pierre hermé’s caramelised strawberries with ginger icecream and le crumble

4 Sep

Flick through Pierre Hermé’s Plaisirs Sucrés, a little fat book devoted to sugar, and try to resist these recipe ideas:

  • poached blueberries topped with lemon curd and lightly bruléed
  • chocolate and lavender gratin with a fan of  peach slices
  • a gingerbread millefeuille layered with spiced icecream and orange sauce
  • individual mirabelle plum and thyme pies

Unlike his (very finicky) rainbow macarons for which Pierre Hermé is now famous, these desserts are more homelike: a pile of fruit, some cream, a whisper of pastry. Simple flavour pairings enhanced with a pinch of cardamom, a splash of balsamic or often, two grinds of the pepper mill.

Alongside the bright photos, even Hermé’s descriptions are elegant, favouring words like volupté and fraicheur. But his instructions are elliptical, assuming some degree of chefly knowledge. Never having made a simple base for icecream, I let the custard boil and thus, curdle. My dacquoise was unfamiliar as well, an uneven mass of nuts and meringue. Delicious, but certainly not worthy of an epithet like succes. But piled with strawberries and lemon cream it became an Eton Mess, the English making-do where the French make beautiful.

The most successful attempt was also a culture clash, sparking a family tirade about stolen cuisine! English pride! For the most addictive part was the crumble (or le crumble, as the Frogs would say) to which I added the ground ginger. It tasted of posh buttery gingernuts, combining the best of English and French cooking. Atop a silky and barely gingered icecream and surrounded by strawberries in balsamic caramel, it is a dessert worth fighting for. Maybe best to eat it all oneself and avoid family debates.


Caramelised strawberries with ginger icecream and ginger crumble

(simplified from Pierre Hermé’s Plaisirs Sucrés. The recipe may look long, but only in an effort to be clear. If nothing else, just make the crumble and caramel in maximum half an hour, and serve with nice shop icecream.)

serves 6

500g strawberries

For the caramel:

50g caster sugar

15g salted butter

30g creme fraiche

1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

For the icecream:

350ml milk

150ml creme fraiche

100g caster sugar

4 egg yolks

8g fresh grated ginger

15g crystallised ginger (optional)

For the crumble:

50g caster sugar

50g ground almonds

50g butter, cubed

50g flour

1tsp ground ginger

Make the icecream several hours ahead:

Mix the egg yolks and sugar together. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk with the fresh ginger until it is just boiling. Pour a little over the egg mixture and whisk together. Add all the milk and whisk again. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat very gently. Do not let it boil. Keep heating and whisking until it thickens, forming a custard. (If the custard gets too hot, it will curdle – become both lumpy and watery. If this happens, blend it in a food processor and it might come together again.)

Let the custard cool (over a bowl of ice water if possible). Add the creme fraiche. If you have an icecream machine, use it! If not, pour the custard into a shallow metal dish and put in the freezer. Stir every half an hour for at least 2 hours so that is freezes evenly and smoothly. When you are satisfied, add the crystallised ginger and leave to freeze.

For the crumble:

Mix all the crumble ingredients with your fingers, gently rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients. The mixture should be craggy and uneven. Leave in the fridge for an hour or so. When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180C. Spread the crumble on a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until brown and crisp.

For the caramel:

In a small saucepan, melt the sugar. Do not stir, just shake the pan gently if it is heating unevenly. Let it turn a deep brown caramel. Quickly add the butter (it might spit a little) and stir to let it melt. Add the creme fraiche.

For the final dessert:

Heat the whole strawberries, stalks and all, in the caramel for about 2 minutes until just warm, not collapsed. Add the balsamic vinegar, stir. Divide the strawberries between 6 plates. Leave the remaining caramel on the heat to thicken while you place a scoop of icecream and a handful of crumble on each plate. Drizzle with the extra caramel.

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