“I want to eat as many peaches and berries as possible while they’re still in season. What are some great late-summer desserts?”
Despite the barrage of back-to-school ads and the sudden unnerving presence of snow shovels at my local Costco, it is not too late to take advantage of summer’s sweet bounty. In fact, there’s such a glut of berries and other fruit at farmers markets, you won’t have to break the bank in order to put a gorgeous raspberry pie, for instance, on the table after dinner. If your luck holds, there will be leftovers for breakfast the next morning.
Purists claim that an all-butter piecrust is not quite as flaky as one that combines butter and shortening, but it’s easier to work with, and the flavor is outstanding. This recipe from Gourmet is basic, versatile, and pretty darn flaky. (It’s been my go-to piecrust for years now.) With it at the ready, a jumbleberry pie—one of the great desserts of summer—is within the grasp of anyone with access to a farm stand and an oven.
A few pie tips:
• When measuring out the flour, use a dry-measuring cup. (They’re the nesting metal or plastic ones.) Spoon the flour into the cup, slightly mounding it, and level it off with a knife blade. If you tap the cup on the counter or shake it to level instead, it will compact the flour, thus increasing the amount the cup holds—and upsetting the overall ratio of flour to fat.
• Make sure your butter and water are cold, and if working in the fat takes you longer than you imagined, put the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes to give it and you time to chill out. Don’t be shy about whizzing up dough in a food processor—if your grandmother would have had one, she’d have used it. Just be careful not to overwork it; you’ll overdevelop the gluten and end up with a crust that’s tough, not tender.
• Once you gather the dough and shape it into a disk, it should be neither wet nor dry, but malleable. Chill the disk for a good hour, to allow the gluten to relax and the fat to firm up. At this point, the dough will keep in the fridge for two days. You can also wrap it well in plastic and freeze it for future use.
• When rolling out a piecrust, roll from the center outward, and give the dough a quarter turn each time.
• Resist the urge to serve a fruit pie warm. If you let it cool completely—at least three hours or longer—the fruit will “set up” and reabsorb as much juice as it can, resulting in neater slices and juicier pie. What’s not to love?
Cobblers, Buckles, and Crisps
These homey, old-fashioned desserts conjure up childhood summers, either real or imagined. A cobbler is basically a fruit potpie with a thick biscuit crust, which can either be left whole or cut into rounds, or cobbles. In a buckle, the fruit is usually combined with (or sprinkled over) a cake batter, which will collapse, or buckle, as it bakes. The fruit in a crisp is topped with a streusel-type mixture of butter, sugar, flour, and usually oatmeal or nuts that’s rubbed together (or whizzed in the food processor). The trick with all of them is an ideal proportion of topping to filling.
Here are some recipes that will take you through the next few weeks:
The fresh, tart flavor of a traditional English summer pudding—fruit incased in syrup-soaked white bread—is as noteworthy as its brilliant deep-red color. This is a showstopper this time of year, when the berries are full to bursting with juices. Here’s a recipe by my good friend Rick Ellis. He made his pud into a birthday cake for our friend Simon, but the only embellishment yours truly needs is heavy cream (not whipped) for pouring over. Summer pudding, by the way, was a favorite in 18th-century health spas; the bread was viewed as a substitute for butter-rich pastry.
A fool—basically, fruit purée folded into whipped cream—is another one of England’s great contributions to the summer dessert realm, and it has the advantage of being gluten free. Gooseberry and rhubarb are classic flavorings, as is raspberry. Tropical selections such as passion fruit and mango are pretty great too. A fool makes a terrific party dessert. The example below serves eight people and can be made the morning of. If the juices begin to separate out of the whipped cream, gently fold them back in.
Purée 1 pound of fresh (or thawed frozen) raspberries in a blender and strain, discarding the solids. Whisk with sugar to taste (start with about 1/2 cup) in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Beat 2½ cups very cold heavy cream with about 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until it holds stiff peaks. Gently but thoroughly fold fruit purée into the whipped cream, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Roasted peaches or nectarines
Peaches and nectarines resemble each other very closely and have often been crossbred over the years, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same. The nectarine is a subspecies of the peach; one differing gene makes it smooth-skinned and the peach fuzzy. Although one can be substituted for the other with ease in any dessert, their flavors aren’t identical. In general, nectarines have a sharper, cleaner, more intense taste. I found out why some years back from Al Courchesne, at Frog Hollow Farm, in Brentwood, California. According to “Farmer Al,” who produces some of the most delicious peaches and nectarines on the planet, the tannins in the skins of nectarines contribute to their tang; peaches have fewer tannins, so they are sweeter. The texture is a bit different as well—nectarines are firmer and meatier than peaches are. Roasting these stone fruits is almost embarrassingly simple, and the end result is luxurious and minimalist, all at the same time.
Roasted peaches or nectarines
Just before dinner, put whole peaches or nectarines in a baking dish and roll them around in lots of olive oil, or rub them with plenty of butter. Scatter a generous amount of sugar over them, or gently dredge them in a bowl of sugar, patting to adhere. Then tuck the baking dish into a preheated 375° to 400° oven and enjoy supper. In about 30 minutes or so, when everyone notices the aroma, they’ll be done. There will be juice in the bottom of the pan, and the skins of the fruit will have split open a bit. The goal is a crisp, sugared exterior (without any charring) and, in contrast, an interior that is almost molten in texture. To serve, cut the fruit in half, remove the pits, and give everyone two halves and perhaps a little dollop of crème fraîche. And you will have done practically no work at all.