Monday, July 15, 2013

Baking with Fresh Summer Fruits

Summertime brings gardens and farmer's markets full of fresh local fruits. But how to use all those different kinds of fruits in baking? What are the different types of fruit out there and which is best for each recipe? Here's a primer on some widely available summer fruits:  


Cherries:

 There are many different types of cherries, but most of us will only see one of three varieties at our local store or farmer's market. Sweet cherries such as Ranier (which is gold and red in color) and Bing (dark red, shown above) are the most readily available everywhere. I prefer Ranier for eating raw and Bing for baking. Sweet cherries are delicious in baked goods. They are not the cherries used in a traditional tart cherry pie (see sour cherries below), but sweet cherries are more versatile, being great for baking and also for eating raw.

Sour (tart) cherries are harder to find and usually very pricey when you can find them fresh. The reason for this is because sour cherries are grown in fewer areas and are not as hardy as sweet cherries, so there is more crop loss and they do not ship as well. Sour cherries are small and bright red; the most common type is Montmorency. You may see these cherries for a brief time in July at specialty stores or farmer's markets, or even in upscale grocery stores, but some years they can be hard to find at all. Sour cherries are generally used for traditional cherry pie (which is meant to be tart) or similar tart baked goods. They are not good for eating raw. If you are really set on making a tart cherry pie and cannot find fresh sour cherries, you can buy them frozen online (though pricey to ship overnight). There is also a brand of sour cherries packed in water, Oregon brand, which is available in most stores in the canned fruit aisle.

To prep fresh cherries for baking:

After washing the fruit, you can use a cherry pitter to get the pits out, or just
cut them in half and pull out the pits. If you want to keep your cherries whole,
you will need a pitter.


Even with a pitter, I prefer to still cut them in half. I think it releases the juices better.


Here is a bowl of dark red Bing cherries, all prepped and ready to go.




Strawberries:


Strawberries are easy to prep and so versatile. You can use them in Strawberry bread, strawberry shortcake, strawberry muffins, puree strawberries to make a real strawberry cake with strawberry buttercream. Or how about strawberry pie or a strawberry icebox cake? The list is endless. There are many different types of strawberry plants, but unlike cherries, the berries that come from those plants are pretty much the same, and totally interchangeable in baking. The most important thing is to try to get the freshest ripest strawberries you can. I highly recommend going to the farmer's market instead of your local grocery store.

To prep strawberries for baking, all you need to do is wash them, pat them dry, hull them, and then cut them into uniform pieces (or leave them whole if they are small berries).

 

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake, Real Strawberry Cupcakes, Strawberry Shortcake



Blueberries:


Blueberries are one of my favorite summer fruits to bake with. Not only do they taste great, but they are versatile and SO easy to use. Just pick over the berries to make sure there are no stems or rotten berries in the bunch. Then wash them and pat them dry. Done! Now you are ready to make a pie, muffins, bread, skillet cake, cobbler, custard, pancakes or any number of other blueberry things.

Blueberry Custard Pie



Traditional Blueberry Pie



Raspberries and Blackberries:




Raspberries and Blackberries are great for jams and baked goods. For things like pie fillings, I prefer to use them mixed with other berries like blueberries and strawberries. The reason is that raspberries turn mushy and juicy when cooked, so they need to be paired with firmer berries when used in something like a pie. And both Raspberries and Blackberries contain seeds which can be overwhelming when used alone (i.e. Blackberry pie tastes great, but it is very seedy, so I do mixed berry instead). But for baked goods such as breads and muffins, you can use them alone. These berries just need to be picked over to get rid of stems, then washed and patted dry before use. As with all berries, don't wash them ahead of time, wash them right before using. (If you wash them when you first bring them home and then leave them piled in their containers for a day or two, they can turn moldy due to high moisture). Be sure to be very gentle when handling blackberries and especially raspberries - they are fragile and will break up easily!


Raspberry filled white cake with Raspberry Buttercream



Peaches:

I love peaches, but if I am honest here, I'll admit that my favorite way to eat them is raw. I prefer other fruits in my pies, cobblers and muffins. But for those who do like to bake with peaches, here is the low-down: Peaches are very easy to use in baking. Choose the ripest ones you can find (again, farm-fresh is best). Wash, peel, and slice the peaches, removing the pit. Slices should be uniform in size, (I cut them about 1/2" thick) so they bake evenly. Peaches are almost never pre-cooked before putting them into a pie or cobbler - just peel and slice them, add sugar and thickener according to the recipe, then fill and bake as instructed. You can also add raw cut peaches to breads, muffins, pancakes (cut very small) or make a peach puree to add to cakes.






1 comment:

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