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Fruits in season — berries, stone fruits and more — make summery desserts sparkle

with so many fruits in peak season by the Fourth of July, summery desserts almost make themselves.

Fruits are always a treat when eaten unadorned and out of hand, but they're also the perfect starting place for an impressive variety of pies, cakes, bars, tarts and crumbles.

"This is not the time to be mucking about with complicated recipes," says cookbook author Barbara Kafka. "I just want it simple so I can taste the fruit when it's at its best."

For the Fourth, Kafka likes a classic strawberry shortcake. She makes it special by layering classic shortcake biscuits with sponge cake, then whipped cream and strawberry filling inside and topping with more cream and whole berries.

The shortcake concept is both fuss-free and versatile, Kafka says. Almost any fruit can be substituted for the strawberries. For a truly extraordinary take on the idea, she suggests using sliced fresh figs.

Diana Henry, author of Pure Simple Cooking, also favors no fuss. For an elegant but easy dish, she hulls and quarters fresh strawberries, then douses them with enough Beaujolais (or pinot noir) wine to cover, plus a generous sprinkling of sugar. "Leave them to macerate for 30 minutes," she says, "and there you have it."

Rhubarb can be cooked down with strawberries and enough sugar to balance the tartness to create a fruit compote that is quintessentially summer.

Kafka uses this blend as a filling for pies and tarts and as the base for crumbles or cobblers. It's also wonderful on its own or spooned over ice cream or pound cake.

Roasted or grilled

Stone fruits are heading into high season now.

Henry says she adores roasted stone fruits. Her method is straightforward: Take peaches, apricots and plums, halve or quarter them (depending on size), then place them in a shallow baking dish. Dust liberally with sugar, add some red wine and cassis (the French black currant liqueur), then bake until the fruit is completely tender and caramelized.

"I am always amazed at how luscious and easy this dessert is," she says. "The heat really brings the best out of even substandard or unripe fruit, and the oven does all the work for you."

Similarly, grilling fruits caramelizes their sugars and intensifies flavors. Plus, it's a fun and easy dessert for backyard barbecues.

Brush the cut face of halved peaches or nectarines with melted butter or vegetable oil, then grill, cut-side down, over medium-high until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the fruit over and, if you like, spoon some blueberry or blackberry preserves into the cavity of each, then continue grilling until the fruit is tender but not mushy, about 5 to 7 minutes longer.

These grilled stone fruits are delicious on their own and especially nice served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Chill out with fruits

Frozen desserts are another crowd pleaser, and fresh fruits make a perfect base. Ice cream makers are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, but if you have a food processor it's even easier to make icy, fresh fruit sorbets.

The basic sorbet technique is simple. If using berries, they should be rinsed and frozen on trays until they are solid. Larger fruits should be peeled and cut into smaller pieces before being frozen so your food processor can puree them easily.

Place about 3 cups of frozen fruit and a cup of juice, or a blend of frozen juice concentrate and water, in the bowl of a food processor, then process until smooth. Serve it right away, or transfer to a plastic container and freeze to enjoy later.

For a creamy variation, instead of using juice, freeze a cup of low-fat yogurt or sour cream, then process it in with your sorbet. For a bit more decadence use frozen whipping cream.

Of course, if you have fruit that is absolutely exquisite, the simplest and often most enjoyable approach is to serve it on its own. For instance, Henry likes to fill a shallow bowl with ice cubes and serve really sweet ripe cherries on top.

"Cherries on ice," she says, "what could be better?"

Or for what Henry describes as an "utterly chic" and hassle-free dessert, give each guest a perfect peach, a sharp knife and a glass of cold muscat dessert wine. Let each diner peel a peach and slice it into the glass of wine. Leave the peach flesh to macerate for 10 minutes, then give out the spoons and watch them eat an elegant do-it-yourself treat.


Grilled S'Mores-Stuffed Bananas

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

2 graham cracker squares, finely crumbled

4 unpeeled bananas, ripe but still slightly firm (yellow with a few brown spots)

1/4 cup mini marshmallows

Heat a gas grill to medium-high or prepare a charcoal fire.

In a bowl, stir together the chocolate chips and graham cracker crumbs.

Lay the bananas on their side on a flat surface. Cut a 3/4-inch-deep slit from tip to tip along what is now the top side of the banana. Pry open each slit just enough to push in one quarter of the chocolate chip mixture into each banana. Stuff marshmallows into each slit.

Wrap each banana snugly in foil, making a seam above the filled opening.

Turn off one side of the grill. Place the bananas, seam up, over the cooler side. Cover and grill for 15 minutes, or until the banana feels very soft when squeezed with an oven mitt. Serve immediately with a spoon for scooping the mixture out of the peel.

Serves 4.

Source: Associated Press


Blueberry Lemon Squares

For the crust:

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

2 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

To make the crust, coat a 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer on low to beat together the butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add the flour and beat just until the mixture forms small crumbs.

Press about two-thirds of the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Set the remaining mixture aside. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, flour, lemon zest and salt. Add the eggs and lemon juice, then whisk until smooth.

Spread the blueberries in an even layer over the crust. Pour the filling over the blueberries. Sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crumb topping is golden and the filling is puffed.

Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into squares.

Serves 15.

Source: Associated Press

Fruits in season — berries, stone fruits and more — make summery desserts sparkle 06/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 4:30am]
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