Fresh vs. frozen fruit in baking: Does it make a difference in your recipes?

Fresh fruit is a beautiful thing. It brightens the fridge and counter with cheery colors and sweet scents. Frozen fruit allows for some flexibility by extending a typically short shelf life. Both have their place in the kitchen.

But when it’s time to whip up muffins, pies, or pancakes, is it OK to use frozen fruit? Does fresh fruit really make that big of a difference? Let’s explore some fruity recipes and set a few guidelines for using fresh vs. frozen fruit in baking.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

Is frozen fruit really that different from fresh?

Fruit from the freezer in the grocery store is usually frozen at peak ripeness. Most fruits are about 90% water. When they’re frozen, the water in them becomes ice and expands, consequently breaking down the cell structure. When you thaw them out, that lack of structure results in a softer texture.

Trying to decide if you can use frozen fruit in your recipe instead of fresh? We have tips to ensure your fruity baked treats are as tasty and beautiful as can be. Click To Tweet

If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry or strawberry after it’s been frozen and thawed, you’ll know they’re soft, a little mushy, and have definitely lost the crispness found in fresh berries.

So yes, when it comes to fruit, frozen really is different from fresh. But that doesn’t have to hinder your favorite recipes.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

Where frozen fruit works well

If a recipe is going to be baked or cooked after fruit’s been added, it’s safe to say you can use frozen fruit.

Cakes, muffins, baked fruit pies, quick breads, etc. may require a few small tweaks, but are overall easily adaptable to use whatever fruit you have on hand, be it fresh or frozen.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

Tips when using frozen fruit

  • If you’re using frozen fruit in a pie, tart, or as a compote, take a tip from our Pie Filling Thickeners chart and add an extra 1/4 teaspoon (per cup of fruit) of whatever thickener you’re using. This will help absorb some of the excess juice that frozen fruit tends to release.
  • Rinse your fruit if you don’t want colors to bleed. Have you ever made blueberry muffins and wound up with the entire muffin turning purple? Or found that the area around each berry appeared to be green? Rinsing the berries in cool water until it runs clear will greatly help with this.
  • Add extra baking time. Often recipes will include a note recommending an extra few minutes in the oven if you’re adding any frozen ingredients.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

When thawing frozen fruit first helps

If whatever you’re making doesn’t bake or cook for very long, it will help to thaw the fruit first.

For example, making pancakes with still-frozen berries could leave gummy bits of batter around the fruit. The coldness prevents the batter from cooking (without extending the stove time), and the outside of the pancake will likely burn before the inside has finished cooking.

At a minimum, let the fruit thaw. Rinsing and patting it dry will lessen any color bleeding.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

These fresh fruit tarts are a summer staple in our café.

When fresh fruit really is necessary

If a recipe specifically calls for fresh fruit, it’s safe to say that’s the ideal way to go — especially if the word “fresh” is in the recipe’s title.

Our Berries and Creme Tart or any of the beautiful fresh fruit tarts in our bakery are examples of recipes that need fresh fruit. Using frozen fruit in these, thawed or not, will produce a lot of juice. The juice will make your crust soggy, and the soft, mushy fruit won’t be nearly as attractive.

If you just can’t wait to make a fruit tart and only have frozen fruit on hand, try a baked recipe like a galette or our Rustic Peach Tart.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

Testing the limits

Our Fresh Raspberry Pie recipe calls for 1 1/2 quarts of fresh raspberries. I had to know if the berries being fresh really made a difference because it called for such a large amount.

The verdict? BIG difference.

The pie made with frozen berries was noticeably darker in color and lacked texture. Eating this felt like eating a slice of raspberry jam. It also had a hint of that notorious “freezer flavor.”

Lesson learned! If “fresh” is in a recipe’s name, I recommend following it and saving your frozen fruit for something else.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

Sliced, you can really see how the fresh berries (left) set up better, had a brighter color, and didn’t leak any juices into the crust as the frozen ones did (right).

What about fruit toppings and fillings?

Some of our most popular and well-loved recipes include fruit as a topping. One delicious example is Strawberry Shortcake. While using thawed, frozen strawberries to top shortcake wouldn’t be the end of the world, the texture would be lost.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

Because this recipe only has a few simple components — shortcake, whipped cream, and berries — the texture of each component plays a huge role in the overall success of the dish.

If you use thawed, frozen raspberries for the filling in a cake, such as our Chocolate Mousse Cake with Raspberries, the juices will bleed into the frosting and filling, making them watery. Juice can also potentially cause some of the frosting to slide off. While still flavorful, the cake won’t have the intended clean, attractive look.

Using thawed, frozen fruit in an unbaked dessert will yield mushy texture, making the dessert less enjoyable. If you can find fresh, use it.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

Key takeaways

  • Frozen fruit should work fine in anything baked or cooked. Keep in mind that some recipes may require additional thickener to balance the extra juice.
  • Rinse frozen fruit to prevent colors from bleeding.
  • Thaw frozen fruit first if what you’re making has a short baking or cooking time.
  • You may potentially need to extend baking time to make up for cold ingredients.
  • For best results, if a recipe calls for fresh fruit — use it.
  • Fresh fruit added to recipes that won’t be baked or cooked further offers better appearance and texture.

Fresh vs frozen fruit via @kingarthurflour

The next time there’s a muffin emergency and you only have frozen blueberries on hand, there’s no need to fret. Frozen fruits will suffice in most fruity recipes.

If you’re still unsure, give the Baker’s Hotline a call to double check if using frozen fruit would be a problem in your recipe.

What are some of your favorite fruit-centric, year-round treats? Let us know in comments, below.

Thank you to Anne Mientka for taking the photos for this post. 

Annabelle Nicholson
About

Annabelle grew up in New Hampshire and Vermont and attended New England Culinary Institute to study baking and pastry arts. She works on the Digital Engagement Team, and spends her non-baking time playing board games and cuddling her hedgehog.

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Most likely, yes! A lot of the time, a recipe will call for frozen fruit simply because it’s more convenient to have on hand at all times. Unless the recipe gives a reason why it’s calling for frozen, fresh should be fine. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  1. Sylvan Throndson Aros

    Hi, I agree with all your advice with 1 possible exception. On my classic cheese cake with a cream top layer that is baked 5 to 10 minutes which I sour with the juice of 1 small, Mexican lime, I like to cover the cooled cake with boysenberries. If I use fresh berries, i.e. boysenberries, raspberries or strawberries, I macerate them to get a bit of juice. But, as fresh boysenberries are hard to find in Mexico, I thaw the frozen berries, strain them and pick out any mashed fruit. Then in my favorite jam pot, I boil down all the juices and mashed fruit with 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar. If the fruit is very sweet I use less sugar and 1 or 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. (We don’t have ClearJel.) When the ‘’syrup’’ starts to thicken while hot, I remove it from the heat, cool it a bit, add the cool, dried fruit and then pour it on my now, plated, cooled cheese cake. By that time, the syrup is almost like a tangy jam and the fruit is just firm enough to be acceptable. This is my most popular dessert with friends and family alongside of old fashion apple pie. Note that frozen strawberries do not work!
    I really appreciate your blogs.

    Reply
    1. Annabelle Nicholson, post author

      That sounds glorious, Sylvan! I can imagine why it’s a popular recipe choice and I’m looking forward to doing a little experimentation in the kitchen to try and recreate it. Boysenberries are hard to come by here so I think I’ll try using frozen blackberries. Thanks for sharing! Annabelle@KAF

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