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Cherimoya semifreddo

Time 50 minutes
Yields Serves 8
Cherimoya semifreddo
(Los Angeles Times)
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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.

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.

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.