Baking Class: Tutti fruity

Incorporate seasonal produce into crowd-pleasing desserts, like berry cobbler, roasted peach crumb cake, streusel, nectarine-strawberry pie.

Berry cobbler 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Berry cobbler 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If there is anything that can make me feel better about the scorching heat of summer, it is the abundance of beautiful and fresh produce, from berries and cherries to peaches, plums, pineapples and a variety of other sweet treats.
Enjoying these fruits on their own is always an excellent choice, but incorporating them into crowd-pleasing desserts brings even the most delicious of fruits to a new level. From the very simple to the slightly more intricate, there are many recipes that can showcase your best market picks and will wow your family and friends.
Choosing the right produce is crucial, and each fruit has its own shelf life and storage needs. Berries such as blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are best used within 24 hours of purchase and should be stored loosely in the refrigerator. Check them carefully before storage, and remove any that have started to go bad, as it can spread quickly to others. Wash berries immediately before use.
Ripe peaches, nectarines, plums and other fruits with pits can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. They tend to bruise easily, so take care when transporting and storing them. Many people don’t like the fuzzy texture of peaches in baked goods, so I often opt for nectarines to avoid having to peel them. If you do want to peel peaches, you can use a vegetable peeler in the normal fashion, though you’ll get a little sticky. Alternatively, you can score the bottom of the peaches, then dunk them in boiling water for 60 seconds before removing them straight into an ice-water bath.
The skins should slide right off.
You know those people you see in the markets who tap on the fruit and sniff it to check for ripeness? Well, that’s me when I try to select a pineapple. Though hardly foolproof, I look for three things: a yellow color on at least part of the pineapple; a distinct sweet smell from the fruit; and a leaf from the center of the pineapple top that is easy to pull out.
The following three recipes range from a cobbler that is put together in five minutes, a simple but delicious cake, and a show-stopping pie that requires a little planning ahead. I provide my favorite fruit fillings, but they can be adapted to include the produce of your choice.
Since the sweetness level of fresh fruits, particularly berries, ranges widely, it is important to taste the fruit before incorporating it into the recipe and adjust the sugar level accordingly.
This is not a real cobbler, which generally has a biscuit-dough-like topping dropped on top of fruit. Instead, this faux cobbler has a sweet pastry encasing the fruit, providing the traditional cobbled look. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream.
✔ 1 cup sugar
✔ 1 cup flour
✔ 11⁄2 Tbsp. baking powder
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. salt
✔ 1 cup milk or soy milk
✔ 115 gr. (4 oz.) butter or margarine, melted
✔ Brown sugar, for sprinkling
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Whisk in the milk, followed by the melted butter. Pour the mixture into a greased 20 cm. or 24 cm. square baking dish. Rinse the berries gently and pat them dry. Scatter them over the batter.
Sprinkle the top with the sugar. Bake at 175º for about an hour.

Roasting the peaches before use gives them a chance to get nice and tender and develop an extra layer of roasted flavor.
The cinnamon-spiced cake and the sweet crumbly streusel are a perfect pair for the sweet fruit. This dish is ideal for breakfast, snacking or dessert.
✔ 2 or 3 peaches, quartered
✔ 13⁄4 cups flour
✔ 11⁄4 cups sugar
✔ 2 tsp. cinnamon
✔ 2 tsp. baking powder
✔ Pinch of salt
✔ 3⁄4 cup milk
✔ 2 eggs, lightly beaten
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla
✔ 1⁄3 cup oil
✔ 45 gr. (3 Tbsp.) butter or margarine, melted
✔ 1⁄3 cup white sugar
✔ 1⁄3 cup dark brown sugar
✔ Pinch salt
✔ 3⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
✔ 13⁄4 cups flour
✔ 1⁄2 cup (115 gr.) butter or margarine, melted
Place the peaches face down on a baking pan or sheet and roast at 225º for 10-15 minutes, until just tender.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the milk, vanilla, eggs, oil and butter. Mix all the ingredients together until moistened, making sure there are no streaks of flour below. Pour the batter into a greased 31x22 cm. pan or the equivalent. Set aside.
Mix the sugars, salt, cinnamon and flour together. Add in the melted butter and mix with a fork until crumbly and all the flour is integrated.
Cut the cooled peaches into chunks and press into the top of the cake batter.
Top with the streusel. Bake at 175º for 35 to 45 minutes or until tests done with a toothpick.
Pies are often seen as a daunting baking challenge, but with a little practice you can churn them out in no time. I like to make my dough the day before and refrigerate it overnight so that I’m set to go in the morning and can cut down on time in the kitchen. If the lattice crust seems intimidating, you can make a faux lattice by simply laying half the strips horizontally and half vertically, without the weaving.
✔ 2 1⁄2 cups flour
✔ 2 Tbsp. sugar
✔1 tsp. salt
✔ 225 gr. (1 cup) butter or margarine, cut into cubes and frozen
✔ 4 to 6 Tbsp. ice water
✔ 1 kg. nectarines (about 5 large), peeled, pitted and sliced
✔ 200 gr. (about 1 cup) diced strawberries
✔ 1⁄3 cup sugar (plus optional 1⁄4 cup)
✔ 1 tsp. lemon zest
✔ 2 Tbsp. cornflour
✔ 1 egg white
✔ Coarse brown sugar (for sprinkling)
Mix together the flour, sugar and salt.
Add in the frozen butter and, using a food processor, a pastry cutter or the tips of your fingers, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles fine sand.
Add the water, a Tbsp. at a time, until the mixture begins to clump together. Divide the dough in half, gather each piece together in to a ball and wrap in cling wrap.
Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Stir the peaches, strawberries and sugar together in a large bowl.
Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Drain off any liquid and taste the fruit, adding extra sugar if necessary.
Mix with the lemon zest and cornflour.
Working with one ball of dough, roll out the dough into a large circle, about 8 cm.
larger than your pie plate. Carefully transfer the dough to a 20 cm. or 24 cm. round pie plate, patching any tears that occur.
Roll the remaining piece of dough into a large round, and slice (using a knife or pizza wheel) into long strips. Lay every other strip across the pie, then weave the remaining strips in by folding every other strip back, laying a perpendicular strip, then bringing the folding strips back down, repeating with the alternate strips until all are used.
Trim any excess crust and press the edges of the strips down to seal.
Lightly beat the egg white and brush over the crust. Sprinkle with coarse brown sugar.
Bake at 225º for 20 minutes, then reduce to 180º and bake an additional 30 minutes.