Dinner is over, the grill is still warm, and you have a craving for something sweet. What can you improvise, outside and over a fire, besides banana boats and s'mores? If you have half a loaf of day-old crusty bread, you can make bruschetta.
Wait a second, I hear you say. Isn't bruschetta like garlic bread but with chopped tomatoes on top? Well, yes, that is one type of bruschetta. But the name, which comes from the Italian verb brusciare, or to burn, simply means toast. As a matter of fact, the chemical reaction that occurs when bread is toasted (called the Maillard reaction, you'll remember if you were paying attention to your high school chemistry teacher) involves the transformation of starch into simple sugar, resulting in a deliciously caramelized flavor and aroma.
So bruschetta makes perfect sense for dessert. And just as Americans with a sweet tooth turn toast into a treat by sprinkling it with cinnamon sugar, Italians use day-old bread to make rustic little grilled chocolate, cheese and fruit tarts. You can, too.
For best results, start with leftovers of an artisan loaf. (Flimsy slices of supermarket sandwich bread will turn to dust on the grill.) Before grilling, brush both sides of the slices with olive oil or melted butter. Not only will this add flavor, but it will promote caramelization. And don't forget to clean your grill grids well before making dessert, so your sweet bruschetta doesn't have a hint of barbecue sauce.
To finish, raid your fridge and pantry. You could top your grilled bread with a little chocolate, which will get soft and melty. Creamy, mild cheeses (goat cheese, cream cheese, mascarpone) also are good, combined with fruit and sprinkled with a little turbinado sugar or drizzled with honey or maple syrup. Best-quality marmalade or jam also can be used to help fruit adhere to grilled bread. Here are a few combinations to get you started:
Grilled cinnamon toast Brush slices of country bread with butter; grill until one side is golden, flip, sprinkle grilled sides with cinnamon sugar and continue to grill until second side is toasted.
Cinnamon-sugar and banana toast Just add sliced bananas to grilled cinnamon toast. Nice on a long, skinny baguette.
S'mores bruschetta Toast crusty whole-wheat bread (graham crackers originally were made with whole wheat), brush with melted butter, slather on marshmallow cream, top with a few squares of chocolate and return to the grill for 30 seconds to let the chocolate and marshmallow cream soften.
Nutella and Maldon sea salt bruschetta Brush bread with olive oil, grill, turning once, until both sides are golden, slather with Nutella and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Or you could substitute dulce de leche for the Nutella, for sea salt and caramel bruschetta.
White chocolate and blueberry bruschetta Grill buttered bread, let some chopped white chocolate get soft on top and then sprinkle with berries. Good on white bread, great on slices of a sunflower or hazelnut loaf.
Goat cheese, sweetened strawberries, and balsamic vinegar Brush bread with olive oil, toast on both sides, top with goat cheese, macerated strawberries, a drizzle of vinegar and a few grinds of black pepper.
Greek yogurt, figs and honey bruschetta Try this combination on semolina bread with raisins and fennel.
SWEET BRUSCHETTA WITH PEACHES
Combining cream cheese, sour cream and heavy cream will give you a mixture with a taste and consistency similar to Italian mascarpone, which is expensive and can be hard to find.
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices crusty country bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 peaches, pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts or pistachios
1. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high. Combine cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream and vanilla. Brush bread on both sides with oil.
2. Clean grill grids thoroughly with a wire brush. Grill bread slices until bottoms are golden and marked by the grill, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn, sprinkle with salt, and grill another minute or two. Transfer to a serving platter.
3. Spread cream cheese mixture over bread slices. Arrange sliced peaches on top of cheese. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with nuts. Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.