Spring marks the beginning of so many things. The first sweet strawberries. Stalks of tart rhubarb. Blueberries, a little bit later. Elements of the season that are bright and ask only for gentle treatment to bring out their best flavor.
I would like to say that these well-loved fruits are symbolic of the softness of the spring, but as I write this from my kitchen in North Texas, we have gone from a humid 81 degrees to a blistering overnight freeze that’s still hanging on this morning.
Spring is not the easiest of seasons in Texas. Luckily, what it brings can be.
I don’t believe in gussying up desserts just for the sake of being fancy. In Paris, contrary to what some may think, people eat pretty simply, desserts included. This is where I first learned that a bowl of strawberries, passed with fresh-cracked black pepper, was not only acceptable, but the preferred way to eat them. Maybe with a bit of custard cream (crème anglaise) with something else, or yogurt. Nothing is too sweet, because in the springtime, fruits and berries are the stars, and they are sweet enough.
When I think of desserts with springtime’s best, I think small. That’s how I came up with the Buttermilk blueberry popsicles, a riff on a DIY ice cream recipe that’s in my book; the Strawberry-rhubarb crumbles, a recipe that’s adaptable to whatever fruit or berries are in season; and the Angel food cake croutons with strawberries and cardamom whipped cream, because I wanted something crisp, and angel food cake’s spongy texture is just not my thing Butterscotch pudding, well, that’s a ‘just because’ dessert. Just because I felt like it would be a great one to make on a day that’s a little bit cold … or maybe one that’s a bit too hot. Butterscotch pudding is a good idea no matter the weather. With berries on top to make it a totally spring thing.
Ellise Pierce is the author of "Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent" (Running Press). Read her blog (www.cowgirlchef.com), and follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram (cowgirlchef)
Angel food cake croutons with strawberries and cardamom whipped cream
1/2 of store-bought angel food cake
16 ounces strawberries
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sweetening
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
Maple syrup for drizzling (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the angel food cake into 1-inch wedges, and cut them into large cubes of about 1 inch. Put them on a baking sheet and bake until the edges are crisp and golden, about 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Hull and slice the strawberries (I keep mine chunky) and put in a bowl. If the strawberries need sweetening, add a tablespoon or two of sugar and toss. They may not need anything, depending on the berries.
3. Pour the whipping cream into a mixer bowl with the whisk attachment. Start on low and after a minute or so, increase the speed to medium high. Add the sugar and cardamom and keep mixing until peaks form and the whipping cream holds its shape.
4. Build the parfaits by layering in the bottom of a glass or a bowl: the angel food cake croutons/sliced strawberries/whipped cream. If you’d like, add a little maple syrup on top.
Buttermilk blueberry popsicles
Makes 16 popsicles
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch sea salt
16 ounces blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1. Pour the buttermilk in a bowl with a colander set on top.
2. Warm the cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat. When bubbles form along the sides, it’s ready.
3. Whisk the eggs with the sugar and pinch of salt. Slowly add some of the warmed cream to the egg mixture, whisking the whole time so the eggs don’t cook. Once the eggs are tempered, add this mixture back to the saucepan, continuing to whisk until everything’s incorporated. Turn the heat back to medium-low and cook just until the mixture begins to thicken slightly and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
4. Pour this through the colander, letting it catch any eggy bits. Whisk the mixture with the buttermilk and place the bowl in an ice bath to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours, at least, or overnight (best).
5. Pour the mixture into your popsicle molds to three-fourths full. Freeze for 30 to 40 minutes or until it’s slushy (just starting to freeze but not too frozen). Add the blueberries, pushing them down into the popsicle mold, and the sticks. Freeze for 1 hour. Remove by placing ice pops in a bowl of slightly warm water for 3 to 5 minutes, or until you can slide them out easily.
16 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced into chunks
8 ounces rhubarb, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Crumble topping (see instructions below)
vanilla ice cream, for serving
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup quick oatmeal
1 cup almond slices, toasted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Toss the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Set aside while you make the crumble topping.
3. Melt the butter.
4. Put the rest of the ingredients for the crumble topping in a bowl and whisk until combined. Add the melted butter and stir until it comes together.
5. In 4 ramekins (1/2 cup), layer the strawberry-rhubarb mixture/crumble topping. Bake for 30 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling around the sides and the crumble topping is brown. Let cool slightly. Serve warm with ice cream on top.
Butterscotch pudding with raspberries
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 large egg yolks
6 ounces raspberries, for serving
1. Put the two tablespoons of butter in a bowl with a colander set on top.
2. Put the brown sugar and sea salt in a saucepan with 1 tablespoon of water over medium-high heat. Let cook until it darkens and caramelizes, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. While the brown sugar is cooking, put the milk and cream in another saucepan over medium-low heat. You want to warm this just until bubbles appear on the side; don’t let it come to a boil.
4. When the brown sugar bubbles and darkens, pour in the milk/cream mixture. It’ll bubble up, and maybe seize up, but let it continue to cook; it’ll calm back down. Once it does, it’s ready to pour into the eggs (see below).
5. Quickly whisk the cornstarch together with the egg yolks. Continuing to whisk, now slowly pour the warmed mixture over the yolks. Pour about half of what’s in the saucepan; then return the warmed egg yolk mixture to the saucepan and combine with the rest of the milk/cream mixture, still stirring all the time. Let this cook for a few minutes, or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
6. Pour the warmed custard into the colander to catch any eggy bits, then whisk in the butter. Pour into 4 glasses or bowls, let cool slightly, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve with raspberries on top.