- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2005

When my favorite summer fruits and berries come into season, I prefer to enjoy them as simply as possible. I’m perfectly content to eat a ripe peach out of hand or a few strawberries with just a sprinkling of sugar.

As the season progresses, though, I become interested in finding tasty yet easy-to-prepare dishes that showcase fruit and berries. The last thing I want in warm weather is to be stuck in a hot kitchen for a long time.

Pies and tarts come to mind right away, but sometimes I’m lazy and just don’t feel like rolling out dough. That’s when I pull out my favorite summer crumb cake recipe and use whatever fruit or berries I have on hand.

Crumb cakes are easy to prepare and don’t require lots of specialized equipment. I remember once making a blueberry crumb cake armed with only a plastic bowl and a rubber spatula in a rented vacation house on Cape Cod. I think I even had to use a makeshift arrangement for baking the cake.

So if you are taking off for a summer rental, throw a springform cake pan into the trunk of your car along with the beach gear. You won’t need much else besides measuring utensils and a bowl for the recipe that follows.



Many types of summer fruit are perfect for crumb cake. Peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums all work admirably. My favorite summer berries for the recipe that follows are blueberries, though I sometimes substitute sour cherries during their short season. I avoid strawberries because of the high water content and the fact that they always seem somewhat bland after cooking. Likewise, baking raspberries in cake seems to harden the little seeds and make them unpleasant to chew.

All the fruit just mentioned needs to be rinsed, halved and pitted. Peaches also should be peeled, which is easy to do if they are perfectly ripe.

To peel, drop whole peaches into a large pan of boiling water and leave them in for about 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water, and use a paring knife to loosen, then slip off, the skin.

If the peaches aren’t completely ripe, just use a paring knife to peel them. After rinsing blueberries, drain them in a colander and pour them out onto a jellyroll pan or two covered with paper towels. Pick over the berries to remove stems, leaves and the occasional green or over-ripe berry.

Here’s my favorite hint: The easiest way to pit cherries is to push the point of a chopstick through the cherry. The pit comes right out the other end.This year, make it a point to enjoy summer’s bounty with an easy crumb cake. It just might become a yearly tradition.

Summer crumb cake

See variations at the end of the recipe for substituting other fruit for the apricots.

CAKE:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pan

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg

3 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

1½ cups flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 pounds fresh apricots, rinsed, halved and pitted

TOPPING:

11/3 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Whipped cream, optional

Butter well a (9-inch) springform pan. Set aside.

For the cake batter, beat 8 tablespoons butter and the sugar together until soft and light, either by hand or by machine. Beat in egg and egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in the lemon zest and vanilla. Quickly mix together flour and baking powder; stir into batter with a rubber spatula. Spread batter in prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange apricot halves on the batter, cut sides up and slightly overlapping. Keep the fruit about ½ inch away from the side of the pan all around.

For the crumb topping, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir well to mix. Stir in melted butter, and let mixture stand for a minute. It will become slightly more firm. Use your fingertips to break up mixture into ½- to 1/4-inch crumbs. Evenly scatter crumbs over top of cake.

Bake on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until crumbs color nicely and cake is no longer liquid in center. (Use point of a knife to test center of cake. It should emerge dry.) Cool cake in pan on a rack.

To serve, use a paring knife to loosen cake from inside of pan, then unbuckle pan side and lift off. Use a wide spatula to slide under cake to loosen it from pan base and ease it onto a platter. Serve cake in wedges with a little whipped cream, if desired. Makes about 10 servings.

VARIATIONS

Peach crumb cake. Instead of the apricots, substitute 2 pounds pitted ripepeaches, peeled (see instructions above) and quartered or cut into eighths, depending oln their size.

Nectarine crumb cake. Instead of the apricts, substitute 2 pounds pitted ripe nectarines, quartered or cut into eighths, depending on their size. It’s not necessary to peel the nectarines.

Plum crumb cake. Instead of the apricots, substitute 2 pounds pitted ripe plums or prune plums, halved or quartered, depending on their size.

Blueberry crumb cake. Instead of the apricots, substitute a pint of blueberries, rinsed and picked over.

Sour cherry crumb cake.½ Instead of the apricots, substitute 2 cups pitted sour cherries (about 1 pounds unpitted).

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