I love to use fresh fruit in cobblers and crisps during the summer because they’re so easy to make and are also a great way to showcase in-season fruit. There are other desserts that showcase fresh fruit just as well, though, and this cake is one of them. This Summer Nectarine Cake is packed with ripe summer nectarines and delivers at least as much fruit flavor as any cobbler would. The cake is super moist, with a light flavor of butter, vanilla and almond that does a perfect job of spotlighting juicy, floral and sweet nectarines.
When you make this cake, you’ll notice that the cake batter is very thick. Do not be alarmed by this – and do not add more liquid to your recipe to try to thin it out! The batter is thick because it needs to be thick to support all of that fresh fruit. The pieces of nectarine are pressed gently into the top of the cake batter, once it is spread in the pan, and that thick batter rises up and around the fruit. Believe it or not, that fruit will remain suspended in the batter and won’t sink to the bottom, and the cake will absorb all of the juice from the nectarines as it bakes.
Use ripe nectarines that are still a little bit firm, as they will be the easiest to cut and handle when preparing the recipe. I cut my nectarines in half and give them a little twist to separate the halves, then remove the pits. I use quartered nectarines in this recipe, for nice big pieces of fruit. If your nectarines are on the small side, you can probably squeeze in five for this cake. I also don’t peel the fruit for this cake, as the peels aren’t very noticeable in the finished cake and it gives a nice pop of color to the fruit, as well as a pleasantly rustic look to the finished product.
One of my favorite things about summertime is the wide variety of fresh produce available at both my local grocery stores and my local farmers markets. From tomatoes and corn to strawberries and melons, it seems that everything is at their flavor peak when the weather is hot. I find that fruit is absolutely irresistible in the summer and always bring home a few baskets to work with. Fresh fruit really doesn’t need any fancy preparations or sauces to be enjoyed, especially when that fruit is perfectly sweet and ripe.
So, I like to keep things simple with my summer fruits and will usually toss them on the grill after cooking my main course. Grilled fruit is one of the best – and easiest – summer desserts that you can make. Grilling can make sweet fruit even sweeter, as well as adding a slight char that contrasts with the fruits’ sugars. And if you’re anything like me, you already have that grill going all the time in the summer and grilling fruit is just one more way to put it to good use.
Just about any fruit can be grilled, though some fruits will hold up better than others. Berries, for instance, can be grilled quickly, but can soften too quickly in the high heat. Your best choices for grilling are fruits that are firm enough to withstand the heat without becoming mushy. Peaches, plums, nectarines and other stone fruits are my favorite choices, though fruits like pineapple, melon and even pears can be very delicious, too. To grill fruit, you’ll want to turn the heat down to low and then give either the fruit or the grill a light coating of oil to keep the tender fruit from sticking. Once you put the fruit on the heat, you can just leave it alone for a few minutes as it cooks, and remove it when it is perfectly tender.
Grilled fruit can be served on its own, but my favorite way to serve it is with a few scoops of ice cream as a sundae. Cold vanilla ice cream is a wonderful contrast for the fruit when it is still warm from the grill and after serving this up at your next barbecue, you just might find that grilled fruit will become a staple at every one of your summer cookouts.
August 2nd is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, and while it is great to have a day dedicated to this frozen treat, any warm summer day is a good time to celebrate by eating an ice cream sandwich. There are tons of ice cream sandwiches to choose from when you head down the freezer aisle of the grocery store, but it is a lot more fun to make your own. When making your own, you can really customize the flavors of your cookies and your ice cream filling, and you can choose top-quality ingredients, where the storebought varieties often save money by using cookies you wouldn’t eat on their own and “frozen dairy desserts” in place of ice cream. Every time you bake a batch of cookies, stash a couple in the freezer in an airtight bag and you will always have the makings of an ice cream sandwich on hand.
- Make Double Butter Pecan Ice Cream Sandwiches by pairing storebought butter pecan ice cream with homemade Butter Pecan Slice and Bake Cookies. It’s a double whammy of one of ice cream’s most indulgent flavors. Bake thin cookies so that your sandwiches will be more streamlined.
- Make Two Tone Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches by filling pairs of homemade chocolate chip cookies with half a scoop of vanilla ice cream and half a scoop of chocolate. Eat right up the middle to get a combination of both flavors, or eat one side before the other to get two different desserts in one!
- These Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches are made with lower fat (but still just as delicious) cookies and showcase how you can make an indulgent treat a little lighter by baking the cookies yourself. I like raisins for a classic oatmeal cookie feel, but chocolate chips can be a great alternative.
- Try S’mores Ice Cream Sandwiches by sandwiching homemade Marshmallow Ice Cream and chocolate sauce between two graham crackers. Grahams soften nicely when they’re paired with ice cream, so you get the flavor in a sandwich that is easy to eat. I recommend chocolate sauce because it is easier to pair with ice cream than melted chocolate is.
- Mint Chocolate Chip Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches are for chocolate lovers. Brownies aren’t quite cookies, but they do make a fantastic base for an ice cream sandwich. Homemade brownies make the best sandwiches when they’re sliced in half, so that the layers aren’t too thick. Substitute mint chocolate chip for your favorite ice cream flavor to mix things up!
Remember that you can always store ice cream sandwiches in the freezer for later, so don’t hesistate to make a big batch and individually wrap all of your sandwiches in a little bit of plastic wrap so that they’re ready to go when you’re in the mood for an outrageous ice cream sandwich.
There are so many ways to put fresh tomatoes to good use in the summertime. You can put them in salads, roast them in the oven to pair with bread or pasta, and you can turn them into an irresistible gazpacho. This Summer Tomato Gratin with Garlic Parmesan Topping is just one more delicious way to enjoy tomatoes. I was inspired by a piece that Cook’s Country magazine did on this type of dish, as I had never had a tomato gratin before, and after a little bit of experimentation, I put together a version that will now be a summer staple at my house.
This gratin starts with about three pounds of fresh tomatoes. Choose meaty, heirloom varieties for the best results and flavor. Heirloom tomatoes make a gratin that is head and shoulders above anything you can make with your standard store-bought tomato. I use homegrown tomatoes in mine and work with whatever tomatoes are available in my garden, but I prefer to use a mix of colors for a brighter look to the dish. The tomatoes are drained to remove a little bit of their excess moisture – a great tip that came from the magazine – and then topped with a simple garlic-Parmesan crumb topping. The topping uses both fresh bread crumbs and crispy Panko breadcrumbs, which blend very well for a perfectly crispy – but not dry – topping. I also include some thinly sliced sweet onions (Hawaiian or Vidalia) along with the tomatoes to give the dish a little extra flavor. The tomatoes take on an intense flavor from their time in the oven and the crispy topping is a great contrast to the sweet, tender tomatoes. The dish captures all the flavor of bruschetta in a totally different package.
This is an excellent side dish for any summer meal, but if you are as big a tomato fan as I am, I have to tell you that it makes a great main course, as well. Be generous with the serving sizes and pair this with a salad, and you have a vegetarian entree that celebrates summer and that your guests will adore.
In the winter, you would never think twice about turning on your oven to do a little baking. During the summer, when it is scorching hot outdoors, the idea of turning on the oven for any length of time becomes a lot less appealing. Those freshly baked cookies are tempting all year round, however, so sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and turn on the oven to do a little baking – even in the summer. It can be more challenging to bake when temperatures are high, so you may find that your recipes don’t turn out quite the same way during the summer as they do in colder months. Not to worry, though, these 5 Tips for Hot Weather Baking will help get you through the summer baking season smoothly!
- Butter will soften much more quickly than usual. Oversoftened butter is partially melted and cannot be creamed into sugar the same way that properly softened butter can be. It can completely change the outcome of a recipe. It also cannot be used to make a smooth, spreadable frosting because it is simply too liquidy. Take care not to oversoften the butter by only taking it out a few minutes before you need it if your kitchen is warm. Check the butter frequently (by pressing it with a fingertip) to test its progress. And have a backup stick of butter in the fridge in case you need to start over.
- Try to use the oven late in the evening. Turning on your oven early in the day, unless it is only for a few minutes, can heat up your kitchen very quickly. When it is hot outside, that heat has nowhere to go and your house will feel even hotter. By baking in the evening, your kitchen, your oven and your baked goods will have plenty of time to cool down after you are done baking for the night.
- Cookie dough needs to go into the oven very quickly. The butter in cookie dough will start to melt as it is left out in a warm room. In very high heat (such as next to the stove), the butter in your dough can even start to separate. This will change the texture of your cookies and give you much flatter cookies than your recipe would normally produce. Try to get your dough into the oven as quickly as possible after making it. If necessary, chill your dough in the refrigerator for a few minutes between batches to keep it firm.
- Yeast dough will rise much faster than usual. Most yeast doughs call for dough to proof, or rise for a period of time. In a cool kitchen, the proofing period can take anywhere from one hour to a few hours. In a hot kitchen, this period may only take 20 minutes. Although the dough has risen dramatically, a super short rise is not long enough for the dough to fully develop its flavor and texture. Proof your dough in a cooler place (even a small space cooled with a few freezer packs or a bowl of ice cubes) or start your bread a day in advance and allow it to rise overnight in the fridge. Different recipes may work better with different methods, but a more controlled rise will give you a more flavorful finished bread.
- Turn your car into an oven. Save energy and keep your kitchen cool by not using your oven at all to bake that batch of cookies. On a hot summer day, when temperatures are over 100F, it can reach temperatures of over 180F inside of your car – and that is hot enough to bake a batch of cookies! Car-baked cookies (pictured above) are definitely a novelty, but they’re the perfect way of proving that you can make great, creative use of the summer sun. They’re also great for impressing family and friends who have been complaining about a heat wave.