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A&E >  Food

Fast, fun recipes easily highlight fruits of the season

Strawberry shortcake is usually the easy answer to dessert on the Fourth of July. The delicate fruit is ripening and its unadorned flavor is summer simplicity itself.

So, when word came last week that local strawberries were hard hit by cold spring weather and late frosts, I started thinking about other summer desserts that are versatile and can feed a crowd.

It doesn’t take much looking to come up with delicious ways to showcase the delights of summer. Cobblers, crumbles, crisps, clafoutis and fruit tarts come together easily and they’re versatile enough to accommodate almost anything overflowing at farmers markets, ripening at u-pick farms or coming in from the backyard.

In Cat Cora’s new cookbook, “Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist,” she brightens classic summer shortcakes with a zing of citrus zest and then tops the cakes with roasted plums (recipe follows).

Cora suggests roasting the fruit to intensify flavor. The recipe is easily altered for other fruits if imagination or overabundance calls for it.

This month’s Cooking Light magazine offers a crash course on cobbler creativity. Peaches, plums, cherries and berries all work equally well in the simple, homey recipes. The Blueberry-Peach Cobbler (recipe follows) can easily be made ahead.

There were so many recipes in “Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies and More” by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson that I had a hard time choosing one to share.

Schreiber, founder of Wildwood Restaurant in Portland, and Richardson, owner of Baker & Spice, provide an incredible array of desserts that can be tweaked for the fruit you have at hand.

The Rhubarb and Bing Cherry Brown Betty (recipe follows) seemed a nice way to celebrate both the spring and summer seasons (especially when spring lasts as long as it has this year).

Cookbook author Deborah Madison devotes her latest book to the spoils of summer. “Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm and Market” celebrates local, seasonal offerings – fruit that is picked, perfectly ripe and doesn’t travel far.

Madison encourages cooks to rely on the fine local fruits ripening in their backyard, in the nearby woods or from local farmers.

Her Apricot-Raspberry Crisp recipe is easy and can be made with almost anything available.

Roasted Plum Shortcakes

From “Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). “Fine crumbed and fragrant with orange zest, these shortcakes are baked in individual muffin tins and work with almost any fruit,” Cora says. “Roasting the plums intensifies their flavor. I buy black plums whenever I can; they’re the sweetest and juiciest.”

For the shortcakes:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the muffin tin

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (sift after measuring)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for the muffin tin

1/3 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the plums:

3 pounds ripe but firm plums, halved, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch wedges

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

6 tablespoons crème de cassis

1 pint vanilla gelato or ice cream or 1/2 pint heavy cream, whipped, for  serving

For the shortcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position a rack in the middle. Butter and flour a 12 cup muffin tin or use paper liners.

With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and the confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the orange zest.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder. In a cup, stir together the orange juice and the vanilla. On low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture in three additions, alternating with the orange juice mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing just until the batter is smooth.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup about three-quarters full. Bake until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cakes cool in the pan on a rack.

For the plums, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish, toss the plums with the brown sugar and the crème de cassis until the sugar begins to dissolve and the plum slices are evenly coated. Spread the slices evenly in the dish and roast until the plums are very tender but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool while you begin to assemble the dessert.

Cut each shortcake in half horizontally and set the bottom halves on small dessert plates. With a slotted spoon, transfer about 2 tablespoons of the warm plum slices to the shortcake and spoon over a little of the juice from the baking dish. Cover with shortcake tops and place a scoop of gelato or ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream on each shortcake and serve.

Yield: 12 servings

Rhubarb and Bing Cherry Brown Betty

From “Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies and More,” by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson (2009). “This recipe bridges two seasons, combining the end of rhubarb with the beginning of cherries,” they write. “Any sweet cherry will work; we have made this betty with Royal Ann, Bing, Lambert and Rainier cherries. This recipe is a different spin on a betty. Instead of bread crumbs, it calls for shortbread cookie crumbs. For ease and speed of preparation, you can use store bought shortbread, such as Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies in lieu of homemade.”

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan

1 pound Vanilla Bean Shortbread (recipe follows) crushed (18 cookies or 4 cups crushed)

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 1/4 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick (about 6 cups or 1 1/2 pounds prepared)

2 cups (12 ounces) Bing cherries, fresh or frozen, pitted

2 tablespoons kirsch or brandy

Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 3-quart baking dish.

Rub the sugar and cinnamon together in a large bowl, then add the rhubarb and cherries and toss to combine. Stir in the liquor, then let sit for 15 minutes to draw some of the juices from the rhubarb and cherries.

Evenly spread half of the crushed cookies in the prepared pan, then add the rhubarb mixture and all of its juices and gently spread it over the crumbs. Top with the remaining crushed cookies.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and, using the back of a large offset spatula or something similar, gently press down on the betty to ensure the rhubarb mixture is submerged in its juices.

Bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Test the rhubarb with a paring knife to ensure that it is soft. Cool for 20 minutes before serving, topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

Storage: This betty is best served the day it is made, but any leftovers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

Yield: 8-12 servings

Vanilla Bean Shortbread

From “Rustic Fruit Desserts.” “Shortbread cookies are a mainstay at Baker & Spice. They are a perfect complement to the rich taste of stewed fruit and when crushed, they can also be used as a crust for desserts.”

1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar

Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean

2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) unsifted confectioners’ sugar

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 3/4 cups (1 pound, 2 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) rice flour

1 egg white, beaten

1/2 cup turbinado sugar

Stir the granulated sugar and vanilla bean seeds together in the bowl of an upright mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the butter, confectioners’ sugar and salt and mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until fully incorporated but not light and fluffy.

Stir in the vanilla and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the flours in two additions, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Fully incorporate the flour without overmixing.

Dump the mixture onto a work surface and divide into two pieces. Place each on a piece of parchment paper measuring 12 by 16 inches. Shape each piece of dough into a log about 12 inches long, then fold the parchment over the dough and roll the log back and forth. The parchment paper will help to smooth out the dough and keep the log an even diameter. Transfer both logs to a baking sheet and refrigerate for about 2 hours, until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

With a pastry brush, coat each log with the egg white, then roll the logs in the turbinado sugar. Slice each log 1/2 inch thick and arrange the cookies on a baking sheet 1 inch apart. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and the cookies are firm in the center. Allow to cool before enjoying.

Storage: Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, the shortbread will keep for about 7 days. You can also freeze the unbaked logs, well wrapped, for up to 2 months.

Yield: 48 cookies

Apricot Raspberry Crisp

From “Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard Farm and Market” by Deborah Madison (Broadway Books, 2010). Writes Madison: “This is a tart with a crisp topping that satisfies like pie. It’s versatile beyond belief.” She suggests these variations: Use blackberries, mulberries or huckleberries with the apricots. Or, make the tart with sweet cherries, adding a few pie cherries for flavor. The tart can also be filled with sliced plums tossed with the flour, twice the sugar and a dash of something orange. Also pears, peeled, sliced and tossed with nutmeg and organic brown sugar or mixed with mulberries, fresh currants or poached quince, Madison suggests.

For the tart dough and topping:

1/2 cup almonds, with or without skins

1/3 cup organic white or brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour or 1 cup all-purpose and 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 chunks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 egg yolk

For the fruit:

4 cups ripe apricots, any overripe ones halved, the rest quartered

1 cup raspberries

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup organic white or brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To make the tart dough and topping, pulse the almonds and sugar in a food processor with half of the salt until fine. Set aside 1/2 cup and return the work bowl to the food processor. Add the flour and the remaining salt and combine. Add the butter and pulse until broken up into coarse crumbs.

Mix 1 tablespoon water, the vanilla and almond extracts and the egg yolk with a fork in a measuring cup. With the machine running, add the liquid and pulse until the dough looks moist and has started to come together.

Remove 1/2 cup of the dough, add it to the reserved almond-sugar mixture, and set aside. Press the remaining dough into a 9-inch tart pan, using your fingers to build up the sides and your palm to flatten the base. If your butter was cold, the dough should be easy to handle. If not, refrigerate it for 15 minutes first.

Toss the apricots with the berries, flour and sugar, then turn the fruit into the tart shell.

Rub the reserved almond-tart dough mixture between your fingers to make coarse crumbs, then cover the fruit with it. Set the tart on a sheet pan and bake in the center of the oven until the top is lightly colored and the fruit has released its juice, about 45 minutes.

Remove and cool before serving.

Yield: 6 servings

Blueberry-Peach Cobbler

From Cooking Light, July 2010. “Use peaches that aren’t superripe for this recipe so they’ll hold their shape when cooked,” the magazine advises. “The baking dish will be brimming with fruit and topping, so it’s a good idea to place it on a foil-lined baking sheet before putting it in the oven.

5 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

3/8 teaspoon salt, divided

6.75 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided

Cooking spray

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup buttermilk

2 cups fresh blueberries

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place peaches in a large bowl. Drizzle with juice; toss. Add 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons flour to peach mixture; toss to combine. Arrange peach mixture evenly in a 13- by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Weigh or lightly spoon 6.75 ounces flour (about 1 1/2 cups) into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and baking powder in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and butter in a medium bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in blueberries.

Spread batter evenly over peach mixture; sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Place baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour or until topping is golden and filling is bubbly.

Yield: 12 servings (serving size: 3/4 cup)

Nutrition per serving: 303 calories, 9.6 grams fat (5.4 grams saturated), 5 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrate, 58 milligrams cholesterol, 3.5 grams dietary fiber, 189 milligrams sodium.

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