Fruit desserts are always my favorite and I rarely do anything complicated. Poached peaches in basil and red wine, or baked nectarines with raspberries and Swedish mandelmassa – marzipan – on top. I love spending a Saturday afternoon making fruit pie. It is a project. They require focus, and every component should be. I’ve seen this country’s baking queen, Julie Jones, put together fruit pies, making cubes of rhubarb to produce a textile-like pie. It gets lost in the forms, in the composition.
In addition to thinking about the visual aspect, you can play with the elements, flavor the pastry or pastry cream, or intensify the fruit.
Award-winning pastry chef Anna Higham (her dessert book, The Last Bite, was recently published) loves fruit and wants eaters to be surprised by it. For example, she puts nutmeg in the custard for her plum pie (a combination I never would have thought of) and infuses the custard for her tayberry pie with toasted hay, but still uses the best fruit and leaves it well alone.
You can flavor the pastry cream of the mixed fruit tart on the back with lemon verbena or basil by infusing the milk and cream before making the pastry cream.
There are baking myths. You don’t necessarily need cold hands or light touch. What you need is practice. Making your own puff pastry takes effort, I’m not going to lie to you, but anyone can make sweet pastry. Do not overwork the dough or it will be tough. Shape it into a disc rather than a ball, refrigerate where you’re directed – this keeps the dough from shrinking – and don’t rush.
Why bother if you can just offer ripe summer fruit? By the contrasts – ripe fruit, biscuit dough, creaminess of pastry cream or texture of frangipane. And they look fabulous.
Tarte tatin with nectarines and lavender
It’s a little different from how I make apple tart tatin. Because nectarines have a lot of juice (and every batch of fruit is different), you should drain them halfway through cooking, and again when done. If you don’t, the dough ends up getting wet. It’s worth the extra effort because this pie is gorgeous. I use the ready made puff pastry from Dorset Pastry. You can get it from Ocado.