Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tis the Season

A year ago today, I was sitting on a airplane delivering my home from England. Returning from the greatest adventure of my life, I was preparing to take my first job as a pastry chef. I started work on a Tuesday, jet lagged and disoriented. Upon arrival to the restaurant the next day, I was introduced to a cornucopia of fruits, waiting for me to begin. Blame it on this disorientation, but I made the mistake of thinking the abundance of fruit I stumbled into at Eva was normal. Far from the truth, I was being spoiled.

This year, as April rolled around, I was getting desperate. I longed for something fresh, ANYTHING fresh. Memories of last years boxes, bursting at the seams with ripe, fragrant fruit was tormenting me. Finally, local Rhubarb came around. It held me over until the first little strawberries blushed red this month.

As I began my work day yesterday, I smiled ear to ear when I saw a huge crate spilling over with Yakima cherries. After all that waiting, all that anticipation, it was finally here. The short 3 months when we have so much fruit it's hard to keep up.

Racheal and Peter, a local couple that picks strawberries on a friends property in Carnation made their first visit last week. The berries she picks are always perfect, sweet with musky ripeness, and strikingly petite. These little darling berries are participating in 3 desserts this week.

First they rest atop tender flaky buttermilk biscuits, that have been filled with lemon cream. Next they are seen dressed in black pepper scattered across a frozen wildflower honey mousse with streaks of balsamic drizzled over. Finally, they are pureed and folded with whipped cream and creme fraiche, my take on a Strawberry Fool. This mousse like pud' is served in a tiny bowl next to both a warm chocolate mousse and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, thus adapting the delightful flavor combination of Neapolitan ice cream.

The Cherries made their first appearance this weekend as a clafoutie, baked under a light batter and served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Rhubarb is lingering, a soup made from rhubarb and fresh orange surrounds a light vanilla bean bavarian crowned with crisp tart half moons of the stalk, candied in syrup.

The true challenge comes when cases of apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums begin to arrive, stacking up aside flats of strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries all begging to be used promptly. Just the situation I stumbled into last year, blind to my good fortune. Nothing is to be taken for granted this year, fruit will be preserved for scarcer days, and I will relish these few months when I am spoiled rotten with fruit.

My Strawberry Fool

1 1/4 cup strawberry puree, sweetened to taste- kept cold
1/4 tsp kirsch or raspberry liquor
1 cup creme fraiche
1 cup cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1. Combine the creme fraiche and cream in a large bowl. Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the top and whisk slowly until semi-stiff, glossy peaks form. I accomplish this by whisking the creams by hand. The slower introduction of air into the cream makes a denser, tighter whipped product. If you are using a kitchen aid, chill the bowl and whisk, and do not turn the mixer up past speed 6.

2. Using a whisk, fold half of the chilled puree into the cream. When the puree is just incorporated, add the second half and the kirsch or raspberry liquor. Fold until the mixture is of even color.

3. Spoon into individual serving dishes and chill for 4 hours before serving. Garnish with more strawberry puree, or sliced berries.

Notes: It is very important that all your ingredients are properly chilled.

If you sprinkle sugar over your whole berries and let them sit for an hour before you puree them, you will achieve a brighter red puree


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