After a long and claustrophobic winter in the kitchen, I'm looking forward to a long summer of outdoor cooking and, yes, outdoor baking. Sure, I'll be making pizzas and flatbreads galore. But I'm also planning on producing crisps, cobblers and the occasional upside-down cake on the grill. It's surprisingly easy to bake a casual fruit dessert over a fire. Why not take advantage of your grill's heat to bake something sweet before throwing on the steaks and swordfish?
Before you begin, consider which recipes are adaptable to grilling and which are definitely not. And approach the task with the same relaxed attitude you take when grilling burgers. Desserts baked on the grill don't have to be fancy, just fun and tasty. Some tips:
1. WILL IT FIT IN A DISPOSABLE PAN? Most bakeware isn't designed to withstand the direct heat of a grill fire. Cast iron can do the job, but do you really want to scrub it later? Save your nice baking pans for the oven, and use disposable aluminum pans instead. They come in all shapes and sizes, and are sold in the baking aisle of the supermarket.
2. SIZE MATTERS. Theoretically, you could bake cookies or biscuits on a disposable baking sheet. But these small items bake, and overbake, quickly, and it is difficult to check on them without releasing a lot of the grill's heat. So pick something that can withstand at least 20 minutes of covered baking. A juicy fruit crisp won't dry out in this amount of time. Take a peek, and then you'll have a pretty good idea of how much longer it will need on the grill.
3. CHOOSE A RECIPE WITH WIGGLE ROOM. Recipes that demand precision are not great choices for grilling. While gas grills have temperature controls, and many have built-in thermometers, it is far more difficult to control the heat of a grill than it is to control the heat in your oven. So, delicate cakes that require even heat may fall, burn or both if not baked at precisely the right temperature for a precise number of minutes. In contrast, sturdy fruit cobblers can be baked at temperature between 375 and 450 degrees for as little as 25 minutes and as long as 40, with success.
My berry cobbler is always a hit. It couldn't be easier to put together: I toss some fruit, sugar, and cornstarch right in a disposable pan, top the filling with some sweet biscuit dough made in the food processor, and sprinkle nuts on top.
Local berries aren't quite ripe yet, but that's not going to stop me from making fruit desserts in June. Instead of spending a fortune on fruit imported from warmer climes, I am stocking up on frozen blueberries and raspberries, which are cheap and convenient. There is no shame in using frozen fruit at this time of year. It is often sweeter than fresh. While California and Florida berries are picked before they are ripe, so they won't rot on the way to Long Island, frozen fruit is picked at peak ripeness and quick-frozen to preserve its fresh flavor. By the time local blueberries and raspberries are harvested, I'll be an old hand at outdoor baking.
BERRY COBBLER ON THE GRILL
For the filling:
4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries and/or raspberries
? cup sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon cinnamon
For the topping:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into bits
½ cup sugar
? cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
? cup sliced or slivered almonds
1. Preheat a gas grill to medium. Make the filling: Combine the berries, sugar, almond extract, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt in an 8-inch-square disposable aluminum pan. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.
2. Make the topping: Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. With the motor running, add the milk and vanilla and process just until a rough dough forms.
3. Scatter topping over berries and sprinkle with almonds. Close grill cover and bake until fruit is bubbling and topping is well browned, 25 to 40 minutes (frozen berries take a little longer). Keep an eye on the thermometer, if your grill has one, and adjust temperature during baking so it stays between 375 and 450 degrees. Let stand 30 minutes, dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve warm. Makes 6 servings.