Summer is arguably the most spectacular season for fruit. While brightly colored, succulent summer fruit is dessert enough on its own, this season many pastry chefs are honoring the fleeting fruits of summer in innovative desserts designed to surprise and delight diners.
At the just-opened Hairy Lobster in Portland, Ore., co-owner and executive pastry chef Mellisa Root serves a strawberry financier that makes eating the plump, red berries a special occasion. She serves a sliced brown butter and strawberry financier topped with roasted strawberries and compressed strawberries alongside a crème Catalana that is brûléed à la minute. Then, she tops the financier with a strawberry consommé, made with strawberries and a "tea" blend of vanilla pods, fresh bay leaves, lime zest and juniper. That consommé is poured tableside from a vintage China teapot.
“Summertime is my favorite season. Everything is bright and colorful, acidic but not too sweet. It is exactly how I like to cook,” Root said. “The strawberry is like the herald to a great parade in which a summer full of fanciful treats will be following in her stead.”
Root was inspired to create this dessert after seeing the first “tiny, red, tart” strawberries at her local farmers market, and got the idea to “dress” the dish from an Alexander McQueen frock. Added to the menu a few weeks ago, Root says the dish sells very well.
Also excited about Oregon strawberries is Alisha Falkenstein, pastry chef at Pazzo in Portland. She is currently preparing a frangipane tart, filled with almond cream, topped with apricot glazed Oregon strawberries and garnished with a dollop of Chantilly cream and micro flowers. Additionally, Falkenstein recently retired from her menu an airy strawberry mousse with cucumber popping pearls, chiffon cake and hibiscus sauce.
“I love working with Oregon strawberries, so as soon as they come in season I try to use them as much as possible,” said Falkenstein. “The strawberry tart is one of my mom's favorite things that I make for her birthday, and something that I felt could really showcase the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. Who doesn't get excited about local Mount Hood strawberries?”
Once a month at Gracie's in Providence, R.I., executive pastry chef Melissa Denmark features a fruit to tie into every course of the dessert tasting menu.
“It's our way of celebrating that ingredient,” said Denmark. “It also gives us a creative challenge: What are all the ways we can showcase, adapt, and pair this ingredient?”
Last summer, when Denmark’s small rooftop crop of sunberries was ready for harvest, she spotlighted the tiny berries, whose unusual flavor she describes as “somewhere between a tomato and currant”, in a sunberry cheesecake mousse. She folded lightened cream cheese and whipped cream with the berries to make a vibrantly colored and tart mousse, then wrapped it in a chocolate sponge cake and paired it with sweet summer corn.
“Summer is such a fun season for the pastry world,” said Denmark. “Each fruit offers a different experience to play off of.”
The sunberry cheesecake mousse, and a few new sunberry creations, will be back on the menu once the fruit comes into season in late summer.
At Scala’s Bistro in San Francisco, pastry chef Kimberly Bugler, serves an apricot basil pavlova, which is a cross between the traditional meringue dessert and an ice cream sandwich. To make the dessert, instead of using the usual passion fruit, Bugler poaches apricots in Riesling with vanilla beans, makes basil ice cream and apricot sorbet, bakes thinner-than-traditional meringues discs, and then, at time of service, sandwiches the sorbet and ice cream between two delicate meringues and serves them with the poached apricots and micro basil.
The dessert was first added to the menu last May and it remained on until apricot season passed and other stone fruits came into season; Bugler said the same would be true this year.
“I took the inspiration for this dessert from last year’s beautiful apricots,” said Bugler. “I love apricots because they give you a bit of punchy flavor to lift your palate at the end of a meal.”
Correction: June 1, 2016 An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of the co-owner and executive pastry chef of Hairy Lobster in Portland, Ore. The co-owner and executive pastry chef is Mellisa Root.