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This Baking Hack Will Improve Out-of-Season Fruit (and Your Desserts)

sheet pan of roasted plums
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When fruit is at its seasonal peak—say, a ripe, juicy, sweet peach in the height of summer—it doesn’t need much help in the flavor department. That’s why baking with in-season ingredients is such a dream. But what about out-of-season fruit, which is typically watery, less sweet and overall lacking in flavor? While we’re all in favor of baking with the seasons, sometimes you simply must satisfy a craving for blueberry pie in the dead of winter. And that’s where your oven becomes more important than ever.

The trick to baking with out-of-season fruit is cooking it before working with it. Yep, we’re telling you to add a step to your recipe—but we would only do that if it was worth the effort.

Here’s why it works: Fruits are mostly made of water, and by evaporating some of that moisture, you can concentrate the sugar and juices in the fruit, intensifying its flavor. It works for sad winter berries, less than perfect apples, mediocre stone fruit and even frozen fruit, if that’s all you can find. We’d even go a step further and suggest you roast it in the oven (as opposed to cooking it on the stove), because it allows for caramelization and adds a layer of rich flavor that fresh fruit could only dream of. All you need is a baking sheet, fruit and a sweetener of your choice, to taste (this helps kickstart the caramelization process).

Once your fruit is cooked, use it in your recipe as desired. But fair warning: You might take one taste and end up eating that hot fruit straight off the baking sheet (or better yet, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream). Want to try it yourself? Here’s how.

How to Cook Sad Fruit for Better Baking

What You’ll Need:

  • Fruit of your choice, chopped or sliced into even pieces
  • A sweetener (such as granulated sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup or honey)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Spread the fruit into an even layer on a large baking dish or unlined baking sheet. Taste to assess the sweetness of the fruit, then toss with a sweetener as needed. (The sweeter the fruit is to begin with, the less you’ll need to add.)
  3. Bake the fruit until it’s soft and jammy and the juices are bubbling but not burned, keeping a close eye on it in the oven. The cooking time will vary based on how large or small the fruit pieces are—small berries will cook faster than large, juicy chunks. The sweetener will also affect the caramelization rate, as liquid sweeteners tend to brown faster than granulated sugar.
  4. Allow the fruit to cool and use as desired. You’ll have to experiment with exact amounts, but you’ll generally need more roasted fruit to equal the amount of fresh fruit called for in a given recipe.

Voilà, your sad winter strawberries are now sweet jewels of flavor. For a variation, try adding a teaspoon or two of extract, like vanilla or almond.

How to Use Roasted Fruit

The applications for roasted fruit are basically endless, but here are a few starter ideas:

  • Try blending it into homemade ice cream pops, à la these peaches-and-cream ice pops
  • Use it in place of jam as a filling for hand pies or a downright decadent PB&J
  • Use it as an ice cream topping or swirl it into your no-churn pint
  • If the fruit isn’t very juicy or syrupy, toss it onto a salad

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Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. A writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City restaurants, she used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she’s an avid home cook and fanatic baker.