Our class has now entered the pastry and baking part of the culinary arts program. It is six weeks of croissants, baguettes, muffins, cakes, pies, tarts, chocolate, fruits and more… and I thought our French technique classes were full of butter. These five weeks were dreaded by half of my class, and highly anticipated by the other half. I fall into the later category. First of all, I love to bake. Second, baking will be a nice change – something different than my last six months of cooking. I am ready for the slower paced classes where more attention is paid to details and presentation. Then, of course, there are the take home goodies.
Today we started with fruit. We dried, baked, roasted, poached, macerated, candied, and grilled. Yes, grilled fruit. My favorite grilled fruit is pineapple. Great dish for a summer BBQ. You cut slices of pineapple about 3/4 inch, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, add your spices, grill on both sides, and enjoy! I like cinnamon on mine with a pinch of ground red pepper for heat.
Macerating fruit is another really simple, but tasty, fruit preparation. To macerate fruit, you toss the chopped fruit with a mixture of sugar and an acidic liquid, such as alcohol or vinegar. You can also add spices or chopped herbs. Cover and chill the fruit to allow all the flavors to mingle and liquids to exchange. Water leaves the fruit, but the sugar and acid enter. The fruit becomes sweet and tangy. It is very nice. We prepared strawberries in this manner today that were exceptional. The recipe had an ingredient that we all associate more with cooking and savory foods – tarragon. But tarragon worked very nicely with strawberries. Who would have thought?
Some of our poached fruits tasted like canned fruit to me. A bit boring. For those who don’t already know, canned fruit is poached fruit. However, adding spices to the poaching liquid gave the fruit a new dimension. Spices we used included cinnamon stick, star anise, and vanilla bean. You could even use herbs in the liquid to infuse the fruit. I once ordered a rosemary infused pear tartin with rosemary ice cream from a restaurant for dessert. It sounded crazy, and that was why I ordered it, but it was really quite nice. The aroma of earthy rosemary and sweet poached pear was amazing. Rosemary elevated the dish and took it somewhere totally unexpected. A great wintry dessert.
Nutrition Facts: Fruit desserts have the potential to be very healthy. That being said, they can also to be a diet disaster. Most fresh fruits are fat free, cholesterol free and low in sodium. They have natural sugar encased in a fiber-filling with antioxidants galore. For the most part, the best way to preserve their nutrient value is to do as little cooking as possible. Cooking reduces the fiber in foods and heat can denature vitamins and important micronutrients. To get the most bang for your buck, the best technique I mentioned is maceration. Maceration involved no cooking at all. This isn’t true for all fruit, however. Scientists discovered within the last few years that lycopene, the nutrient found in tomatoes (which are a fruit), is more concentrated and better absorbed by eating cooked tomatoes. But until more research is done on other cooked fruits, less is more.
The diet disaster is the sugar soaked or coated fruit. This includes pie filings cake toppings, and tarts. Sugar adds calories and carbohydrates which are bad things for dieters and diabetics. And tell me what restaurant serves fruit for dessert without ice cream? When you want to indulge, this can be great, don’t get mewrong. But don’t do it everyday, and try to share it other people for damage control.