Scoop it down and enjoy the vibrant taste of early summer fruit paired with sweet cake, whipped cream, or custard. June brings fruit that calls for the creation of desserts, confections designed to utilize the abundance of orchard, shrub, or plot.
Following are three delicious choices: an apricot and custard tart, an English “fool” who uses blueberries in an inviting whipped cream concoction, and chunks of rhubarb showcased in a three-layer inverted cake.
Some readers may wonder if rhubarb is in the mix. Botanically speaking, rhubarb is indeed a vegetable, but in 1947 it was reclassified as a fruit by US Customs. And it makes sense to think of it as a fruit because it is mainly used in baked goods.
Here are some tips for buying and storing early summer fruits.
Apricots: Available from May to July (sometimes August); buy chubby cots that are fragrant and a little firm but not hard (they should just soften but not mushy). Avoid fruits that are green tinged or bruised. If ripe, wash and eat as soon as possible. Ripe fruit can be stored unwashed for up to 3 days in the fresh drawer of the refrigerator in a plastic bag. If unripe, ripen for 2 to 3 days in a loosely sealed paper bag at room temperature, away from heat or direct sunlight.
blueberries: Choose brightly colored, plump berries with no fungus, soft spots, or discoloration. If packaged, check that the berries can move freely when the container is tilted; if they stick together, they are probably moldy. Cool (unwashed) in a single layer on paper towels and discard any moldy ones, up to 7 days.
Rhubarb: The color is cosmetic. The red hue is not necessarily a sign of ripeness. The color comes from pigments that vary depending on the variety and growing conditions. For the cake recipe that follows, it’s nicer if bright red stems are used, but greenish ones will work in a pinch. To keep the stems crisp, wrap a bundle of stems loosely in aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator. It will stay crispy for up to 2 weeks.
Apricot custard tart
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 baked 9 1/2-inch pie shell; see chef’s notes
About 5 ripe apricots (13 ounces), pitted
1 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup almond shavings
Chef’s Notes: To save time, use store-bought refrigerated pie crusts, such as Pillsbury Pie Crusts (15-ounce pack). There are 2 round sheets of dough in the package. Press 1 into a 9 1/2-inch pie shell with removable bottom, fold over edge to reinforce sides with double layer of dough. If it seems sticky, cut a wedge from the second sheet of dough in the wrapper and tape it in place where needed, pressing to seal. Or prepare pie crusts from scratch. To bake, cover the dough with a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper; add pie weights or uncooked beans or rice. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove paper and weights. Bake for an additional 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown.
1. Set the oven rack to the center position. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place baked pie shell on rimmed baking sheet; put aside.
2. Cut apricots into wedges about 3/4-inch thick; arrange in cake form.
3. In a medium bowl, combine sugar, yolks and cream. Beat until combined. Stir in flour and salt. Carefully pour the mixture over the apricots. Sprinkle almonds on top.
4. Bake until the custard is almost completely set, about 35 to 40 minutes. Preferably slightly warm or at room temperature on the same day it is baked.
Source: “Four Star Desserts” by Emily Luchetti (Harper Collins, $32.50)
When it comes to food titles, a “fool” is a simple dessert with fruit and whipped cream. Why is someone called a fool? It is believed to come from the French word “fouler” which means “to press” or “to mash”.
It goes together quickly and can be prepared 3 hours in advance and kept refrigerated. Other fruits are often used to go crazy, but blueberries are one of my favorites. I like to serve it with crunchy cookies for texture contrast and, well, cookie flavor.
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and picked to remove stems
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons of water
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For serving: crunchy cookies
1. Combine berries, juice, sugar, and water in a small, non-reactive saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the blueberries begin to break down and the juices boil and thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl. Place the bowl in a large bowl of ice water and stir the mixture occasionally until cold.
2. In a bowl with an electric mixer, combine the cream, icing sugar and vanilla. Beat until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 cup blueberry mixture into whipped cream mixture. Spoon the mixture into 4 dessert dishes. Spoon the remaining blueberry mixture over the top. Refrigerate up to 4 hours. Serve chilled and serve cookies at the table or put each dessert bowl on a plate and place one or two cookies on a plate next to each serving.
Source: “What to Eat” by Martha Stewart Living (Clackson Potter, $20)
Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
Rhubarb is a late spring, early summer vegetable that often masquerades as a fruit in tasty sweet and sour desserts. Most years, rhubarb disappears from the market in early July, so if you want to make this delicious cake, you’ll have to be quick to buy the fresh rhubarb. My supermarket has a large produce section and keeps it in a nice red pile close to the lettuce. I also find it at farmers markets.
This delicious cake has three layers and once baked and partially cooled, it is inverted to reveal the layer of rhubarb. Beneath the rhubarb is a layer of butter cake and a layer of crispy streusel, made with sliced almonds, butter, flour and sugar, plus a pinch of salt.
The recipe calls for unsalted butter. If you are substituting salted butter, omit the salt.
Yield: 8 servings
Soft butter and baking paper to prepare the baking pan
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 pound fresh rhubarb, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch wide diagonal slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamon; see chef’s notes
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons red currant jelly, or cherry jelly
Chef’s Notes: Ground cardamom is delicious in this cake, but I have to warn you, it can be pricey. I recently bought it at my local grocery store and a 1.9 ounce jar cost $17. It’s cheaper at ethnic stores. For me it was worth the price as I cook a lot of middle eastern dishes and chai drinks as well as curries. For a cheaper alternative, use 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.
1. Set the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 inch square baking pan with butter, line the bottom with parchment paper and grease parchment.
2, Streusel: Stir all ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined. Put aside.
3. Rhubarb: Whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add rhubarb and mix well to coat. Drizzle with melted butter and toss together. Transfer to the prepared pan. Press the rhubarb slices into the bottom of the pan, making sure there are no large gaps – this may involve some rearranging and there may be bits that don’t fit in a single layer.
4. Cake: Melt 6 tablespoons of butter and set aside to cool. Whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; put aside. Beat sugar and eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer and beat on medium speed until blended, about 45 seconds. Add cooled melted butter and beat on medium speed until blended. Add sour cream, zest, juice and vanilla; beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Pour evenly over the rhubarb in the pan. Spread the streusel with your hands and sprinkle in an even layer over the batter. Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.
5. Place the pan on the grid and let it cook for 20 minutes. Run the knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert it onto the serving plate. Carefully remove the baking paper. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Microwave jelly in small bowl until liquid, about 20 seconds. Carefully dab on jelly with a pastry brush. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Source: Cook’s Illustrated magazine
Cooking question? Please contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected] com