It’s the beginning of cherry season – when I went to the farmers’ market this week, there were boxes of the red and gold-colored fruits beckoning from the stalls. The deep ruby Bing cherries were already sweet enough to eat out of hand, while the yellow ones were still a little on the tart side – but perfect for working into dessert.
I picked a trio of recipes from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course; what I like about her cookbook is that every recipe will suggest accompaniments to complement or contrast with the dish. It shows how easy it is to combine a variety of flavors and textures and make the jump from one dessert to a restaurant-worthy composition. Her suggestions are creative and inspired as well; I never would have thought of candied fennel as a partner to cherry cheesecake!
I used Fleming’s recipe for Cherry Cheesecake Tart with Red Wine Glaze but made it in individual portions so it wouldn’t overwhelm the other components of the dessert. The cheesecake, made with cream cheese and sour cream on a graham cracker crust, has a sweet creamy flavor and a wonderfully light, fluffy texture. It makes a nice base for the cherries, which take on a rich, slightly spicy notes from the red wine and star anise glaze. Fleming’s suggestions for accompaniments are the cherry sorbet and candied fennel.
The second item is based off of her recipe for Cherry Napoleons with Almond Pastry Cream, but because I was so pleased with how my Apple Phyllo Napoleons turned out and I wanted to keep the dessert light, I substituted almond-scented whipped cream for the filling and sprinkled the tops of the phyllo napoleons with crushed almonds and sugar. This variation was just as delectable: the combination of cherries and almonds is perfect and I loved the contrast between the crispy napoleons, billowy cream, and sweet fruit. Fleming’s suggestions for this dish were candied almonds and an almond milk granité.
The final part of the trio is a cool, sweet cherry sorbet. It’s important to use red cherries for this (Fleming’s recipe actually specifies sour cherries, which are always scarlet), as otherwise you won’t get the appetizing bright red in the result. For this dish, Fleming suggested candied almonds, fresh cherries, and a chocolate biscotti with pistachio. Even though I didn’t make all of these suggested dishes, it’s really fun to see just how many different ways you can combine dessert ideas and bring out different aspects of the dishes.
And there we are! Three cherry desserts, just in time for Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer!
Cherries – Hamada Farms, Kingsburg
Butter, cream – Clover Farms, Marin County
Sour cream – Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes