When summer fruit season is at its peak, as it is now, and the temperatures outside or rising, as they were last week, baking can be a uncomfortable task to face. Why sweat while the oven preheats when the fruit is so good to eat out-of-hand? But bake many of us do: pies, tarts, crumbles, buckles, cobblers and more. Pies are always a production, not the kind of desert you can throw together after dinner for a quick desert. Tarts are somewhat easier, but it's the simple batter-and-fruit approach that's the quickest to throw together, and with such simplicity, arguably the best tasting. It's that basic combination of fruit, sugar and heat–the bready bits just a medium, albeit a tasty one–that offers the purest expression of good, ripe fruit.
A recipe that has become a favorite of mine is eminently flexible, able to accommodate just about any variety of fruit. As published by Chez Panisse and Aux Chiens Lunatiques chef David Tanis in his phenomenal A Platter of Figs, the fruit used are plums, but I've tried figs, peaches, apples, apricots, berries and even blood oranges (which, sadly, were a failure). The batter, made predominately of ground almonds, can be mixed up in less than ten minutes and, if you have almond meal on hand (Trader Joes' carries it), requires nothing more than a few measuring cups and a spoon to stir. The fruit, unpeeled and thickly sliced, is nestled into the batter, dusted with sugar and baked for forty-five minutes. Served warm with some crème fraiche, it makes a nearly perfect desert: the batter scented and finely textured from the almonds, the fruit glazed with its juices and crusted lightly with the sugar topping.
Almond Fruit Cake
Adapted from David Tanis' A Platter of Figs (which you should buy)
1 cup unblanched almonds (or almond meal)
1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 sugar for topping
1/3 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 whole milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 pounds fresh fruit (plum, peaches, apricots, figs, etc., etc.)
1) Preheat the oven to 350
2) If using whole almonds, place in a food processor with the ½ cup of sugar and pulse until finely ground. Mix in a bowl with flour and salt.
3) Whisk together eggs, milk and melted butter. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir together
4) Pour into a 12″ round pie pan (I use a cast iron skillet) and top with your fruit of choice, which should be thickly sliced and unpeeled. Dust with the remaining sugar (1/4 cup) and throw it in the oven.
Serve warm, with crème fraiche. Also makes a great breakfast the next day, if there are any leftovers.