Ruby's sweet wine and gooseberry sorbet (right), a crunchy gooseberry coconut crumble with coconut custard (bottom) and a moist gooseberry and strawberry hazelnut cake. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian
Though it’s fallen out of favour compared to its red cousins, the unlovely old-fashioned gooseberry can give a fresh, sharply summery flavour to cakes, crumbles and a tangy and light white wine sorbet. Just don’t forget the sugar…
In this age of prolific food photography and Instagramming, it’s no surprise that the gooseberry has fallen out of favour – these fat little berries aren’t the most attractive fruit. Some blush to a reddish purple colour as summer wears on, but most are pale green, watery looking, peppered with little seeds. They have a tendency to sink into a grey-green mush when cooked. Often they’re spiked with light bristles. But if you can look past their appearance, you’ll find them a delight to cook with: sharp, sour, bright – a remedy to summer’s heat and an unlikely kitchen hero.
In early summer, the gooseberries on the shelves are the young, green ones – plump but firm, just soft enough to pinch between your fingers. The sugar quantities in these recipes reflect that: a lot of sweetness is needed to offset the mouth-puckering sharpness of these under-ripe fruits. As the season goes on, though, the gooseberries grow softer and sweeter. If you’re cooking with riper berries, you might want to tweak the amount of sugar in the sorbet and the crumble filling, to taste.
Sweet wine and gooseberry sorbet
Because sorbet needs a hefty dose of sugar to stop it from freezing solid, it works best with fruits that can balance that sweetness with acidity. Traditionally that would be lemon, but gooseberry works perfectly too.
Serves 6 450g gooseberries 150-200g caster sugar 200ml sweet white wine, such as Muscatel
1 Simmer the gooseberries, 150g sugar and half the wine together over a low heat for 10 minutes, until the gooseberries are very soft. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, pressing through as much of the gooseberry juice and pulp as possible. Discard the skins, seeds and stalks.
2 Decant into a large, lidded plastic container, stir in the remaining wine and add another 50g sugar to taste. Make the sorbet sweeter than seems right, as the flavours will dull when it’s frozen. Leave to cool to room temperature. Transfer to the fridge to thoroughly chill before moving the sorbet to the freezer to set.
3 Stir vigorously at half-hour intervals for the first couple of hours of freezing time to break up any large ice crystals, then leave to freeze completely overnight. Allow to soften slightly in the fridge prior to serving.
Gooseberry coconut crumbles with coconut custard
A gently sweet coconut-crumble topping balances the fruit’s bite without smothering its bright flavour. And as much as I love gooseberries, a 100% gooseberry crumble is a little too tart even for my tastes. To that end, I’ve used a mixture of gooseberry and apple for the filling, the apple lending a welcome textural contrast to the gooseberries’ yielding softness, while mellowing the taste. You can, of course, cook this in a single, larger oven dish if you prefer, baking for 40 minutes or so.
Makes 6 individual crumbles 2 braeburn apples 300g gooseberries 75-150g caster sugar
For the crumble topping 60g plain flour 60g desiccated coconut 35g caster sugar 35g unsalted butter
For the custard 400ml coconut milk 4 egg yolks 75g caster sugar 2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Toss the fruit together with the sugar and set aside while you make the crumble.
2 Stir the flour, coconut and sugar together in a large bowl, then rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture’s sandy. Divide the fruit between six ramekins, add a thick layer of crumble to each and bake for 30 minutes, until the puddings are bubbling and the topping’s crisp.
3 While the crumbles are cooking, make the custard. Heat the coconut milk until it’s just about to boil. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a separate mixing bowl, then slowly pour the scalding-hot coconut milk into the bowl, whisking constantly. Once you’ve added all the milk, decant the custard back into the pan. Stir it over a very low heat for five minutes or so, until it’s smooth and coats the back of the spoon. It’ll quickly curdle if it’s overcooked, though, so take it off the heat as soon as it’s a pourable custard consistency, and don’t let it boil. Once it’s ready, whisk in the vanilla extract and serve with the hot puddings.
Gooseberry and strawberry hazelnut cake
This is one of those blessedly easy cakes that you can rustle together the second the craving hits you – just summer fruit scattered through a simple pound cake mix. You can swap ground almonds for the roasted ground hazelnuts if you want, but I think the more robust, woody flavour of hazelnut sits well against the bright fruit.
If you can’t find the ready-ground stuff in the supermarket, just roast blanched hazelnuts at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 8-10 minutes, until toasted to a rich golden hue, then grind to a fine meal in a coffee grinder or food processor.
I’ve left this uniced because I don’t think it needs much dressing up, but you could always brush the top with water icing or drizzle with white chocolate if you feel the cake needs a lift.
2 Beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each one in thoroughly. In a separate bowl, blend the flour, roasted ground hazelnuts, baking powder and salt, then fold this mixture into the wet ingredients until smooth.
3 Top and tail and then halve the gooseberries. Halve the strawberries, cutting any very large ones into quarters. Mix just over three quarters of the fruit into the cake batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin then scatter the remaining fruit on top and press gently in.
4 Bake in the preheated oven for around an hour, until the cake is well risen and golden. A knife inserted into the deepest part of the cake should come out clean when the cake is cooked through. Leave to cool completely before serving in thick slices.
Ruby Tandoh is Cook’s baking columnist and the author of Crumb (Chatto & Windus)