Secrets of Fruit Salad

4 04 2011

Fruit salad is a deceptively simple dish.  It seems like you could just throw in a bunch of cut up fresh fruits and call it a day, and a lot of people do just that.  I am not one of them.  And I am often complimented on my fruit salads.  So what’s the secret?  I’ve got several.

  • Honey. Try drizzling a little honey over your fruit.  An unusual or unique one, such as Tasmanian leatherwood honey or Corsican chestnut honey will make your salad much more interesting.  Taste different honeys and try to imagine them paired with various fruits.  A floral honey is nice with stone fruits or tropical fruits, an earthy or nutty one is great with berries or citrus.
  • Salt. A few flecks of crunchy sea salt will really make the flavors sing.  I like to use vanilla salt, which I make by scraping a vanilla bean into a jar of fleur de sel.
  • Acid. Particularly lemon or lime juice.  It not only brightens the flavor, but also acts as an antioxydant to keep more delicate fruits from going brown.  Go ahead and throw some zest in there, too, if you like a more pronounced citrus flavor.
  • Herbs. Mint, basil, and tarragon are three that compliment fruits especially well.
  • No “Kitchen Sink.” It may be cliché, but “what grows together goes together.”  Apples and oranges pretty much never belong in the same salad.  Try to limit yourself to a few well-chosen, seasonal fruits.

Some seasonal suggestions:

  • Spring – Early spring still relies on tropical fruits, but later on, strawberries, cherries and apricots steal the show.  Try them with a little crushed dried lavender.
  • Summer – Probably the best season for fruit salads, summer abounds with juicy stone fruits, berries, and watermelons.  Summery basil and refreshing mint are natural complements, but a little chili pepper makes for an unexpected twist.
  • Fall – Late-season melons, grapes, and plums provide a lingering taste of warmer days.  Crunchy nuts add contrast.  Fall is also a great time for compotes.  Essentially warm fruit salads, think apples or pears and dried cranberries, cooked with a stick of cinnamon to spice things up.
  • Winter – Winter is a great excuse to eat tropical fruits that might otherwise cause guilty feelings among the locavore set.  Pineapples, mangoes, papayas, and other exotic fruits combine with kiwis (grown in temperate climates, but in season in winter) to give a splash of color to the earth-toned palette of winter produce.  Lively citrus salads are made intriguing with a hint of tarragon.

kiwi salad

Kiwifruit Salad

A simple dressing of citrus, honey, and salt elevates ordinary fruit to new heights.

4 kiwis
juice of ½ lime
1 tsp. Honey (I used Tasmanian)
pinch of vanilla salt

  1. Peel the kiwis by cutting the ends off and slipping a spoon between the skin and the flesh. Cut the kiwis into lengthwise quarters, then horizontal slices. Place in a bowl.
  2. Add the lime juice, honey, and vanilla salt and stir to combine. Let the flavors mingle for about 10 minutes, then eat.

Serves 2.

On this day in 2008: New Ganga (a now defunct Indian restaurant)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Tea for Two Tarts, the Second

17 08 2009

Mise en place for tea ganache

When we last left off, I was hoping for more opportunities to combine tea and fruit for unusually delicious Summer desserts.  As luck would have it, the downstairs neighbors invited us to dinner less than a week later.  I was informed that the pregnant wife had largely lost her sweet tooth, but I like a challenge.  I figured something featuring dark chocolate and fresh seasonal fruit would fit the bill nicely. 

A fan of white nectarine slices

Flipping through Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat for inspiration, I found a recipe for an intriguing-sounding chocolate tart with jasmine tea and peaches.  Hmmm…I do like a good ganache tart.  Nick had come home from the market with a bag of assorted stone fruits that morning, so we tasted one of each and determined that the white nectarines were really something special.  Besides the gorgeous blush color of the flesh, they had a unique aroma and delicate flavor that I thought would play nicely off the bittersweet chocolate.  Scrapping Hermé’s overly complicated tart dough in favor of a simple almond sablé (because we all know that almonds and stone fruit are like chocolate and peanut butter – they just go) and subbing in a more robust tea in the (now milk chocolate-free) ganache, I was pretty sure I had a winner on my hands.

Just Glazed White Nectarine and Tea Ganache Tart

For the final touch, I topped the über-shiny ganache with another circle of pretty nectarine slices, which I then glazed with a nappage fashioned from some handmade jam.  The neighbors were duly impressed with the tart’s beauty when I arrived at their door, and not a crumb remained at the end of the night, so I assume it tasted acceptable.  (Ok, it tasted great.  The tea subtly perfumed the intense chocolate, and the nectarines provided a juicy counterpoint.  It may be one of the best desserts I’ve ever made, and it wasn’t the slightest bit difficult.  Look! I did it while drinking a mojito!)  Even the sweet tooth-lacking pregnant woman had seconds.

Want the recipe?  Here it is:

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Tea for Two Tarts, the First

13 08 2009

From the moment the double CSA share’s worth of gorgeous apricots arrived in my kitchen, I knew I wanted to bake something.  As the weekend approached and the supply began to dwindle, I had to tell Nick to stop eating them or I wouldn’t be able to make him a nice dessert on Sunday.  Never mind I didn’t really have a plan, these things usually work themselves out, right?

How to fold a rustic fruit tart

And they did, with a little help from Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan.  Flipping through the French version of Desserts by Pierre Hermé for some apricot inspiration, I was immediately hooked by the recipe for apricots en papillote seasoned with tea.  (For those of you just joining us, I am a big tea drinker.)  The combination sounded wonderful, and I had the perfect floral-citrusy tea to use.  I knew it would be magical.  But I wasn’t so into the papillote.  I mean, who wants to eat roasted parchment paper or foil, no matter how delectable the insides may be?

Look how juicy!

So I joined forces with an old favorite, the rustic fruit tart.  Flaky, buttery pastry is better than parchment any day.   The apricots, tossed with some sugar and a couple pinches of tea, were glistening with juice.  In order to capitalize on the flavorsome liquid, I sprinkled the bottom of the tart with almond meal to soak up some of the good stuff – and prevent leaks, too.

I love a no-fuss crust!

Into the hot oven it went and an hour or so later, I pulled out the browned and caramelized galette.  A friend had joined us for dinner, so we democratically cut the tart in thirds.

A "slice" of apricot-tea tart

Let me tell you, tea does lovely things with apricot.  In this case, the floral aroma and hint of bitter tannin played off the sweet-tart fruit beautifully.  The crust, with its crisp flakes and rich butter flavor was the perfect foil.  Because it wasn’t.  Foil, I mean.  Anyway, I was so pleased with the results that I immediately began contemplating other ways to work tea into my summer fruit desserts…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Long-Awaited French Fruit Tart Recipe…

4 05 2009

…can be found today over at Andrea’s delicious blog, Cooking Books.  It combines recipes from Chocolate & Zucchini and Desserts by Pierre Hermé, plus a little of my own know-how.  Here’s a taste:

Crisp, buttery crust, creamy filling, and sweet fresh fruits - the perfect dessert!

For the full details, head on over to read my guest post!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Nectarine Crumble

30 06 2008

One of my absolute favorite fruits

This one was a no-brainer.  I found some sweet-smelling nectarines on sale the other day, and immediately remembered that I had a plastic baggie of crumble topping in the fridge, just waiting for a surplus of fruit to appear in the kitchen.  The topping was left over from the Rhubarb-Apricot crumble of a few weeks ago, when I accidentally made twice as much as I needed.  The good news is that crumble topping will keep for quite a while in an airtight container in the fridge.

I also found this cool sugar on the same shopping trip.

Less refined means healthier, right?

It’s the texture of granulated sugar, but has a very light brown color.  I mainly bought it because I prefer to use cane sugar when I bake – the flavor is superior and it takes less processing to get sugar from cane than to get it from a beet, which is where most of the white sugar in Europe comes from.  (Of course, when you factor in the distance the sugar has to travel to get here, I’m sure it increases my personal carbon footprint.)  Environmental issues aside, this sugar has a fuller flavor than regular white sugar, but not so much that it can’t be substituted freely.

For my crumble filling, I took 7 or 8 nectarines, pitted and sliced them, and tossed them with about 1/3 cup sugar and 2 Tablespoons of flour, which turned out to be just a little too much.  A teaspoon or two less would have been ideal.  Still, the finished crumble was rather tasty, if I do say so myself.  (Like I can take credit for the nectarines.)

Nectarine Crumble

We ate it topped with hazelnut ice cream for dessert, and with scoops of plain yogurt for breakfast.  (In case you can’t tell, I have a habit of finishing off fruit desserts the next morning – gotta love dishes that pull double duty!)

You may be wondering why on Earth I feel compelled to bake dessert after working in a pâtisserie all day.  Here’s the thing: I don’t actually do any baking there.  I whip up pastry cream or anglaise on the stove, fold meringues into mousses, pipe out pâte à choux, and build entremets, but the actual baking happens downstairs and across the courtyard from where I am.  As it turns out, the things I’m making at work are things I probably wouldn’t make at home anyway.  So I can keep making crumbles and galettes chez moi, and leave the fancy stuff to the professionals (me included).





The First Days of Stone Fruit

10 06 2008

Well, the stone fruits have finally arrived.  Not that I haven’t seen them in the market the past couple of weeks and been tempted, but they are finally affordable!  On Sunday we found some delicious cherries for 1.50 – 2 euros a kilo!  (Here’s how I do the math: 2/3 of the price per kilo in euros = price per pound in dollars.  It’s only approximate, but at least it gives me an idea.  In this case, we’re talking about $1.30/pound for cherries!)  On the way out of the market we stopped for some fruit - advertised as peaches, but with the smooth skin of nectarines – that was 3 euros for 2 kilos.  Whatever they were, they smelled great.  And at that price, we didn’t much care about the name of the fruit anyway.  They taste like peaches, so that’s what I’ll be calling them for the duration of this post.

So the obvious question as we amble home from the market is what to do with all this fruit?  Nick reminds me of a perennial favorite of ours in the summer months: rustic stone fruit tart.  That was easy.

Of course, when we get home and I jump onto cooksillustrated.com for my trusty recipe, they are having some kind of technical difficulties (as they often are).  So I piece together a basic pie dough recipe off the top of my head and hope the proportions are right. 

Rolling out the dough

As far as workability, the dough is great.  I roll it out, place it on a sheet pan, and dump the fruit on top, having already pitted, sliced, and sugared a pound of peaches (no peeling required) and a quarter pound of cherries.

So juicy!  So sexy!

Then it’s a simple matter of folding the edges of the dough up around the fruit.  I also use the leftover juice in the bottom of the fruit bowl to brush the top of the tart and sprinkle it generously with cassonade.  It bakes for about an hour and comes out looking just as beautiful as I remember it.

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Trendy Rhubarb-Apricot Crumble

4 06 2008

Maybe it’s just the season, but it seems like everyone is cooking with rhubarb these days.  Not that I am complaining.  I love the distinct tartness it brings to desserts, making them feel suitable for breakfast, somehow.  It is great in combination with berries or stone fruits, but also makes a refreshing foil to fish dishes.  I bet it would make a decent tamarind substitute, and would add a seasonal zing to barbecue sauce.  Foie gras with caramelized rhubarb?  Camembert with rhubarb compote?  It is one of the ingredients that inspires me the most right now, and I expect to see more of it on restaurant menus in sweet, savory, and palate-cleansing applications.

At any rate, the increasing proliferation of rhubarb at the market has been tempting me, and I’ve been trying to wait until the stalks were good and rosy before buying a bunch to play around with.  When I mentioned to Nick to be on the lookout for good rhubarb, his first reaction was, “So you can make me a crumble?”  How could I let him down?  Besides, I love a good crumble myself.

Top golden, filling bubbly

Searching the internet in an attempt to figure out the approximate proportion of rhubarb to sugar to flour or cornstarch was ultimately an exercise in frustration.  Trying to reconcile grams (my scale) and cups (the recipes) can be, well, trying.  I ended up just winging it, as I so often do these days.  But I think it’s making me a better cook in the long run. 

The apricots were a last-minute addition, as I noticed that the ones I had bought a few days before were ripening swiftly, so into the mix they went.  It turned out to be a good flavor combination – less expected than strawberries with rhubarb, the apricots gave the filling a subtle, musky sweetness which married nicely with the bright tartness of the rhubarb.  If I’d had any cream in the house, I might have done something wacky like infusing it with the apricot kernels to make crème anglaise, but then I just would have been frustrated that I don’t have an ice cream maker here.

Recipe after the jump.  (Yes, it’s done by weight.)

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