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Lusciously cherimoya

So much to love about this cool fruit. Its creaminess is just right for easy desserts and cocktails.

May 16, 2007|Susan LaTempa and Donna Deane | 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.



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.)

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