’Tis the season for fruit desserts

‘This time of year is a pastry chef’s paradise,” said my friend Robert Wemischner, author of The Dessert Architect.

Saffron riesling peaches get an extra kick from star anise. (photo credit: RINKU BHATTACHARYA)
Saffron riesling peaches get an extra kick from star anise.
(photo credit: RINKU BHATTACHARYA)
Summertime is indeed the season when the markets offer the greatest variety of fruits – apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums, mangoes, melons and more. They find their way into all sorts of desserts, from simple to elaborate.
In our home, for a sweet ending to everyday meals, we often eat diced fresh fruit with yogurt. We might use vanilla yogurt or opt for plain yogurt drizzled with honey, silan (date molasses) or pekmez (grape molasses), and top the yogurt-fruit mixture with walnuts or other nuts.
Fruit salad is another easy summer dessert we often prepare. Usually we add a sprinkling of sugar and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, or a spoonful of orange or cherry liqueur.
A memorable fruit salad we enjoyed recently was a plum salad made by Zel Allen, author of The Nut Gourmet. She made it on the spur of the moment from four kinds of plums of different colors and a dressing of pomegranate molasses, rose water and a hint of balsamic vinegar.
For preparing warm fruit desserts, a popular technique is sautéing. This method is perfect for cooking tender fruits like peaches, nectarines, plums and ripe pears. The high heat produced during sautéing, wrote Deborah Madison in Seasonal Fruit Desserts, brings out the fruits’ sugars, which caramelize lightly. Sautéing can also “improve fruits whose flavors lack luster. And when fruits are at the peak of their flavor, such cooking concentrates their sugars and flavors” so that they “can possess such intensity that only a few bites are needed to satisfy.”
To make a plum dessert in a few minutes, Madison sautés sliced plums in butter with sugar and ground cardamom, and finishes the dessert with Grand Marnier, which dissolves the caramel that has formed in the skillet.
Poaching fruit in a syrup of water and sugar is a quick method, too, especially if you cut the fruit in pieces before adding it to the hot syrup. “A syrup, however light or minimal, gives fruits a jewel-like appearance as well as a sauce,” wrote Madison.
Poached fruit and syrup are useful as a base for more complex desserts, like Italian-style peaches and cream. To make it, Madeline Armillotta and Diane Nocentini, authors of Tastes from a Tuscan Kitchen, poach peach halves in white wine with sugar, and serve them topped with a custard mixed with whipped cream.
Once you have poached fruit, you can easily turn it into a fruit sauce – puree the fruit, add some of its syrup, and you have a delicious topping for cake, yogurt or ice cream.
If you make the fruit sauce thinner, you’ll have a refreshing fruit soup. Madison prepares red berry and peach soup from a berry syrup that she makes by cooking fresh or frozen berries with sugar and water; she sieves the syrup, flavors it with lemon juice or rose water, and combines it with sliced peeled peaches and fresh berries.
When it comes to choosing a cool, creamy accompaniment for fresh or cooked fruit, it might seem like nothing could equal classic crème chantilly, the vanilla-flavored sweetened whipped cream. But adventurous cooks might want to try serving their strawberries and sliced stone fruits the way Rinku Bhattacharya, author of the just-published Spices & Seasons, does – with whipped cream spiced with saffron.
Faye Levy is the author of
Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations.
Chilled Peach Soup with Mint
This refreshing dessert soup is inspired by a recipe I learned from Parisian chef Pierre Vedel when I studied cooking in Paris. Instead of making it with peaches, you can use nectarines; there is no need to peel them, and if they are ripe and tender, you don’t need to cook them.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 8 ripe medium-size peaches (about 1.1 kg or 2½ pounds)
❖ Juice of 1 lemon
❖ ¼ cup sugar
❖ 16 to 20 small mint leaves, plus more for garnish
❖ ½ cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay
Boil enough water to cover peaches, about 10 cups, and add the lemon juice. Add peaches, cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Remove peaches and let cool to lukewarm. Remove peel.
Cut flesh from 4 peaches and puree in food processor with sugar and 16 to 20 mint leaves until smooth. Add wine and process briefly until blended.
Cut remaining peaches in thin wedges toward pit. Add to soup. Refrigerate 1 or 2 hours. Serve garnished with mint leaves.
Saffron, Riesling and Star Anise Poached Peaches
Europeans often flavor their syrups for poaching fruits with vanilla beans and strips of citrus zest.
Rinku Bhattacharya uses exotic flavors, as in this recipe from Spices & Seasons, in which she simmers star anise and saffron in the wine poaching syrup. She notes that this dessert “is a very simple treat that tastes wonderful by itself, and is decadent perfection with a scoop of ice cream.”
Bhattacharya told me that instead of sweet Riesling, you can use Sauvignon Blanc or another dry white wine; in this case, you might want to add more sugar to taste before adding the peaches. If you like, use sweet red wine, and the dish will have a deeper hue. Instead of using peaches, you can make this dessert with nectarines, apricots or plums.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
❖ 1 bottle (750 ml or about 25 ounces) sweet Riesling wine
❖ ½ cup brown sugar
❖ 1.4 kg (3 pounds) ripe peaches, peeled and cut into wedges (see Note)
❖ 1 tsp. saffron strands
❖ 3 whole star anise
❖ Mint leaves for serving
Pour the wine into a large saucepan and stir in the brown sugar. Simmer the mixture until it is reduced to one-third its original volume, or about 1 cup.
Add the peaches and saffron to the wine syrup and simmer for 7 minutes. Add the star anise and simmer for another 3 minutes. Chill and serve garnished with mint.
Note: To peel peaches, if they are very ripe, you can use a vegetable peeler. Otherwise, cook them in boiling water to cover over low heat for about 5 minutes; remove, cool and pull off the peel.
Sautéed Plums with Cardamom
“This quick sauté renders plums that are just shy of ripeness more promising than when eaten raw,” wrote Deborah Madison in Seasonal Fruit Desserts. “The tart, tannic quality in the plums’ skins becomes more pronounced when cooked, but the sweetness of an accompaniment should put everything into balance.”
Madison recommends serving the plums with coffee or honey-sweetened ice cream, or a spoonful of mascarpone cheese.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 4 to 6 large plums, one kind or a mixture
❖ 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
❖ ¼ cup organic sugar or 2 Tbsp. agave nectar
❖ ½ tsp. ground cardamom
❖ 2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier (orange liqueur) or 1 tsp. orange-flower water
Rinse the plums, then slice them into wedges about 2 cm. (¾-inch) thick at their widest part.
Heat a 25-cm (10-inch) skillet with the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter melts, add the plums, sugar and cardamom.
Raise the heat and cook, jerking the fruit in the pan about every 30 seconds so that the cut surfaces take on some color, eventually caramelizing.
After 5 minutes or so, the plums will give up their juices. Continue cooking over high heat until the juice just coats the fruit and the smell of caramel is apparent. Remove from the heat and add the Grand Marnier. Then remove to a serving bowl, scraping in all the liquid from the pan.
Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Peaches and Cream
This recipe is from Tastes from a Tuscan Kitchen. Authors Madeline Armillotta and Diane Nocentini note that it is important to cool the custard before mixing it with the whipped cream.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 4 peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
❖ ½ cup dry white wine
❖ 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar
❖ 1 egg
❖ 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
❖ 1 cup whole milk
❖ 1 cup whipping cream
Place the peaches in a nonstick saucepan with the white wine and 1/3 cup of the sugar. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.
Take the peaches out of the pan and reserve the liquid. Divide the peaches among four dessert dishes.
In a bowl, mix together the egg, remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and the flour, and stir in the milk. Transfer the mixture to a small, nonstick saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil, and simmer over low heat, stirring, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool to room temperature.
Whip the cream until firm peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cooled custard. Spoon the mixture evenly over the peaches. Drizzle some of the peach poaching syrup over each portion.
Chill for 30 minutes before serving.