When I eat out during wintertime I often complain that dessert menus aren't seasonal enough. Winter is the hardest time of year to produce seasonal fruit inspired sweet things, it's true, but it's not impossible. What's lovely about summer fruit is those specimens taste as good raw as they do cooked and manipulated, whereas winter fruits need a bit more understanding, pondering, to determine how their souls can best be preserved. Some winter fruits love to be baked and sauteed and roasted and pureed and diced and bruleed. Other winter fruits dissent upon first glance into a hot object or under the sharp edge of anything.
I'm highly opinionated about which fruits can be manipulated and which ones cannot. Recently I roasted some Fuyu persimmons even though I knew it would not help their flavor. The true taste of a Fuyu persimmon is how winter squash smells when you first cut into it. It's true flavor is raw one, which disappears, of course, when hot.
In other words, persimmons are wily, like slippery fish. They are, like squash themselves, used as a vehicle for warm spices, which may or may not, depending on how you look at it, deepen persimmon's realized flavor sense. Persimmons are mostly texture. They are incredibly high in pectin and so create fantastically gelatinous "pudding"-like baked goods, tender crumb and a great backdrop for pumpkin pie spices.
Yes, persimmons are also slimy. Hachiyas, when ripe, are practically liquid.
Hachiya persimmons, strangely enough, are a whole other story. Their taste is a bit more elusive.
What's in season right now:
pomegranates, persimmons, apples, pears, lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, grapefruits, kumquats, cranberries, winter squash, and quince.
Lists are how my desserts first arrive. I like lists. I make a stream-of-consciousness grocery list of those flavors/ textures/ marriages/ colors I want to experience at the same time. I see what's at the market, what goes together within the confines of the next dessert, and I try to think about how each fruit likes to be treated.
Pictured is a cake I made to utilize what was in season this time last year, and still eat fresh fruit: uncooked, un-manipulated. Light Vanilla Cake (like and Angel Food Cake but made with a bit of melted butter), was topped with brown butter pastry cream, toasted pecans, Comice pears, Fuyu persimmons and dots of pomegranate seeds.
Last year, while on a pie run, I also put Fuyu persimmons in an apple pie. As did happen with the roasting, the persimmon's soul, it's subtle, elusive flavor, disappeared, and all that remained was a colorless ghost. The persimmon left a shell of itself behind to remind, but not satisfy.
It's obvious that pomegranate seeds are best eaten raw. What's exciting about them is they're red, bright in color and flavor, and crunchy. Pomegranate seeds are a fantastic foil for sweet and savory dishes high in fat because of their aforementioned traits. Soups, salads, spreads, sorbet, ice cream, cakes, etc. enjoy these jewel-like garnish-able pips. As you know, I love pairing persimmons and pomegranates (Naked Salad). Color composition, texture juxtaposition, regional similarities, seasonal functionality, and just plain textural explicit experience in ones mouth make these two fruits a lot of fun to have at a party.
Apples and pears love to be manipulated. They love being thrown into searing pans, and hot ovens. Both love spices, strong herbs, caramel, vinegars, spirits and fats. But because of impending brown oxidation, we tend to cook them in some way.
This fall I wanted to create a dessert wherein apples played a starring role, raw. In plated desserts one must always think about production and temperature and how fast a dish "plates-up." When Americans eat apples we hearken back to apple pie, our apple eating benchmark. We think apples must always be paired with cinnamon and anything else would be a sacrilege compared to nothing short of traitor status requiring handing over one's American passport.
I love apple pie, and apple crisp and picking apples. And although there are many an apple which hold-up to severe cooking techniques, both in integral flavor and texture, an apple eaten out-of-hand, just picked, with frozen tingly fingers, a thick bed of leaves underfoot, is like nothing else. I thought of all the ways I have eaten apples and I had an aha! moment when I remembered charoset, the side-dish at Passover representing mortar for building the pyramids in Egypt.
In order to halt oxidation, I reduced apple cider to a thickly gelled, very intense apple substance, and we make only enough apple-salad for each service so the cut fruit stays crunchy. This component, this 1/2 of the plated dessert, is free of sugar in the form of sucrose, so nothing gets in the way of all those individual heirloom apple souls. The other half of the dessert is a honey-cumin pot de creme. The custard s rich, smooth, creamy, warmly spiced and calling out for reprieve itself in the form of something bright or acidic, but not too sour.
When fruit is cooked, its acids mellow to the point of disappearing. In the scheme of things, whether you love acidic flavors or not, balance between various flavors and textures is achieved through knowing what happens to what when introduced to whom in what way.
Which of course brings us to citrus. Even the most devout acid lover rarely enjoys a whole lemon or lime out of hand. Citrus makes great desserts and dessert components when the whole fruit is used. Residing in citrus skin is the oily, concentrated flavor of each fruit.
Sometimes bitter, citrus peels, when treated with respect and understanding of individuality, can work on your behalf like a loyal subject. Whenever I make citrus desserts I zest all the skins and scent the sugar component. Whether it be infusing simple syrup, or processing citrus zest with sugar in a food processor, this is the easiest way to get more flavor-- a more encompassing representation of the whole fruit's soul, into said recipe.
All citrus peel is not equal. Fruits and their adjoining skins are categorized by way of pore density. Just like our skin. Citrus with softer skins: Meyer lemons, Satsuma Mandarins, Mineola Mandarins, Clementines, Kumquats and various sweet lemons and limes candy much faster than citrus with tighter, less porous peel. Buddha's Hand, for example, is so subtle in flavor and in turn has a wondrous perfume like Bergamot or Meyer lemons, that one need not blanch in water at all before using or candying. But because the flavor is hard to pin down, one needs more zest than one would think to state its presence in a dish.
Lemons, oranges and limes are profoundly recognizable. A little goes a long way.
Marmalade is my favorite form of whole citrus fruit eating. A close second would be frozen desserts because when desserts are frozen they mimic the adjectives associated with how acidic flavors react in our mouths. OOOH! We exclaim, puckering.
If you are making any ice cream from citrus know these things:
a. Cold citrus juice must only be added to cold cream/ dairy.
b. Acidic liquid cannot be cooked.
c. Reducing citrus juice makes it stronger in flavor as well as acid and sugar composition.
d. One can add juice or reduced juice to base while it is churning in the machine.
e. The presence of citrus zest IN a frozen dessert reads like plastic does in the mouth-- it's hard to chew, does not release its oily aromatics and gets very tough in the presence of freezing temperatures.
I also like to segment various citrus fruits as a garnish to desserts. As you can see, I enjoy the challenge of serving and utilizing raw fruit when possible.
I am one of those rare people, in fact, who loves to eat whole kumquats raw. But I doubt I would use them like this in a plated dessert, because the flavor sensation is profoundly overpowering. Like most people I prefer to cut kumquats into rings and candy them quickly in a one to one simple syrup. They keep for an unbelievable amount of time and pair well with all sorts of savory and sweet compositions. Take out your sharpest knife when cutting kumquats. Sometimes there are seeds in them as big as the fruits themselves!
Quince also require sharp knives and a dedication to the devotion they deserve. Hard work, but worth it, because quince taste and look and feel like nothing else. Because quince need quite a long time in their poaching liquid to get to a state of edible-ness, and evaporation of the liquid concentrates flavor and sweetness, I try to start with a bath which is one part white wine poaching liquid, one part water and one part sugar. As a purist I say keep aromatic spices and herbs away from quince until the cooking process is finished, except maybe 1/2 a vanilla bean if it's in your pantry.
Cranberries, only in season right before Thanksgiving, on the other hand, LOVE getting into the pot with many another ingredient. They stand tall next to nuts, citrus, cinnamon sticks, star anise, rosemary, thyme and most anything else you throw their way. Growing up under that many metric tons of frozen water create resilient little guys!
A cranberry is a cranberry is a cranberry.
And the first time you make cranberry sauce from scratch you understand why cranberry sauce holds its complete shape coming out of the can: cranberries are higher in pectin than apples, quince and persimmons put together!
I realize that besides pumpkin pie, adding winter squash into the mix for plated dessert possibilities, is a stretch, but I have been attempting to use them for some time. I don't have a lot of successful plates to describe to you, but I keep it on the realm-of-possibility shelf because I have eaten desserts I've loved centered around this intriguing component.
White Wine Poaching Liquid
In a non-reactive pot pour:
Chardonnay or light, not too sweet, white wine 1 bottle, 750ml
bring to boil, the add:
Cold Water 1 bottle, 750ml
bring both to boil
Sugar 1.5-2 Cup (depending on ripe/ sweetness of fruit & wine)
bring back to boil, turn down heat and simmer 5 minutes.
Shut off heat and add juice of one freshly squeezed lemon.
Chill to cold, uncovered, and then cover tightly.
Will keep for 3 weeks refrigerated.
To poach fruit: bring poaching liquid to boil, shut off heat, drop in fruit, cover with piece of parchment and a plate to submerge fruit, turn heat to low-medium and after you see movement in the liquid, turn down and "simmer" lightly until fruit shows no more opaque spots.
After fruit is poached it is very delicate. it is best to handle with your hands as many kitchen tools can hurt fruits. Poached fruits keep best floating in their liquid.
Happy Autumn & Winter seasonal fruit dessert eating!