Tuesday, August 11

Creme Blanc and the Zen of Berry Picking

Right now the wild raspberry bushes and blueberry shrubs are laden with beautiful, ripe berries just waiting to be picked and savoured. I can't go for a walk (not even to the mailbox!) without stopping along the way and plucking some bright ruby or deep blue jewels and popping them in my mouth.

When I take a container and set out to gather, Jim knows he won't see me for a while. I love berry picking. I get lost in it. I hear the siren call of the raspberries and they lure me further and further into their dense, leafy patch. It makes me feel productive without feeling busy, at rest while in motion. I call it the zen of berry picking. And all the while my little bucket of treasure is steadily filling. Ah, it's a good life!

A couple weeks ago, when the raspberries and blueberries were just starting to ripen, I set out to pick some to use in a guest dessert. It was still too early for a good haul (not enough for, say, a pie or shortcake) but I couldn't let these first berries of the season go to waste and I wanted to share them with our guests. So I came up with a lovely little dessert that let my handful of berries shine. You don't have to pick your own to enjoy these rich little desserts.

Berry Creme Blanc

Sweet-tart berries, white chocolate and vanilla custard play off each other in these rich little individual desserts. Easy to make and great for entertaining as they should be baked ahead of time in order to chill. Easily adaptable to seasonal ingredients and personal tastes.

Serves 4. Recipe can be doubled or halved.

  • butter for custard cups or ramekins
  • 1/2 cup (or more) fresh berries such as raspberries, blueberries and blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla vodka or framboise (raspberry liqueur) or other liquid such as Grand Marnier, brandy, cran-raspberry juice, or water

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup light cream or evaporated milk (unsweetened)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 oz (85 grams) good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 egg yolks
  • small pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Butter 4 6-oz (1/2 cup capacity) custard cups or ramekins. Divide the berries among the cups. Heat the raspberry jam and liqueur until warm and liquid. Drizzle evenly over the berries. Set custard cups aside.

In a medium pot, whisk together the heavy cream, light cream or evaporated milk, sugar and white chocolate. Whisk or stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl or 8-cup glass measure, whisk the egg yolks and salt until smooth. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture. Carefully pour this custard mixture over the berries in the custard cups, dividing evenly.

Line a cake pan with a clean dishtowel and place the custard cups on top. The dishtowel keeps the cups from sliding around. Fill the cake pan with hot water to come half-way up the side of the cups.

Carefully slide the pan into the oven and bake until just about set. They will still jiggle a bit (but not wave) but they will set up as they cool. The tops will turn toasty brown. Carefully remove the custard cups from the water bath and set on a rack to cool to room temperature. Cover the cups with plastic wrap then refrigerate until chilled, 2 hours or even overnight.

Before serving, top with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, a mint leaf and a sprinkle of fresh berries.

If you want to guild the lily, take these one step further and make creme brule. Before serving, coat the tops of the cremes with a layer of sugar. Caramelize the sugar using a kitchen torch or placing them briefly under a hot broiler.


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