A Guide to Baking with Frozen Berries

A blueberry crisp made with frozen berries
A blueberry crisp

There are few things more disappointing than taking a pack of fresh raspberries out of the fridge, only to find them covered in fuzzy mold. Berries are delicious, but they’re also delicate, and they spoil quickly. Some sources say that they won’t keep more than two to three days in the fridge. Combine that with the fact that they’re expensive, and it can make a pack of fresh berries feel like a truly risky purchase. 

All of this is only exasperated by the fact that we’re making limited trips to the grocery store these days. When we do shop, we’re focused on pantry staples and hearty vegetables that will keep for weeks (shoutout to cabbage). All of this sensible shopping and meal planning has left us craving tart and light flavors. Luckily, there’s an obvious solution: baking with frozen berries. 

While frozen fruit can’t completely replace fresh fruit, swapping in frozen berries will work perfectly well for most of your baking projects. Here are a few tips for using frozen berries in your pies, cakes, and breads. 

Baking with Frozen Berries vs. Fresh

There are some baked goods where frozen fruit just won’t cut it. If you’re hoping to make a fruit tart topped with fresh berries as a decorative touch, frozen fruit isn’t going to work. As a rule of thumb, use fresh berries instead of frozen if the fruit will remain uncooked. That’s not to say that thawed frozen berries won’t have a good flavor, but the freezing process will drastically change the texture of the fruit. 

Structurally speaking, berries are mostly water, and water expands as it freezes. When you freeze a berry, the expanding ice will break down some of the cell structure. Because of this, thawed or baked frozen berries will look collapsed, and less like individual perky berries than their fresh counterparts. 

It’s Not a Beauty Pageant 

In addition to the slightly deflated appearance, frozen berries are going to release more juice than fresh berries. Some berries may have even burst open during the freezing process. That means that color is more likely to bleed out around the berry while it’s in the oven. This matters if you’re incorporating the frozen berries into a light-colored batter, like you would for blueberry pancakes or muffins. If you’d like to keep your entire muffin from turning purple, the best thing to do is rinse your frozen berries before you mix them into your batter. If your berries are destined for an all-fruit filling, like a raspberry pie, then go ahead and skip this part. 

Frozen berries being washed
Rinsing frozen berries

This step is a personal choice. If you don’t mind a slightly darker finished product, then don’t bother. If you crave the contrast of a bright cake with a dark spot of berry, just rinse and pat dry before incorporating. 

Extra Juicy 

If you’re creating an all-fruit filling, you may not need to worry about color bleeding out, but all of those extra juices being released mean that your filling could end up on the runny side. To avoid a watery finished product, increase the thickener that your recipe calls for (such as corn starch or flour), by about 25%.

baking frozen berry crisp
Frozen berries lose their round shape, but have excellent flavor

To Thaw or Not to Thaw?

Generally speaking, you should thaw frozen berries if the recipe you’re making has a short cooking time. For something quick, like a pancake, a frozen berry won’t have time to thaw properly in the pan. The cold berry will also keep the batter around it from cooking properly. You don’t want to end up with raw batter bits surrounding all the berries in your short stack. For something with a longer cooking time, like a pie or a cake, you can get away with partially frozen berries. 

Even though they don’t capture 100% of the magic of fresh berries, frozen fruit is a great option for bringing the flavors of summer into your cooking routine when access to fresh produce is limited.

Looking for an easy baking project? Try this simple shortbread.