By Ryan Butler
In the realm of professional kitchens, the unwritten rule is never to cook food that is out of season in your region. This is especially important in the dessert world where fruit is often the centerpiece of a dish and the year round availability of green house produce, imports from around the world, and chemically-enhanced fruit can be very enticing. But in reality, using a strawberry in January that was trucked in from Mexico and treated with who knows what to keep it crimson red, is not only just plain wrong, but unnecessary.
Avoiding what’s wrong and cooking seasonally requires creativity. In the summer, when local fruits are abundant, that creativity is channeled into considering new and interesting ways of presenting the fruits with minimal manipulation to showcase their natural flavors and textures. In the winter (particularly in the northeast) when product is scarce, thereby making options limited, tasty and beautiful desserts are still achievable. Winter is a great time to reach for those exotic, tropical fruits which, for the most part, have no seasonality up here as they are always shipped in. This time of year we look at ways to work with the imported produce and employ a multitude of spices. It’s an opportunity to offer diners the experience of tangy palate-popping passion fruit, the versatile pineapple, and the beloved coconut.
Passion fruit is one of those flavors that you either love or hate. Mixing it with bitter chocolate tames the sour notes and works especially well in a creamy ganache. Wintery spices such as cinnamon and clove give the sensation of studded orange peel as in spiced passion fruit custard.
Pineapple is the workhorse of the tropical fruits and is great caramelized, roasted, or as a sorbet. Generally, I believe any dessert that calls for apple can be made with pineapple.
Coconut, one of my preferred flavors, can be combined with virtually any ingredient in any fashion and is the prime component in one of my favorite item on the dessert menu. The coconut chiffon cake with mango jelly and Thai basil meringue a combination of mango, coconut and basil with the silky coconut represented in three forms: an airy sponge, a coconut milk sauce with the effervescences of rum and a coconut sherbet made in a Thai style.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is summer, the abundant season we’re enjoying now for its fruits, herbs, and vegetables of all textures, flavors, and colors, among them the endless combinations of sun warmed stone fruits.
One of the new flavors we’ve been researching is developed by stewing New Jersey peaches in miso caramel, a staple in the Double Crown pastry department. The rich sweet – salty flavor penetrates the peaches and gives that caramel apple feel. The peach is then served with palm sugar ice cream and lemon thyme sabayon.
Another favorite here is the beautiful assortment of fresh berries available. I think these little gems of summer should be eaten with as little cooking as possible but I do love our play of an old home tradition where we bake wild blueberries into a yuzu buckle.
A modern use of great produce is sweet summer corn that is roasted to get the nutty flavor, and then infused into a classic custard base with the burnt sugar top giving it a rich deep flavor.
Summer provides the best nature has to offer along with long sunny days to enjoy especially in the northeast which is blessed with a climate that supports lots of different produce. There is tremendous diversity from honey crisp apples to sugar baby watermelons and some of the best places to find this produce is at any of the local farmers markets in New York City. These markets are a great venue for chefs to score local produce from caring farmers.
And, it’s always a great feeling beating someone to the last flat of strawberries which disappear fast!