Chefs around town have been anxiously awaiting her return. They’re busy testing recipes, taking notes and retesting. What’s the object of their affection? The raspberry, that velvety princess of the fruit world, bursting with sweet, tart flavor. Her summer reign is brief, so get to know her while you can.
In Southern California, raspberries start to appear in May, but the peak of the season is just ahead -- in June and July. Seizing the moment, chefs are snatching up sensational farmers market berries and putting them right in the spotlight. These plump red beauties aren’t off-season commercial raspberries that are too often pallid and bland. Right now is when raspberries are luscious, deeply hued and intensely flavored.
To celebrate their arrival, pastry chef Kamel Guechida at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas created what he calls “la framboise -- a raspberry surprise.” A white chocolate globe arrives before the diner and warm raspberry-yuzu sauce is poured over it, melting the outer shell to magically reveal fresh raspberries, a raspberry gelee, lemon mascarpone cream and yuzu ice cream.
The key to the dish is balance, Guechida says. “You need strong contrasts: hot/cold, soft/crunchy and, especially, sweet/tart. Raspberries and the yuzu are acidic, so they balance the sweetness of the chocolate and make the dessert feel lighter.”
Providence pastry chef Adrian Vasquez had been tasting this season’s crop every few days, ready to pounce when they hit the peak of ripeness.
“I’m really excited about raspberries -- about working them into the menu,” Vasquez says.
He’s highlighting a raspberry sorbet with a vanilla-rhubarb compote and thyme gelee.
A fresh raspberry sauce would add brightness to another planned dessert, a rich chocolate custard served with a vinaigrette of tarragon, basil, mint and lemon grass.
In a tart that screams summer, Stonehill Tavern executive chef Joshua Skenes supplies a double dose of raspberries. Instead of that old fruit-tart standby, vanilla pastry cream, he fills his with a vibrant raspberry puree, then tops it with whole, gloriously unadorned raspberries. And the crust? It’s a very simple, crumbly hazelnut affair, touched with cinnamon.
“The hazelnut crust gives textural contrast,” he says, “which is so important against the smooth, herbal ice cream and those juicy berries.” A drizzle of acacia honey and a flowery lemon verbena ice cream finish it.
At the Water Grill, pastry chef Koa Duncan is working on her summer menu, creating a raspberry-filled almond brown butter financier, with fresh raspberries and an apricot sorbet.
“Raspberries have a lot of character,” she says. “They’re so tart and concentrated, they need a backdrop. The financier is sweet, which gives the raspberries depth and makes them a little more subtle.”
A light souffle might be the ideal summer dessert and a great vehicle for the perfect berries. In his first book, “Town/Country: 150 Recipes for Life Around the Table,” Geoffrey Zakarian, chef-owner of restaurants Town and Country in New York, takes fresh raspberries, egg whites, sugar and lemon juice and turns them into something spectacular.
And for those thinking about swimsuit season, there’s no fat. The souffles are studded with fresh berries and given a blast of high heat (be sure to press the berries into the souffles slightly or they’ll pop out as they rise). A zesty raspberry sauce focuses the pure raspberry flavor.
If you don’t feel like turning on the oven, a cool, creamy, simple semifreddo can play up raspberry’s bright character beautifully.
Whisk some sugar and eggs over simmering water, fold in raspberries and whipped cream and top with toasted pistachios for crunch. Toss it in the freezer overnight, slice and serve. Finish off the semifreddo with a tangy, fresh raspberry sauce and whole berries.
Not too sweet, just a little tart, creamy and crunchy -- it really shows off the understated elegance of Lady Raspberry.