I’d like to say that my idea of a perfect dessert is a juicy, unadorned peach, or a handful of berries fresh from the vine. But I’m not that pure.
Whenever I pass by those bountiful baskets of seasonal fruit beckoning from the booths at my farmers market, I feel a craving for a shortcake, a cobbler, or maybe a bubbly, streusel-topped crisp with a scoop of ice cream.
Pastry chef Nicole Rucker, founder of Fiona in Los Angeles, fuels these fantasies with her debut cookbook, “Dappled: Baking Recipes for Fruit Lovers.” This inspired collection features rustic, homey desserts with a modern spin built around the bounty of her native Southern California. Because so much of it is available year-round, she defines her chapters not by season, but by recipe type: Fruit for Breakfast and Brunch (Multi-Grain Porridge and Pear Pancakes); Cookies and Bars (Raspberry Halva Brownies); Dessert Cakes, Puddings, Cobblers, and Crisps (Backyard Citrus Upside-Down Cake), and so on. She teaches us how to adapt according to what’s freshest with an abundance of helpful tips for choosing, storing and using fruit at various stages of ripeness.
A counter-full of rapidly ripening homegrown tomatoes nudged me to try her Tomato Pudding, where tomato slices are “lightly sweetened but riding that sweet/salty line like a tightrope walker,” then topped with Ricotta Biscuits (which reappear in a peach cobbler recipe and are heavenly enough to devour as is). I’m not as keen on serving this for dessert as she is, but everyone at my table loved it as a side dish, and I’d include it on a brunch buffet in a heartbeat.
With every recipe, there’s an element of familiarity, as well as intrigue. She updates classic Peach Melba Sundaes, for instance, by pairing the requisite poached peaches and fresh raspberry sauce with Brown Sugar Apricot Kernel Ice Cream.
“The natural almond essence of the apricot kernel is the poor man’s almond extract,” she explains, “and cracking the pits open is quite therapeutic.”
Fruit, according to Rucker, can be “magically complex,” and she loves it “because it teaches me something new every season.”
Bring on the next lesson.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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