I love fruit cakes. No, not those leaden loaves packed with candied fruit and doused in booze. My fruit cakes are another creature entirely—moist, light, and tender, they’re a great way to show off summer’s gorgeous fruits. And you don’t have to be a baking guru to make them. They’re easy enough for novice bakers to prepare and can be made ahead and stored for a few days wrapped in plastic—in fact, I think they taste even better after a day or two. These cakes are terrific for breakfast or paired with summery picnic fare. Add a drizzle of berry sauce or a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and they turn into a great finale for any summer dinner.
The batters for all three cakes couldn’t be more user-friendly. Made with everyday ingredients you’ll most likely have on hand, they whip together easily with a hand-held or stand mixer, with the final additions of flour and liquid done by hand to ensure even mixing without overworking the batter. After the cake has been baking for about 15 minutes, I scatter the fruit over the top. Besides being a time- saving technique (I can prepare the fruit while the cake starts baking), letting the batter begin to set keeps the fruit nestled on top or dispersed in the batter, rather than sinking to the bottom.
You can use just about any summer fruit you like to top the cakes. Just reach for whatever looks ripest and smells most fragrant. Give stone fruit—like peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots—a good sniff. The aroma should be strong and vibrant, with the fruit “giving” ever so slightly at the shoulders when gently pressed. Look for plump blueberries or raspberries with good color and no mold. But if all you find is less-than-wonderful fruit, add a squeeze of lemon juice and some extra sugar to the prepared fruit before tossing in the remaining topping ingredients.