Summer is in full swing, bringing with it a happy glut of summer fruits—mounds of peaches and plums and berries ripening faster than you can eat them out of hand (though that’s not to say you shouldn’t try). To best take advantage of the abundance, delegate some to other uses.
There’s no denying the delights of eating a fresh, dripping-with-juices peach at its peak of ripeness. But slice it up, toss it with some sugar and lemon juice, and bake it in a pie crust until hot and bubbling, and it transforms into a different beast, made lush and jammy by the oven’s heat.
Or blitz it into a rich, creamy custard to churn into ice cream, and it takes on yet another expression, all of its honeyed fragrance captured in smooth, scoopable form.
Two recently released, fruit-centric cookbooks—one that plays with fire, and the other with ice—offer plenty more inspiration.
Fruits to Bake
Nicole Rucker has a thing for fruit. Now co-owner and pastry chef of Fiona bakery in Los Angeles, she first gained a following for her fruit-forward pies and other baked goods at Gjelina and Gjusta Bakery, where she previously worked; she’s also a four-time blue-ribbon winner of KCRW’s Good Food Pie Contest.
Her new cookbook, “Dappled,” is a tribute to her love of fruits in baked goods form.
“With fruit, there is a schedule you are minding,” she writes. “Upon each variety and crate that comes through the door there is a clock ticking away, whispering ‘use me, eat me, or else.’”
But she embraces that ticking clock, the sudden, short-lived abundance; her favorite part of working with fruits, she says, is “the daydreaming and planning that goes into using every last piece before it’s too late.”
Cooking and baking with them—in pies, cakes, custards, flaky pastries—is an easy and delicious way to use them up. In “Dappled,” for instance, Rucker nestles peaches under tender ricotta dumplings for a cobbler; folds strawberries into a buckle topped with a rose-hazelnut crumb; tucks apricots into a rustic galette and bakes them until they begin to caramelize; and dots raspberries and blackberries on the sugar-crusted surface of a buttermilk custard pie.
“You understand fruit in a different way by cooking or baking with it than you would just be consuming it raw,” she said. “It changes the characteristics of the fruit, it condenses the flavors. It makes it a more potent package.”
Those changes, though, require some understanding to get a handle on. Rucker points to strawberries as a good example: cooking or baking them significantly changes their texture—for better or for worse. Inadequate cooking results in soft, mushy, and slippery strawberries with little appeal; instead, Rucker advises to cook them “hard and dark,” until they’ve lost almost all their water and become drier and more concentrated.
Even among different batches of the same fruit, there’s tons of variation to account for—differences in sweetness, acidity, juiciness. Sweeter cherries will need less sugar in a pie filling; juicier peaches might need more thickener or higher cooking temperature. Taste them raw, Rucker says, and adjust accordingly.
That’s good practice in general, to make sure you’re following Rucker’s most important piece of advice: whatever you’re making, start with delicious fruits at their peak of ripeness.
Fruits to Scoop
Across the pond, meanwhile, Kitty Travers, founder of La Grotta Ices in London, has been spinning fresh, peak-season fruits into creative ice creams for over a decade.
Her new book, “La Grotta,” is a colorful collection of her recipes, including summer stunners like a dreamy peach ice cream (completely infused with the fruit, not just erratically studded with chunks or streaked with jam), and a fragrant melon and jasmine sorbet (a pairing she admits is “totally over the top”).
For Travers, ice cream is a way to capture the essence of a fruit, and then take it to the next level.
“Fruit’s lovely,” she said, “but by turning it into ice cream, you’re turning it into something sublime. You’re extracting all the flavors from the fruit, you’re getting all the aroma from the peels and the skins and the leaves, you’re balancing it with just the right amount of acidity and cream, and you’re giving it this silky, satiny-smooth texture.”
“You’re turning it into just the most delicious thing you could ever imagine—without the pips and the stones.”
To illustrate her ice cream ideal, Travers recalls a moment from Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach,” when James burrows inside the peach and is surrounded by walls of its sweet, ripe flesh. “This is what eating peach ice cream should be like—an all-encompassing flavor that surrounds you,” she writes. “Surround yourself with peach ice cream!”
Getting to that ideal, though, isn’t as simple as tossing a pile of peach slices into your ice cream machine. Travers offers a few helpful tips and techniques.
In some cases, cooking your fruits first unlocks a whole new world of flavor. Cooked apricots, for instance, become much more aromatic, and plums “undergo a kind of alchemy,” Travers writes, as cooking draws out and mellows the sharp, tannic bite from their skins. Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are also better cooked before making their way into ice cream.
Other fruits, however, do better with gentler treatment—strawberries, peaches, and nectarines fall under this category. For these, Travers macerates the raw fruit in sugar and lemon juice.
The process pulls out the flavor from the fruit and both the aroma and color from the skins (which are later strained out), Travers says, while the lemon also helps balance out the sweetness. Much like how baked sweets almost always benefit from a pinch of salt to cut through the sugar, fruit ice creams “really need a little bit of acidity … to bring the flavor out,” Travers said.
Both the macerated fruit and the ice cream base go in the fridge, separately, to chill overnight. The next day, the juicy, concentrated fruit is ready to mix into the cold, thickened custard.
Know Their Strengths
Some fruits are also inherently easier to work with than others. Fruits that are high in natural pectin and lower in water—such as blueberries and jammy gooseberries—easily lend great thickness and density to ice cream.
Travers suggests adding a few high-pectin blueberries to more watery fruit ice cream and sorbet bases, to improve their texture; she also borrows pectin from citrus peels, such as in her “strawberry salad” ice cream, which blitzes together a mix of macerated strawberries, whole Amalfi lemons, and whole oranges for a “full-bodied, elastic-textured ice cream” (with a flavor reminiscent of pink Starburst candies, she adds).
In general, for the best results, take a page from Travers’ guiding philosophy and follow the seasons.
That way, “you don’t even have to look very hard [for inspiration], because it’s right there,” she said. “At the moment there’s stuff growing everywhere. It’s a dream time for ice cream-making.”