Chefs across the country are finding inspiration for their desserts at local farms and farmers’ markets, where stone fruits and berries are at the peak of their season.
“I try to do all of my specials really, really seasonal. It creates a much bigger impact,” said Alma Alcocer, at El Alma, a home-style Mexican restaurant in Austin, Texas. “The customers love it.”
This summer Alcocer is using fresh Texas peaches to create her take on two classic dishes. She’s serving rice pudding with honey-roasted peaches, as well as empanadas filled with honey-roasted peaches and caramelized ginger served with raspberry hibiscus sorbet.
“We have years where we barely have any [peaches],” said Alcocer. “[It’s] a good year. I’m obsessed with them.”
Also relishing in Texas’ summer fruit bounty is chef Erica Beneke of Max’s Wine Dive in Austin.
“The growing season in Texas is tricky. It’s insanely hot in the summer, which makes it difficult to grow anything,” said Beneke. “There are a few things that shine through. Right now it’s peaches and berries.”
To capitalize on the season, Beneke has created a peach parfait with spicy peach compote, mint-basil cream and pecan crumble. She noted that the parfait, which has been on the menu less than a month, has been very popular. “It’s a fun dessert,” she said. “A little bit lighter. Perfect for summer.”
At 1789 in Washington, D.C., chef Ryan Westover serves his take on traditional hand pies, filling them with seasonal fruits and topping them with marshmallow glaze. Currently, he is using fresh blueberries from a farm in nearby Virginia.
“It’s in the spirit of summer,” said Westover. “It’s something people get excited about.”
Westover is using the traditional mini-pies as a base from which to create as the season allows. Earlier this summer he filled the two-bite pies with strawberry rhubarb. When the blueberries are gone he says he’ll turn to blackberries, and he’s considering using pumpkin come fall. What he likes best about using in-season fruit is the intense flavor and the way it forces him to work with what is available.
“The flavor of the berries in season is just so much better,” said Westover.
While some are finding new ways to serve seasonal fruit, chef Justin Smillie of il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, an ingredient-driven Mediterranean restaurant in New York City, prefers to let the fruit stand on its own.
“If you get something ripe and really pristine, why mess with it?“ said. Smillie. “I’d rather eat it fresh.”
At il Buco, Smillie is serving a simple burnt ricotta cheesecake with fresh fruit and turbinado sugar. Right now he’s topping the dessert with nectarines, peaches and cherries.
“We’re very informed by what’s happening in the famers’ market,” said Smillie. “That’s where most of our menus are written.”
Other restaurants putting summer fruits on their dessert menus include North End Grill in New York City, which has an apricot upside-down cake with macadamia nougat that uses fresh apricots in the cake and half of a roasted apricot on the plate. The Hamilton in Washington, D.C., has a Blueberry Buckle made with local blueberries, a warm cornmeal biscuit, vanilla ice cream and caramel popcorn. Brennan’s of Houston has a peach cobbler with Texas rum glazed peaches, toasted pecan streusel, honey-wine caramel and vanilla ice cream.