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.