I've lived in berry country my entire life, and there's nothing I love more than juicy, in-season berries. Well, all right, maybe there is one thing—and that's rich, buttery pastries made with in-season berries.
When I was a child in northern California, luscious berry desserts were always served at the end of summer meal. Now that I'm the one in charge of dessert, I find myself turning to a few choice recipes time and again. Conveniently, they all begin with the same delicious crust. It's my absolute favorite pastry recipe: It has the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of a shortbread cookie, and it has also proven to be exceptionally versatile. With slight adaptations, you can use the dough to make individual mixed-berry tarts, little raspberry turnovers, or a scrumptious pie filled with a jumble of sweet berries. All you need to make these recipes sing is ripe, juicy berries (locally grown, if possible).
Knowing how much sugar to add is essential for good berry desserts. Always start by tasting the berries plain. If they need it, add a little sugar then try them again. The first flavor to hit your palate should be fruit, not sugar—a fundamental rule to follow for all berry recipes and especially for berry sauces.
Truly flavorful berries are a singular summer pleasure
In summer, I like to pick my own berries. I'm lucky: In the Northwest, we have lots of "pick-your-own" farms. Check around in your area; you might have them too. Farmers' markets are also a great source for fresh-picked berries. But if supermarket berries are all you can find, don't worry—you can still use these recipes and still get fabulous results.
How to handle fresh berries: When buying berries, avoid baskets with berry stains, which indicate overripe fruit. Look for unblemished strawberries with shiny red flesh and fresh green caps; blueberries should practically burst with plumpness; and raspberries and blackberries should be stemless, without any dry, brown spots. (Stems indicate that the berries were picked unripe, and they'll never get any sweeter off the bush.)
When you bring berries home, spread them out unwashed on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and store in the refrigerator. The paper towels absorb moisture and help prevent molding. It's best not to rinse berries until just before using.