Lusciously cherimoya

Times Staff Writers

CHERIMOYAS, with their haunting perfume, creamy texture and a delicate flavor that combines notes of pear and passion fruit, are becoming more plentiful every year here during their season. For a few weeks, they're not rarities (though they do look antediluvian), they're piled high in farmers market stalls -- so it's time to stop thinking of them as simply treats out of hand and figure out wonderful ways to cook with them.

Or actually, not cook with them. Just slicing, pureeing or muddling the uncooked flesh preserves the integrity of this delicate fruit. They may look more like immature pine cones than anything tropical, but they're easy to incorporate into desserts and cocktails -- a melt-in-your-mouth tart, a creamy semifreddo, a breezy drink with a little rum and a little tequila.

Their unusual creamy texture makes them the perfect candidate for a luscious semifreddo. (Cherimoyas are so custardy that newbies are often advised to freeze them and then eat the frozen fruit with a spoon right from the shell.) It's both elegant and easy to make. Just combine cherimoya puree with whipped cream and Italian meringue, then spoon it into ramekins. Kumquat zest heightens the flavor and brings out a floral note in the semifreddo.

A tart is a great way to feature the silky texture of the fruit -- sliced fresh cherimoya arranged on a shell of golden baked puff pastry. The fruit isn't baked, so its fresh, appealing texture is highlighted in this dessert. Use a high-quality frozen puff pastry (made with butter); those light, crisp layers of pastry set off the sliced creamy cherimoyas that are brushed generously with Key lime syrup. The lime juice makes this cherimoya tart sing.

Summer's nearly here, it's hot and you're thirsty for a great batido? Because of its custard-like texture cherimoya makes an excellent Cuban smoothie. Blend 2 cups of cut-up, chilled cherimoya with one-half cup milk until smooth, then blend in one-half cup ice. It's rich and cool and delicious.

In the search for intriguing fruit creations, mixologists seem to be giving pastry chefs a run for their money. Eddie Perez, bar manager of the new Foundry restaurant in West Hollywood, combines cherimoya with Trinidadian rum made with cane sugar (lighter than molasses-based rum), silver tequila, citrus and pineapple juice, orange bitters and pear puree. It's a festive tropical concoction, intensified with a bit of creme de cacao.

Choose fruit that's green, firm, heavy for its size and without blemishes (avoid splotchy, dark fruit). They range in size from petite quarter-pounders to 2-pound brutes; select a size that works for you -- small, medium and large fruits are equally good. When ripe, the fruit yields slightly, like an avocado, to pressure from your finger.

Use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to peel it. Cut the fruit in half vertically, then quarter and slice to get at the shiny black seeds. You can remove them using the tip of your knife, cutting the fruit into smaller pieces as necessary. It's easy to miss one or two; make sure to remove any that you spot while pureeing or muddling.

Sliced, muddled, pureed -- just grab cherimoyas while you can.

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donna.deane@latimes.com

susan.latempa@latimes.com

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Cherimoya tart

Total time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Servings: 8

Note: From test kitchen director Donna Deane. Frozen butter puff pastry sheets are available at Surfas in Culver City and Nicole's Gourmet Foods in South Pasadena. Cherimoyas are available in some farmers markets and the produce sections of some supermarkets.

6 Key limes

1/2 cup sugar

1 package (14 ounces) butter puff pastry, thawed according to package directions

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 cherimoyas (1 to 1 1/4 pounds)

8 raspberries

1. Grate enough of the limes with a box grater or microplane to get one-half teaspoon zest. Spread half the zest on a sheet of wax or parchment paper to dry. Reserve the remaining fresh one-fourth teaspoon zest. Juice the limes to get approximately one-fourth cup juice.

2. In a small saucepan, dissolve the sugar in one-half cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook to a syrupy consistency without stirring, about 15 minutes (about 230 degrees). Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Stir in the fresh undried lime zest and 1 teaspoon lime juice. Set aside.

3. Butter the bottom and sides of an 11-by-8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Unfold the puff pastry and roll out creases with a rolling pin. Drape the dough up onto the rolling pin and lift onto the tart pan. Gently ease the dough into the tart pan pressing it onto the bottom and against sides of the pan. Press the dough around the top edges of the pan to cut dough even with the top of the tart pan.

4. Brush the bottom and sides of the dough with beaten egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Prick the dough over the bottom and sides with a fork or run a dough docker over the bottom of the tart. (It is unnecessary to use pie weights.)

5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven until the pastry is golden brown. If the bottom of the dough puffs too much during baking, gently press it down without breaking the pastry. Remove from the oven and let cool to warm. When the pastry is cool enough to handle, gently loosen the sides of the shell from the pan with a knife, and remove the shell to a serving platter.

6. Cut the cherimoyas into quarters. Peel each quarter and cut into one-fourth-inch-thick slices, removing seeds with the tip of the knife as you slice. Brush the slices with the leftover lime juice as you slice them to prevent browning.

7. Arrange cherimoya slices on top of the baked puff pastry in an attractive pattern. Brush the fruit generously with the lime syrup. Sprinkle the dried lime peel over the tart. Scatter raspberries over the top, so each serving has a raspberry. Cut into slices and serve.

Each serving: 304 calories; 3 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 17 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 70 mg. cholesterol; 202 mg. sodium.

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Cherimoya semifreddo

Total time: About 50 minutes, plus drying time and freezing time

Servings: 8

Note: From Donna Deane. Make the kumquat zest the day before you plan to make the semifreddo. Cherimoyas are available in some farmers markets and the produce sections of some grocery stores.

20 fresh kumquats

1 large cherimoya (about 1 pound)

1 cup whipping cream

1 1/2 teaspoons powdered sugar

3 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 tablespoons corn syrup

2 egg whites

Pinch of cream of tartar

1. The day before you plan to make the semifreddo, zest the kumquats using a box grater or microplane. Spread the zest on a parchment-lined baking pan and allow to dry overnight.

2. Finely chop the dried zest or pulse in a spice grinder until it has a fine, sand-like consistency. Set aside.

3. Cut the cherimoya into quarters, then peel each quarter. Cut the flesh into pieces and remove the seeds. Place the seeded pieces in a blender and puree. It is easy to miss a few seeds, so check the blender and remove any additional seeds that have appeared. This will yield about 1 1/4 cups puree. Refrigerate the puree while you are preparing the remaining ingredients.

4. In a chilled bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Whip in the powdered sugar. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator.

5. For an Italian meringue, prepare a syrup by combining one-fourth cup water, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the corn syrup in a small heavy saucepan. Heat over medium heat to simmering. Cook the syrup until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234 to 240 degrees), about 12 minutes.

6. While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar until stiff peaks form.

7. When the syrup reaches the right temperature, pour it into the meringue in a thin stream, beating constantly, until all the syrup has been incorporated.

8. Fold the chilled cherimoya puree into the reserved whipped cream. When the puree and cream are combined, add the meringue, folding gently to combine.

9. Spoon the mixture into 8 (6-ounce) custard cups, filling each half full. Sprinkle about one-fourth teaspoon kumquat zest over each. Divide the remaining cream among the cups and sprinkle an additional one-fourth teaspoon kumquat zest over each. Freeze 2 hours or longer before serving. Cover each cup with plastic wrap if freezing them longer than two hours.

10. To serve, run a knife around each cup to gently loosen the semifreddo, and unmold each onto a chilled plate.

Each serving: 171 calories; 2 grams protein; 17 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 11 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 41 mg. cholesterol; 33 mg. sodium.

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Cherimoya cocktail

Total time: 8 minutes

Servings: 1

Note: From Eddie Perez at the Foundry restaurant, who recommends making this drink with Noilly Prat vermouth and a Trinidad rum made from sugarcane juice such as 10 Cane Rum. Cherimoyas are available at some farmers markets and grocery stores. Amber agave nectar is available at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods markets. Fresh pear puree is available at Whole Foods markets.

1 large pear

1/4 cherimoya (grapefruit-sized), peeled and seeded (about 1/2 cup fruit)

1 1/2 ounces Trinidad sugar-cane rum, divided

1 ounce silver tequila

1 ounce amber agave nectar

1 ounce sweet red

vermouth

Juice from 1/4 medium lemon

Juice from 1/4 medium lime

1 tablespoon fresh or canned pineapple juice

Dash orange bitters

4 to 6 drops creme de cocoa

1. Peel, seed and puree the pear in a blender. Measure out one-fourth cup puree and set aside. (Or use 2 ounces purchased fresh pear puree.)

2. Using a muddler or mortar and pestle, muddle the cherimoya with 1 ounce rum. Pour into cocktail shaker.

3. Add the remaining rum, the tequila, agave nectar, vermouth, pear puree, lemon juice, lime juice, pineapple juice, bitters, creme de cocoa and ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a tall Collins or Martini glass over ice. Serve with a straw.

Each serving: 431 calories; 1 gram protein; 62 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 9 mg. sodium.

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