Archive for: fruit
Pectin is a naturally-occurring thickening agent that is most often used by adding it to jams, jellies and similar products to help them gel and thicken. Pectin creates a thick, clear set when it gels. It is a carbohydrate (a polysaccharide) found in and around the cell walls of plants, and helps to bind those cells together. All fruit has pectin in it, but the amount varies widely. Apples and oranges contain the most pectin, and the pectin from both fruits is used commercially to thicken many different types of products. Pectin generally needs a high sugar content and some acid, such as citric acid, to activate, and some commercially available pectins include citric acid as an ingredient to help ensure that consumers get their desired result when working with their products. Pectin can be bought at the grocery store in both powder and liquid forms, and it can also be introduced to a recipe by adding fruit that has a high natural pectin content, such as apples or plums.
Gelatin and pectin both produce clear gels with a high sheen, but the products are not the same. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber, while gelatin is a protein derived from animals. Pectin is used almost exclusively in high-sugar products, like jams. Gelatin, on the other hand, is used in a much wider variety of foods, including mousses, marshmallows and frostings because gelatin sets in a cool environment and does not require that specific ingredients be included to activate it.
Many baking recipes call for frozen fruit instead of fresh fruit in recipes from muffins to pies. This is because frozen fruit is readily available regardless of season, it is consistent and easy to use. With an increased focus on seasonality, however, many bakers prefer to use fresh, in-season fruits over frozen, both to make good use of the ingredients they can find at their local markets and to highlight exceptionally delicious fruits when they are at their peak.
Both fresh and frozen fruits make great additions to baked goods, and many recipes out there can be made with either fresh or frozen products. Commercially frozen fruit is flash frozen at a very low temperature, a process that helps to preserve the texture of the fruit after defrosting. Frozen fruit will still not have the same firm texture as fresh when it is defrosted, but it will have just about the same texture after baking. Frozen fruits are not typically defrosted before being stirred into a batter or even cooked down into a sauce. Fruit only very occasionally needs to be defrosted before being incorporated into a recipe and a recipe will always state when this is necessary. When substituting fresh fruit for frozen fruit – fresh blueberries, for instance, in place of frozen blueberries – you will need to be more careful about incorporating the berries so that the tender, fresh berries don’t get smashed as you mix them in. Your baking time also may need to be reduced slightly, as frozen fruit lowers the temperature of cake batters and pie fillings, which can result in a longer baking time.
In recipes that call for fresh fruit to be stirred into the batter or used as a filling, you can usually substitute the same amount of frozen fruit that has not be defrosted without any problems. The baking time may need to be extended slightly when using frozen fruit in a recipe, and when frozen fruit is used in a filling, you may need a little extra thickener because frozen fruit can release more liquid than fresh (usually from water/ice crystals that collect in the bags). In some recipes, it is not recommended to substitute frozen fruit. Recipes will generally indicate when this is the case, and it is usually because they want the fruit to have a specific texture after baking or because a recipe has a very specific baking time and a few degrees may thrown things off. For instance, many baked fruit tarts really require fresh fruit to get a good result.
Overall, frozen fruit is something you can always count on and always have on hand so you can bake your favorite treats year round. But it is worth noting that fresh fruit can always be a good choice when it comes to baking, even if you have to treat it a little more carefully to incorporate it into your batter or dough while you work with it, and it is worth opting for fresh fruit when it is at is peak.
The first time that I had a slice of watermelon with salt on it, I was skeptical. At the time, an acquaintance of mine insisted that it would make the watermelon sweeter, better. I gave it a try and I was an instant convert to salting my melon. I’ll eat watermelon (and other melons) without that pinch of salt, of course, but my friend was right: watermelon is better with salt.
Salt makes watermelon taste sweeter by creating a salty sweet contrast that allows the sweetness of the melon to stand out. Watermelon often has a subtle sweetness to it because so much of it is water, unlike a strawberry or other fruit where the flavor seems to be very concentrated and intense, so giving the sweetness a bit of salt to stand up against makes it seem much bolder. Salt also makes you salivate, which will make the watermelon seem even juicier than it is on its own. The trick to success is to only add a small pinch of salt and to evenly scatter it over the whole piece of melon. If you add too much salt, you’ll drown out the melon’s sweetness and you’ll have to start over with a fresh piece.
So, what kind of salt should you use? You can use any kind of salt, including table salt, but I prefer to use a coarser sea salt or kosher salt. It is easy to over salt the melon with table salt, and you get a greater salty-sweet contrast with the coarser salt while using less salt overall. I typically use Maldon salt or something like the pink Himalayan salt pictured above. You can also pair watermelon with feta cheese for a similar salty-sweet effect and a delicious side dish or snack on a hot summer day.
Cherries have a relatively short season every year and, while you might not think that you need a gadget dedicated to cherries if you’re only going to use it for a couple of weeks, cherry pitters can really be a worthwhile time saver for cherry fans. Pitting a cherry by hand is a somewhat laborious process, because those pits don’t want to come out without a fight. It takes several minutes (5-15, depending on how practiced you are) to pit enough cherries for a Fresh Cherry Pie and if you do a lot of cherry-related baking during the season, those minutes will really add up. I have an old, handheld cherry pitter that doesn’t save me that much time over using a knife, but is easy to use. For those who pit a lot of cherries, something bigger and faster, such as the Leifheit Cherry Stoner might be a better solution.
The Leifheit Cherry Stoner is a little gadget that streamlines cherry pitting and allows you to do up to 25 pounds of cherries per hour! Cherries are placed in the top of the tray and fall through a funnel, where you use a springloaded plunger to punch out the pits with ease. The pits are collected in a tray and the cherries continue down the funnel, where you can collect them. Fast and easy, it is also much less messy than pitting by hand. The stoner is a little bigger than the size of a recipe card box and has a nonstick pad on the bottom to secure it while you work. You might not need it all year, but it is definitely handy (much handier than those little hand-held pitters) for cherry lovers and those who just love to bake cherry pie.
Ambrosia is one of those mysterious dishes that would show up at picnics and pot lucks all throughout my childhood, but was rarely seen anywhere else. It was a concoction that incorporated lots of fruit and mini marshmallows in a sweet, creamy sauce. The “sauce” portion usually involved something like sour cream, mayonnaise, Cool Whip or whipped cream. As a kid, I liked that fact that it was sweet and had mini marshmallows in it. Recently, I was at a gathering where someone brought (store bought) ambrosia as a nostalgic treat – and it was actually pretty darn good. I still like those mini marshmallows, after all.
Ambrosia makes a nice change from the usual fruit salad and it’s fun to eat, so I wanted to make a version of it at home that used a healthy, creamy base and lots of fruit. My version starts with plain, Greek-style yogurt. My childhood versions usually included various types of canned fruits and mandarin orange segments. I opted for more tropical fruit in my updated version. I used fresh papaya, mango and pineapple, as well as shredded coconut (canned fruit is still fine, but try to use a brand packed in fruit juice and drain it well before using). I added mini marshmallows and sweetened everything with honey, to taste.
I love all the elements in this dish and, while it actually still makes a great potluck lunch dish, it is also a great alternative to a simple snack of fruit-and-yogurt. I will make a single serving version just for myself, or double this recipe if I’m serving a group. You can vary the fruits according to your tastes or what you have on hand, as well. The salad is better if it sits for at least an hour before serving to let the marshmallows soften and the flavors meld, so make a batch in advance and store it in the refrigerator before serving.