Recipes: These desserts showcase summer’s early bounty — from cakes to tarts to, yes, fools

Spoon it down, taking in the vibrant taste of early summer fruit paired with sweet cake, whipped cream, or custard. June brings fruit that calls out for dessert making, treats designed to use the bounty of orchard, bush, or plot.

To follow are three delicious choices: a tart that highlights apricots and custard, an English-style “fool” that uses blueberries in an inviting whipped cream concoction, and chunks of rhubarb showcased in a three-layer upside-down cake.

Some readers may question including rhubarb in the mix. Botanically speaking, indeed, rhubarb is a vegetable, but it was reclassified as a fruit by U.S. Customs Court in 1947.  And it is logical to think of it as a fruit because its primarily used in baked goods.

Here are some tips for buying and storing early summer fruit.

Apricots: Available May through July (sometimes August); buy plump ‘cots that are fragrant and a little firm but not hard (they should be just on the verge of softening but not mushy). Avoid fruit that is green-tinged or bruised. If ripe, wash and eat as soon as possible. Ripe fruit can be stored, unwashed, in refrigerator crisper drawer in plastic bag up to 3 days. If unripe, ripen by placing in loosely sealed paper bag at room temperature away from heat or direct sunlight for 2 to 3 days.

Blueberries: Choose brightly colored, plump berries without mold, soft spots, or discoloration. If boxed, check to see if berries move freely when container is tilted; if they stick together, they are probably moldy. Refrigerate (unwashed) in single layer on paper towel, discarding any that are moldy, up to 7 days.

Rhubarb: The color is cosmetic. The red hue if not necessarily a sign of ripeness. The color comes from pigments that vary according to variety and growing conditions. For the cake recipe that follows it is prettier if bright red stalks are used, but greenish ones will work in a pinch. To keep stalks crisp, wrap a bundle of stalks loosely in aluminum foil and store in refrigerator. It will stay crisp up to 2 weeks.

Apricot Custard Tart

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


1 baked 9 1/2-inch tart shell; see cook’s notes

About 5 ripe apricots (13 ounces), pitted

1 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup slice almonds

Cook’s notes: To save time, use store-bought refrigerated pie crust, such as Pillsbury Pie Crusts (15-ounce package). There are 2 round sheets of dough in package. Press 1 into a 9 1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom, folding over edge to reinforce sides with a double layer of dough. If it seems scrimpy, cut wedge from second sheet of dough in package and patch it in place where needed, pushing to seal. Or prepare pie crust from scratch. To bake, cover dough with sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper; add pie weights or uncooked beans or rice. Bake in 350-degree oven 15 minutes. Remove paper and weights. Bake additional 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown.


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place baked tart shell on rimmed baking sheet; set aside.

2. Cut apricots into wedges about 3/4-inch thick; arrange in tart shell.

3. In medium bowl, combine sugar, yolks, and cream. Whisk until combined. Stir in flour and salt. Carefully pour mixture over apricots. Sprinkle almonds over top.

4. Bake until custard is almost completely set, about 35 to 40 minutes. Best served slightly warm or at room temperature the same day it’s baked.

Source: “Four-Star Desserts” by Emily Luchetti (Harper Collins, $32.50)

In cooking parlance, a
In cooking parlance, a “fool” is a simple dessert made with fruit and whipped cream, such as the blueberry concoction here. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)

Blueberry Fool

When it comes to food titles, a “fool” is a simple dessert that showcases fruit and whipped cream. Why is a called a fool? It is believed to have originated from the French word “fouler” which means “to press” or “to mash.”

It goes together quickly and can be prepared 3 hours in advance and refrigerated. Other fruits are often used to make fool, but blueberries are one of my favorites. I like to serve it accompanied with crisp cookies for texture contrast and, well, cookie flavor.

Yield: 4 servings


1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and picked over to remove stems

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For serving: crisp cookies


1. In small, nonreactive saucepan, combine berries, juice, sugar, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until blueberries begin to break down and juices boil and thicken somewhat, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to small bowl. Place bowl in large bowl of ice water and stir mixture occasionally until cold.

2. In bowl of electric mixer, combine cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in 1/3 cup of blueberry mixture into whipped cream mixture. Spoon mixture into 4 dessert bowls. Spoon remaining blueberry mixture over tops. Refrigerate up to 4 hours. Serve chilled and pass cookies at the table or set each dessert bowl on a plate and place a cookie or two on plate next to each serving.

Source: “What to Have for Dinner” from Martha Stewart Living (Clackson Potter, $20)

Rhubarb may not technically be a fruit, but it's sweet-sour notes are ideal for a dessert such as this upside-down cake. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)
Rhubarb may not technically be a fruit, but it’s sweet-sour notes are ideal for a dessert such as this upside-down cake. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Rhubarb is a late spring, early summer vegetable that often masquerades as a fruit in tasty sweet-sour desserts. Most years, rhubarb disappears from the marketplace in early July, so if you want to make this delicious cake, move quickly to buy the fresh rhubarb. My supermarket has a large produce section and stocks it in a pretty, red pile close to the lettuce. I also find it in farmers’ markets.

This luscious cake has three layers and once baked and partially cooled it is inverted to show off the layer of rhubarb. Below the rhubarb, there’s a layer of butter cake and a layer of crunchy streusel, made with sliced almonds, butter, flour, and sugar, plus a pinch of salt.

The recipe calls for unsalted butter. If you substitute salted butter, omit the salt.

Yield: 8 servings


Soft butter and parchment paper to prepping baking pan


1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4 teaspoon salt


3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 pound fresh rhubarb, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch wide crosswise slices

2 tablespoons unsalted butter


6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled

1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamon; see cook’s notes

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons red currant jelly, or cherry jelly

Cook’s notes: Ground cardamon is delicious in this cake, but I must warn you, it can be pricey. I recently bought it at my local supermarket, and a 1.9-ounce jar was $17. It is less expensive at ethnic shops. For me, it was worth the price because I cook a lot of Middle Eastern dishes and chai drinks, as well as curries. For a less expensive substitute, use 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.


1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8-inch square baking pan with butter, line bottom with parchment paper, and grease parchment.

2, Streusel: Stir all ingredients in medium bowl until well combined. Set aside.

3. Rhubarb: Whisk flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Add rhubarb and toss well to coat. Drizzle with melted butter and toss to incorporate. Transfer to prepared pan. Press rhubarb slices into bottom of pan, making sure there are no large gaps — this may involve some rearranging and there may be pieces that will not fit in a single layer.

4. Cake: Melt 6 tablespoons butter and set aside to cool. Whisk flour, cardamom, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside. Whisk sugar and eggs in large bowl of electric mixer and beat on medium speed until blended, about 45 seconds. Add cooled melted butter and beat on medium speed until blended. Add sour cream, zest, juice, and vanilla; beat until combined. Add flour mixture and beat just until combined. Pour into pan evenly over the rhubarb. Break up streusel with your hands and sprinkle in even layer over batter. Bake until cake is golden brown, and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.

5. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cook for 20 minutes. Run knife around edges of pan to loosen cake, then invert onto serving platter. Gently remove parchment paper. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Microwave jelly in small bowl until fluid, about 20 seconds. Using a pastry brush, gently dab jelly on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated magazine

Cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at cathythomascooks@gmail. com