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Raspberries: Simple and Spectacular

A range of desserts show off this berry’s seductive perfume and juicy flavors

Fine Cooking Issue 52
Photos: Amy Albert
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As a vintage-clothing and flea-market hound, I tend to like things gussied up. Sometimes to excess, probably. But raspberries are a big exception; to me, they’re the gems of summer, and, like the most fabulous gems, they’re pretty darn fantastic as is, needing very little dolling up to shine and sparkle. Recently, I was lucky enough to have a load of raspberries on my hands, and I went wild, creating recipes that range from super simple (raspberry purée, raspberry truffles, and raspberry-lemonade ice)  to fairly simple (a chocolate-raspberry tart) to a bit fancy (a raspberry trifle—as I said, I can’t resist gussying things up). But in each case, I did little if anything to alter the berries themselves, preferring instead to avoid cooking them and to pair them with flavors that enhance them.

Other flavors that raspberries love

The recipes that accompany this article pair raspberries with lemon, chocolate, and ginger. Here are a few other flavors and ingredients that raspberries love:

• blackberries, blueberries and strawberries
• coconut
• fresh figs
• fresh mint
• lemon thyme
• lemon verbena
• orange flower water
• rose geranium
• stone fruit of all sorts.

Wait for local berries

Raspberries are available just about year-round, but I prefer to take advantage of those few weeks in summer when local raspberries call my name at the farmers’ market.  

Look for plump, fragrant berries. In addition to red raspberries, you’ll find black, golden, and even pink raspberries at farmers’ markets and specialty stores. The differences in flavor are subtle, but a mix is beautiful. When shopping, examine the box to check for freshness. If you see juice stains, it’s probably a sign of moldy berries inside. Hold the closed raspberry container upside down. If berries stick to the bottom inside liner, they’re crushed and it’s likely some are moldy, so choose another box. Even in the height of summer, berries are a bit of an investment, so befriend your produce merchant and request a taste before you buy. If a few berries get crushed on the way home from the market, don’t worry. They’ll still taste great, and with the exception of the topping for the trifle and the chocolate tart, all of these recipes are suitable for less-than-ideal-looking berries.

If you must wash berries, do it gently

Despite that big explosion of berry flavor, raspberries are extremely fragile. Washing berries isn’t ideal, but if you want to be safe, wash them right before using them. Fill a bowl with cold water, gently add the berries, and then lift them out with your hands—again, gently. Let the berries dry in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.  

Taste your berries before starting the recipe. I’ve given reliable amounts of sugar in the recipes here, but as with any other fruit dessert, if the berries are very sweet, you may want to reduce the sugar a little. On the other hand, if they seem a bit lackluster, a bit more sugar, some lemon juice, and even a pinch of salt will do wonders to amp up flavor.  

Local raspberries appear for such a brief time in summer that I urge you to pounce while you can and indulge. If you have more berries than you know what to do with, freeze them in a single layer and then transfer them to zip-top bags and stash them in the freezer. And there they’ll be, waiting to wow you months after berry season has gone.

Raspberries at their simplest

Here are more great ways to serve raspberries plain and simple.

Top them with:
• crème fraîche
• custard sauce
• heavy cream
• sour cream and brown sugar

Use them to top:
• fresh figs
• fresh ricotta cheese
• Greek yogurt
• ice cream
• a lemon-curd tart
• sweetened polenta
• your morning cereal


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