Fruit Desserts Plain and Fancy

13_3_lang_1Just about any combo of fruit and ice cream will yield happy results such as this “Ultimate California Sundae,” composed of figs, strawberries, candied ginger and almonds. Photo courtesy of California Milk Advisory Board.

Fruits’ bountiful versatility and beloved flavors take desserts to new heights

Some believe there are two categories of dessert in the world:  chocolate-based and everything else. For that second category, fruit is often the hook. Lucky for dessert lovers, there is tremendous versatility in the types of fruit and the ways in which they can be used. There are the classics, of course, from cherry pie to apple crisp; seasonal faves like strawberry shortcake; endless ice creams and sorbets; and simple fresh fruit stars like raspberries or melon. But fruit is also highly adaptable to some of the latest trends from the sweet side of the kitchen, as shown by these dozen dessert-menu strategies.

Don’t pity the poor lemon. This workhorse fruit and its Ph.D.-level kin (Meyer lemons, blood oranges, kalamansi and Key lime) have earned their rightful place on the dessert menu, offering a light, sophisticated alternative to chocolate. Citrus fruits refresh in the summer or perk up palates in the winter.

In fact, citrus fruits bring remarkable versatility to the dessert menu, as demonstrated by the Taste of Citrus on offer at Tag in Denver, which chronicles the culinary journey taken by chef-owner Troy Guard, from his Hawaiian upbringing to his travels in Asia and Latin America. The item touts Orange Chiffon Cake, Meyer Lemon Cream, Grapefruit-Orange Salad and Mandarin Sorbet — a little bit of citrus wonderland in such familiar forms as cake and ice cream.

Citrus can go plain or fancy. An iconic Southern-style lemon pie with a crème meringue topping, garnished with vanilla wafers, bolsters the dessert selection at the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Krystal burger chain. Delicate Lemon Panna Cotta, perfect after a meal at Chicago’s Purple Pig, gains textural interest with pleasantly bitter lemon marmellata and candied pistachios. And the upscale Patina in Los Angeles does the lemon-pie thing with its Citrus Tart, enhanced by lemon custard, blood-orange mousse and frozen meringue.

> Meyer Lemon Tart: Artisan dark chocolate, macerated blackberries in green tea syrup — Orange Squirrel, Montclair, N.J.
> Torta Carotina: Cured lemon and parsley gelato — Del Posto, New York City

Familiar, ever-popular cheesecake has always been a great vehicle for fruit, as any restaurateur who drops a spoonful of blueberry topping on a slice of this creamy dessert will tell you. Where there’s a sophisticated menu-maker at work, cheesecake and fruit can reach new heights. Take the amazing Smoked Coconut Cheesecake served at New York City’s Spot Dessert Bar. Chef Ian Chalermkittichai uses a technique from his native Thailand to infuse the cake’s cream cheese base with a heady mix of musty, flowery aromas and flavor notes of caramel and smoke — from an aromatic Thai incense candle. He gilds the lily with rich coconut ice cream, basil seeds and a toasted coconut and tropical fruit garnish.

Fruits can be incorporated into the cheesecake base, or as a topping or garnish — or both. The Cheesecake Triptych at Restaurant R’evolution, a new partnership by chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto in New Orleans, showcases three different types of cheesecake with fruit: Mascarpone Cheesecake with Peaches, Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Plums, and Creole Cream Cheese Cheesecake with Strawberries.

> Chèvre Cheesecake: Huckleberries, candied almonds — Foreign Cinema, San Francisco
> Incognito: Lemon mousse, cheesecake, ginger streusel, raspberries and candied lemon — Pix Patisserie, Portland, Ore.

Frozen treats like ice cream, sorbet and granita, represent a perfect vehicle for fresh fruit, which can be challenging to work with — it can be overripe, bruised, misshapen and more. For ice cream, you can juice the fruit, trim the bad parts, make a big batch to “preserve” a seasonal abundance.

Sorbet is second only to fruit for those who want a simple, refreshing and light conclusion to a meal. But there’s more. Birch & Barley, in Washington, D.C., offers an entire tasting of house-spun sorbet, a sampler that might include such varieties as buttermilk, green apple, cranberry-orange, huckleberry-pomegranate and exotic spice.

Balena in Chicago features many distinctive “Composed Sundaes,” featuring ice cream-laden fruit and/or garnishes, such as Grapefruit Sorbetto (with dry meringue, cinnamon, and Aperol granita); Apple Pie Gelato (salted caramel, pecans, brown-butter crumble); and Pistachio Gelato (burnt orange, pistachio nougat and confit orange).

> Roasted Pineapple: Coconut ice cream, peanuts — Embeya, Chicago
> Seville Orange Granita: Lime curd, Asian pear — State Bird Provisions, San Francisco

Fresh fruit loves to mix it up for dessert, from the Fruit and Yogurt Parfait at McDonald’s to the Archetta di Frutta at Culina in Beverly Hills, Calif., which consists of macerated stone fruit served with ginger-honey yogurt cream and Bellini granita.

A serving of fresh fruit makes an easy and welcome addition to the dessert menu for customers with healthy leanings, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be boring or lacking in technique and sophistication. For example, Foreign Cinema in San Francisco serves a colorful Tropical Pavlova — that traditional meringue dessert with a light, crisp crust that cries out for a spangly garnish of fresh fruit — in this case, with kiwi and pineapple, as well as mango sorbet and lime curd.

Fresh berries are particularly beautiful together in or as a dessert: The Capital Grille, a steakhouse chain with locations around the country, uses fresh seasonal berries to enliven its cheesecake, and also serves them simply with vanilla crème anglaise.

> Cranberry with poached apples, Glühwein and cinnamon ice cream — Nomad Hotel, New York City
> Vanilla-Poached Strawberries with yuzu cream, crunchy streusel — Le Cirque, Las Vegas
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