For those of us who love to cook and eat, there are few greater pleasures than doing those things outside. We wait all winter to pick blueberries by the bushel, share sticky watermelon slices and wait out the rain under beach umbrellas eating cold seedless grapes.
This summer will most likely look different. But we can still cook and bake as if this were the season to savor.
If you do make it to the farmers market or venture out to your local farm stand, rejoice! And reserve your precious fresh fruit for eating out of hand. Let the juice drip down your arms and pitch the pits out the window. Eat every last berry before the car’s parked in the driveway.
Now’s the time to put frozen fruit to work.
There are so many reasons to love it: Frozen berries, peaches and cherries (mango and pineapple, too) offer a taste of summer whenever you want, no matter the season or the circumstances. It’s picked at its peak and frozen ASAP, so the flavor is always at its best. Larger fruits are presliced, so they require minimal prep. It holds its shape when folded into cakes, and it doesn’t cave under the pressure of gentle kneading. It also keeps dough cold, which is especially helpful when working with biscuit and scone doughs or buttery, flaky pastry.
These three recipes can be made with whatever frozen fruit you find in stock at the supermarket or hiding under the hash browns in your freezer. The one-bowl buttermilk cake, with its silky stir-together batter, uses oil instead of softened butter, so the batter won’t seize when you add the cold fruit. (While buttermilk makes for a super tender cake, you can use whatever milk you have in the fridge.)
The scones are equally flexible. Cherries, peaches or berries work beautifully, and full-fat Greek yogurt can step in for the sour cream. A couple of things to mind: Quarter any big berries and chop sliced peaches before incorporating them, so you don’t have to wrangle them into your dough and overwork it in the process. As with any dough, use a light touch. Stop as soon as all the dry, floury bits are incorporated. And pat the dough together gently. A shaggy dough is a tender one and will almost always bind itself together in the oven. The wonky-looking ones usually taste best anyway.
Finally, for the highly nostalgic peanut butter bars, pick a fruit or a combination of fruits that most closely approximates your ideal PB&J. (The bars can also be made with 3/4 cup jam or jelly in place of the fruit.) Doneness can be a tad challenging to gauge because the dough is golden brown to begin with, so look for syrupy fruit that bubbles. It’ll set as it cools.
Stock your freezer with frozen fruit, and you’ll have a season’s worth of easy desserts to look forward to: Cook it down with sugar and a squeeze of lemon for an easy homemade jam. Combine it with butter, honey and a splash of vanilla, roast it until caramelized and serve it over split biscuits. Toss it with sugar and a little cornstarch, then top it with biscuits or streusel for a quick cobbler or crumble. Fold it into muffin batter, drop it onto pancakes and definitely make a blueberry pie.
All three of these recipes, once cooled, travel quite well. We may not be going very far, but we’ll probably need a snack. And who knows? We might just find something, anything, to celebrate.
BERRY BUTTERMILK CAKE
Yield: 1 (9-inch) square or round cake
Total time: 1 1/4 hours, plus cooling
>> 1/2 cup/120 milliliters vegetable oil or other neutral oil, plus more for greasing the pan
>> 1/2 cup/120 milliliters buttermilk or milk
>> 2 large eggs
>> 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
>> 1 cup/200 grams plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
>> 1 1/2 cups/190 grams plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
>> 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
>> 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
>> 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
>> 1 (10-ounce/285-gram) bag frozen berries (about 2 cups), any kind, any combination (large berries quartered)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9-inch baking dish or pan (square or round is OK) with oil and line with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup oil, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and 1 cup sugar. In a separate medium bowl, whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt to combine. Whisk wet ingredients into dry until just combined. (Some small lumps are fine.) Toss berries on a plate with remaining 1 tablespoon flour. Fold into batter and transfer to the prepared baking dish.
2. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 53 to 58 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving. Cake will keep, loosely wrapped at room temperature, for about 4 days.
SOUR CREAM AND FRUIT SCONES
Yield: 8 scones
Total time: 35 minutes, plus cooling
>> 2 cups/255 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
>> 1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar
>> 1 tablespoon baking powder
>> 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
>> 1/2 cup/115 grams cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
>> 1 cup frozen cherries (halved), peaches (in bite-size pieces) or berries
>> 1/2 cup/120 milliliters sour cream or plain full-fat Greek yogurt
>> 1/4 cup/60 milliliters milk (preferably whole, but whatever you have is OK)
>> 1 large egg, beaten
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the upper third. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate butter directly into the dry ingredients, stopping a few times along the way to toss the butter pieces into the flour. Use your fingers to work the butter into slightly smaller pieces. Add cherries and toss to combine.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and milk. Add to the flour mixture, and use a fork to stir until all the dry flour bits are incorporated but the dough is still shaggy. Smoosh and knead the dough a few times until it barely holds together, then dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.
4. Pat dough to a 1-inch-thick rectangle. Cut into 8 squares, transfer to the prepared sheet, and brush the tops with beaten egg.
5. Bake until golden brown, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool slightly. Scones will keep, covered at room temperature, for 3 days. Reheat, if you like, in a toaster oven or at 350 degrees until warmed through.
PEANUT BUTTER BLACKBERRY BARS
Yield: 16 bars
Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling
>> 1/2 cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
>> 1 cup/255 grams natural or processed peanut butter or almond butter
>> 1/2 cup/110 grams packed light or dark brown sugar
>> 3/4 cup/150 grams granulated sugar
>> 1 large egg
>> 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
>> 1 1/2 cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
>> 1 teaspoon kosher salt
>> 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
>> 1 (10-ounce/285-gram) bag frozen blackberries, raspberries, blueberries or a combination
>> Flaky salt (optional)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8- or 9-inch square pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two of the sides.
2. In a large bowl, stir together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg and vanilla and beat to combine. Add flour, salt and baking powder and stir to combine.
3. Press about two-thirds of the dough into the prepared pan. In a separate bowl, toss berries with remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Scatter berry and sugar mixture over dough, then crumble remaining dough over top, pulling it apart into big crumbs.
4. Bake on the middle rack until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Sprinkle with flaky salt, if using. Let cool completely before slicing into squares. Store, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.