Seckel pears poached in red wine with pepper and star anise. Green rhubarb tarts in corn flour crust. White peaches in lemon verbena and lavender syrup. Yes, please.
When you see a copy of the gorgeous new dessert cookbook by Deborah Madison, she of Greens Restaurant and vegetarian cookbook goddess fame, you're going to want to rush out to the farmers market. Right now. The only trick is whether you can find the ingredients.
Like so many of Madison's books, Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm and Market is nothing short of inspiring. It's filled with simple but interesting recipes that place fruit on the cake stand without being overly fussy. Toss in her lilting prose, and we want to try all the recipes. And herein lies the one sticky point. Even with so many farmers markets in LA, getting your hands on some of the ingredients at their peak (or even at all) -- a mantra Madison perfected well before it became de rigueur -- can be difficult for those of us who might not have an encyclopedic knowledge of exactly How To Pick A Peach.
It's a problem Madison is no doubt aware of. She offers everyday substitutes for hard-to-find-produce, albeit while noting that she won't eat a strawberry all year except during those two short June weeks when they are truly divine in New Mexico (where she lives). But neither would we if we didn't happen to have such a seemingly constant state of strawberry bliss here in LA.
Consider Lindsey's Austere Berry Tart, a homage to former Chez Panisse pastry chef Lindsey Shere. The recipe is a beautiful study of that less-is-more Shere style that Madison has also perfected in her cooking -- buttery crust, a layer of raspberry jam, fresh berries. The flavor and presentation (it's the book jacket photo) is so dependent on perfect berries, we can hardly imagine Madison following her own suggestion to buy an extra carton if we must use grocery store berries (some will inevitably be bruised).
Even when we can't hit the farmers market every week, we'll be pulling out this book to peruse the chapter on five cakes (olive oil orange chiffon, almond-cornflour, yeasted sugar, brown sugar-ginger cream, steamed chocolate) to pair with whatever fruit we have on hand. Or the one dubbed "Classics You Can Count On," with its berry-peach cornmeal cobblers and yeasted pear upside down cakes. And there are more than enough everyday fruit recipes to get us through until the "perfect" moments, as Madison calls them, when we land a Charentais melon at its peak and happen have some Alpine strawberries on hand to scatter over the chilled slices. Until then, you can bet we'll be making this easy yogurt-honey ice cream, hands down the best tangy-sweet version Squid Ink has tried in ages, with every honey variety we can find at the market.
Yogurt-Honey Ice Cream
From: Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison. Madison says she serves this ce cream with just about any fresh fruit or dessert in the book. The yogurt is very soft immediately after you churn it; if you freeze it solid, thaw in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before serving.
Makes: 1 quart
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup honey, plus extra for serving
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3 cups yogurt, preferably organic whole milk
1. Warm the cream with the honey in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until dissolved. There's no need to bring it to a boil.
2. Stir this mixture into the yogurt, then whisk to smooth out the texture. Refrigerate until cool.
3. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Transfer to a container and keep in the freezer until ready to serve. Serve alongside a fruit dessert or with honey, warmed and spooned over each portion.