layers will impress your guests at a summer garden party
Image credit: Pexels/ Terencekoh88

Strawberry eton-mess cake

If you don’t fancy faffing around in the kitchen but still want a showstopper summer dessert idea for a garden party, sister-run Cutter & Squidge are on hand to help. With a Soho-based permanent shop and nationwide delivery (they also sell in Harrods and Selfridges), you can order their hand-decorated bakes, which range from the strawberry eat-on-mess cake (pictured) with layers of vanilla sponge, strawberry buttercream, hand-made strawberry jam, vanilla custards and light meringue to the zesty yuzu mango cake.

There’s also a five-tier raspberry ripple cake, a classic Victoria sponge cake, a pretty vegan blueberry and lemon cheesecake with a crown of petals, candied lemon and fruits, and a huge selection of chocolate treats. From the wheat-free, double-chocolate salted caramel cake to the glossy sea-salted caramel chocolate heaven cake with chocolate sauce and a chocolate crumb.

The strawberry-eat-on-mess-cake is a treat for a summer dessert tea party
Image credit: Cutter and Squidge

Try a crowd-pleasing trifle

The earliest iteration of a trifle first appeared in Thomas Dawson’s 16th Century cookbook as a concoction of cream, sugar, ginger and rosewater, and it was served warm not cold. Over the years, it’s had many transformations to become what it is today. Which is a whimsical marvel of a sponge (or ladyfinger) base, usually soaked in sherry, with a fresh fruit layer (strawberries work a treat for a summer garden party), followed by a thick layer of custard and finally, a generous amount of whipped cream.

Mary Berry does a brilliant version with a Swiss roll base (you could even cheat and buy one), with whipped cream, toasted flaked almonds and cherries on top.

A classic crowd pleaser is a trifle is a showstopper summer dessert
Image credit: Pexels/Marcelo Verfe

Showstopper burnt Basque cheesecakes

For cheesecake fans – and who isn’t? – the burnt Basque cheesecake is a total winner. With its distinct crustless, smooth creamy filling and caramelised almost burnt-looking top, the Basque cheesecake is absolutely delicious.

The brainchild of San Sebastián chef Santiago Rivera, who created the dish in the 90s in his restaurant La Viña, has a big fan in Nigella. She has created the perfect riff on the Spanish classic with her burnt Basque cheesecake with liquorice sauce from her cookbook Eat, Cook, Repeat, which she describes as “easy to make, luscious to eat, this crustless cheesecake — soft under its scorched tortoiseshell top — is a total joy”. For non-liquorice fans, Nigella says you could switch it out for rhubarb compote or berries.

A Basque cheesecake is a wonderful is a must showstopper dessert for cheesecake lovers
Image credit: Pexels/ Kezia Lynn

Personalised panna cotta

Panna cotta, which means “cooked cream” in Italian, is a great light and elegant no-bake summer dessert to bring to a garden party. Similar to a posset, the variation is that it uses (well-dissolved) gelatin not citrus to give its firm but smooth texture, with a slight wobble. To get the best results, make sure you don’t leave the cream mixture to boil, as that can change the texture, and don’t take it out the fridge too early, as it needs plenty of time to set.

There are a ton of simple twists you can add to the traditional dish from James Martin’s roasted rhubarb panna cotta, to Gennaro Contaldo’s limoncello-flavoured panna cotta with fresh strawberry sauce, to Mary Berry’s chocolate and orange panna cotta.

Decorate a classic panna cotta to give an eye-catching design
Image credit: Pexels/ Nadin Sh

Individual meringue nests

For a total cheat’s way to a showstopper summer dessert, make these sweet individual pavlova nests. A sort of deconstructed eton mess or pavlova, you can buy supermarket meringue nests, fill them with freshly whipped cream, top with sliced strawberries, mint leaves and dust them with sieved icing sugar.

If you do want to make your own mini pavlova nests, Nigella has a great recipe, which she tops with everything from redcurrants to pomegranate.

Tiny individual meringues are an easy to make showstopper dessert you can cheat with
Image credit: Pexels / Filirovsk