contributed by Katy Morris
Don’t let the thought of adding more heat to your kitchen deter you from baking this summer! The bounty of local fruit in farmers’ markets is truly irresistible, making summertime the perfect time to express your creative genius.
Pro-bakers anxiously await summer’s arrival, a time that allows them to conjure up seasonally inspired baked treats like fruit-filled pies and muffins, fresh veggie quiches and more. We’ve turned to some of our favorite experts for tips, tricks, and a peachy recipe for all you muffin lovers out there.
Oh, the Options!
Christine Cote of Huckleberry Artisan Pastries, who excitedly anticipates summer’s arrival each year, says that it can also be a challenge because bakers “want to choose the best and brightest ways to present all the wonders of summer. It’s not an easy choice. The variety of options is staggering…it’s a lot like choosing between children!
Should this year’s perfect strawberries be paired with tart, crisp rhubarb, and baked in a buttery crumble, or would feather-light shortcake, and vanilla kissed whipped cream be the better choice? Then, seemingly before strawberry nirvana has even taken hold, it begins to wind down, and ruby red raspberries magically appear for their day in the sun. And on it goes…”
Let the Natural Flavors Shine Through
Christine is a pro and meticulously plans ahead to ensure she can have her recipes ready to go when summer hits. One of the most important things she considers is how to enhance the peak -of- season flavors of the fruit.
“Anything that I do to fruit should accentuate what is already there. It is easy to get carried away [with other ingredients] and mask the wonderful natural flavors with too many additions to the recipe.”
Some of her recommendations for these strategic pairings include combining candied ginger to complement the sweetness of peaches, lemon juice to accentuate the bright flavors of blueberries and honey to enhance the sweetness of tart fruits.
Pam Nicholas of Izzi B’s Allergy Free Baking, who has been taking advantage of the strawberries and blueberries at local farmers’ markets couldn’t agree more. She advises to do as little as possible to the fruits and veggies to let their flavors to shine.
“For our strawberry shortcake, we start with fresh strawberries, a little bit of beet sugar and a squirt of fresh lemon juice,” she shares. “Then we put it all into a pot with a lid and as soon as it simmers, we remove the berries and let the juice from the berries reduce the beet sugar.” By letting it cool and then adding in the berries at the end, this allows the berries to retain their fresh taste and texture.
One of Izzi B’s bestsellers this year has been their blueberry muffin (which are, just like the rest of the baked goods coming out of their kitchen, free of gluten, wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, nuts, casein, preservatives, trans-fats, refined sugar and cholesterol, as well as vegan, kosher-certified and celiac friendly…phew!), and she’s let us in on one of the secrets that makes it so good:
“Even though we start with fresh blueberries, we wash and then freeze them before baking. First, we can keep them throughout the year; and second, which is our little secret, we put them into the batter at the very last minute, still frozen, so that way they don’t bleed into the batter. When you bite into them, the berries burst in your mouth and make you smile!” says Pam.
Working in the Heat
Pam also highlights the challenge bakers face given the heat and humidity. When possible, she says, try to bake in a temperature controlled kitchen.
“Sometimes, the answer to high humidity is adjusting the oven time and temperature. Sometimes reducing the quantity of liquid is necessary.” Sometimes, it’s best to keep the heat outside.
Last week when Pam purchased some white peaches at the farmers’ market, it was simply too hot to turn on the oven, so she decided to roast them al fresco instead. “I put them in a roasting pan cut side up and stuffed them with a gluten-free oat topping and slow roasted them on the grill. I served them warm with a scoop of vanilla bean gelato [or ice cream] and never added any heat to my kitchen. It was perfect. YUM!”
Make the Summer Bounty Last for Future Baking
Yes, we know that the season is short, but with some effort and preparation, we can enjoy our favorite summer produce even as the temperature begins to drop, thanks to some simple tips from Christine and Pam (in fact, Pam still has frozen sweet potatoes and acorn squash from last fall that she uses in place of eggs!).
Freezing is the easiest and most common preservation method for your summer bounty, and for a good reason. It is by far the best way to ensure you capture the essential flavors of the fruit. When a fruit or veg is frozen, its fiber breaks down and it loses water. This alters the texture and doesn’t make it great for eating raw; however, this makes it no less desirable for cooking since the fibers are broken down in that process anyway.
Among the best things to freeze are berries (check out our recent Peach Seasonal Snippet for other key advice for freezing fruits). Christine emphatically clarifies that “air is the enemy,” when it comes to storage/freezing so “be sure to insulate your edibles as well as possible.”
Speaking of freezing, if you are headed to the beach or a summer picnic with cupcakes or something similar, stick them in the freezer for about 30 minutes before you go so your icing doesn’t melt off in the hot sun.
Time to get Baking!
Baker and Co-owner of STEAM Coffee Bar, Brianna Pennell, says that summer definitely “inspires lighter and healthier baking,” – something that just happens to be her specialty!
This year, she ended up with over twenty pounds of homegrown rhubarb from her own grandmother’s garden, which she has been gently simmering with a bit of simple syrup, vanilla beans and some fresh ginger slices to make her popular strawberry-rhubarb crepes and muffins (these guys are selling out almost daily!).
Brianna was kind enough to share her brand new Vegan,Paleo and Gluten-free Blueberry-Peach Muffin recipe with us – check it out below!
Bakers mentioned in this post:
Huckleberry Artisan Pastry is a weekly vendor at the Westport Farmers’ Market, Westport, CT. Christine is happy to take special orders. Contact her at Christine Cote <email@example.com>
Izzy B Allergen Free Baked Goods is a rotating vendor at the Westport Farmers’ Market. They do not have a storefront but they regularly fill special orders at their Norwalk, CT. bakery. They are certified kosher and their products are free of gluten, wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, all nuts, and casein.
Steam has two locations in Westport, CT. Steam is committed to supporting local growers and vendors in their own community. Here’s what we wrote about Steam. Click on their website for more information. Briana Pennell bakes all sorts of treats for both locations and is happy to fill special orders. She loves to bake gluten-free treats like the muffins below.
These summery muffins shine with berries and peaches from the local farmers' markets.
Thank you Brianna Pennell, owner of Steam Coffee Bar in Westport, CT, for this recipe and inspiration.
These muffins are pareve (non-dairy), vegan, paleo and gluten-free
- 1.5 cups almond flour
- 1/2 cup coconut flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs (or 2 T flax to make vegan)
- 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
- 1 banana, mashed
- 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean seeds, scraped)
- 1 cup peeled and diced peaches, plus more for topping
- 1 cup blueberries
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Grease a muffin tin or line with muffin cups
- Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl
- Add wet to dry and mix well
- Add fruit
- Scoop mixture into muffins tins, filling about ¾ of the way
- Top muffins with more diced peaches (you can also sprinkle more coconut flakes on top too)
- Bake for about 25 minutes (*Note: if not using eggs, bake for an extra 15-30 minutes at 300F)
- test with toothpick. Muffins will be moist but not wet
- Remove from oven and carefully transfer to a cooling rack
*Vegan baked goods require more time in the oven. If using eggs, the time listed here is correct.