The award-winning baker is here to inspire and inform all your summer baking projects.

By Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé
August 01, 2019
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Welcome to peak fruit season. Peaches, blackberries, apricots, plums – the abundance at the farmer’s market can be overwhelming at this time of year.  With so many great ingredients available, you need a guide to help you make every foray into the kitchen fruitful (pun intended).  Enter Nicole Rucker’s new book Dappled: Baking Recipe for Fruit Lovers. Rucker, the chef and owner of LA’s Fiona Bakery, is known for her superlative pies and fruit-based desserts, spills her fruit knowledge alongside a hefty dose of passion that will get even the most hesitant baker excited to hit the kitchen.

To buy: Dappled: Baking Recipe for Fruit Lovers, $23 (originally $32) at .com

Rucker shares and in-depth instruction of how to make a pie, from the filling to the crust. She guides us through choosing and storing fresh fruit, and explains how to adapt your baking technique for extra sweet or frozen fruit. Her pie crust recipe, which we featured here in our August issue, comes with lots of her industry-knowledge and scientific understanding of the process. In addition to some surprising ingredients, the language in the book is carefully chosen.

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“I felt like it was important to preface the recipe with enough information and context,” Rucker explains. “I think a lot of people think that pie crust is pie crust. Everybody’s secret trick is like ‘freeze the fat and make sure its ice water’ and it is really not as easy as that.”

Her recipe, which includes brown sugar and apple cider vinegar, demonstrates her mastery of the science behind what makes pies great. The key is the acid in both the vinegar and the brown sugar.

Try the recipe: Black and Blue Pie with Brown Sugar Crumb

“It’s kind of baking elements 101,” says Rucker. “Acid is a tenderizer. It breaks the gluten strands down and shortens them.  The most important element of making pie dough is actually creating gluten. It’s about learning to control gluten. If you coat the dry flour in fat, the fat puts off some of the liquid so it doesn’t absorb fully into the strands of gluten. And the water that does sneak into the strands of gluten has been mixed with vinegar and brown sugar, so it’s basically acid water, which makes the strands shorter and easier to break so it’s tenderizing, it’s protecting, and it tastes good.”

For a juicy but not runny blackberry pie, crush one large handful of the berry filling to make the perfect consistency. The black-and-blue filling can consist of any mix of any brambleberries and blackberries (in this case it’s huckleberries). The crumb topping adds texture and allowing it to slice cleanly by absorbing some of the juices.

Else: Blackberry Recipes

Victor Protasio

The result is a recipe that will help a nervous pie baker shake off any uncertainty and produce a beautiful dessert. “The most important ingredient is familiarity and confidence,” Nicole said. “So, you can make any number of variations of my pie dough and it can come out any number of different ways depending on the method and the hand and the temperature - and most of them are all still pretty good.  The idea is to give someone a result that makes them proud that they spent time making it.”

Dappled is filled with approachable, creative, delicious recipes – most of which require no fancy tools or mixers.

“When I’m baking at home – and most of the time in restaurant – I’m very lazy,” Nicole explained. “And I just want to make something really good, really fast.” One way she makes many of her recipes easier is by leaning on emulsions of sugar, eggs and olive oil, rather than requiring you to cream butter and sugar together. The egg emulsion creates a similar richness as creaming, but with far less effort.

Another key to the genius of Dappled is the endless riff-ability of the recipes.  One of Nicole’s favorite recipes is the Mango Coconut Bundt cake, for its ability to form the backbone of so many delicious desserts. “We make that same cake into a buckle at the restaurant and use a ton of berries and then use that recipe as the base it’s so good.” she said. “You could make it into layers, cupcakes…It’s such a good, rich cake recipe and it’s sturdy, and you could put any fruit in it… that’s kind of the way that I tried to make a lot of the recipes in the book.”

Her number one tip for better baking, though? Cook with fully ripened fruit. “In America, everyone’s so obsessed with crunchiness and sourness,” Nicole said. “It’s crazy. Ripeness is the difference between a sensual, gluttonous, enjoyable experience and just being like ‘eh, its fruit’.” With Dappled in our bookshelves, we’re sure we’ll never think fruit is ‘eh’ again.

Try the recipe: Black and Blue Pie with Brown Sugar Crumb

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