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Sweet surrender February 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Drinks News.

Jewel-like fruits, aromatic ice creams and cream-coated puddings, Mediterranean desserts and sauces are a ray of sunshine on the tongue

The Mediterranean has a sweet tooth. You might know the crystallised fruits, fruit pastes, fruits in syrup and in alcohol, marzipan sweetmeats, almond pastries and pastries soaked in syrup. I can sometimes pass on these, but I find it difficult to resist the desserts.

For me, Mediterranean desserts evoke a landscape of colours fading into pastel tints in the dazzling light, the houses white or rose or rusty gold, the vegetation pale, not vivid green, with the electrifying colours of spring flowers. They evoke the scent of lavender and wild herbs, of pines and fig trees, and they trigger a certain joie de vivre. One of my fondest memories is of a summer spent in Lacoste, in the Vaucluse, where an old art school friend, the Dutch sculptress Ans Hey, was building a house on a hillside. I had put up a tent for myself and my three children. While friends and pupils from the art college where she taught were helping Ans to build, I cooked for them. That is when I first discovered real Provencal cuisine.

Saffron and Honey Ice cream
This speciality of Provence is made with lavender honey, but you can use other fragrant honeys such as orange blossom or acacia. Make it the night before so that it has time to freeze properly. You can serve it straight from the freezer. Serves 6.

500ml milk
1/4 tsp saffron threads
4 egg yolks
150g of your preferred clear perfumed honey
150ml double cream
Bring the milk to the boil with the saffron and infuse for a few minutes. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks to a pale cream, then beat in the honey, the cream, and finally the hot milk. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over boiling water or very low heat until it thickens slightly, but do not let it boil or it will curdle. Let it cool, then pour into a serving bowl lined with clingfilm. Cover with clingfilm and freeze overnight. Turn out before serving, peeling off the clingfilm.

Apple Omelette
Calvados or Armagnac give this simple French omelette an elegant touch. Use eating apples such as Golden Delicious or Coxes. Serves 4.

4 large dessert apples, peeled and quartered
1 tbsp lemon juice
100g caster sugar, or to taste
6 tbsp calvados or Armagnac
6 eggs, lightly beaten
knob of unsalted butter
Put the apples in a pan with the lemon juice and about 3 tbsp of water. Put the lid on, and steam for about 15 minutes or until they are very soft. Mash them with a fork, add the sugar, and cook, stirring, with the lid off, until the apple sauce is reduced to a thick dry paste. Let it cool, add the calvados or Armagnac and the eggs, and mix well. In a large frying pan, heat the butter until it sizzles. Pour in the apple and egg mixture, and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, until the bottom of the omelette has set. Put under the grill and cook until firm and lightly browned. Serve hot, cut into wedges.

Ricotta Cake
This rich Sicilian cake is a bit like a souffle. The orange-blossom water is a legacy of the old Arab occupation of the island. Serves 8.

500g ricotta
150g caster sugar, or to taste
5 eggs, separated
2 tsp orange-blossom water or a few drops of vanilla essence
grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
75g diced candied orange peel
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. In a food processor, blend the ricotta with the sugar, egg yolks, orange-blossom water or vanilla essence, and the grated lemon zest to a consistent cream. Then fold in the orange peel. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the ricotta mixture. Pour into a greased and floured – preferably non-stick – cake tin (about 20cm) and bake for 45 minutes or until brown on top. Let it cool before turning out.

Pear and Almond Pudding with Apricot Sauce
An old Provencal speciality that can be served hot or cold. The pears must be ripe but not over-ripe.
If they are rock hard, boil them in their skins first for 15 minutes or until they are not quite tender. The apricot sauce is optional. Serves 6.

75g unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs
150g caster sugar
150g coarsely ground almonds
2-3 drops almond essence
4 Comice pears, peeled, cored and quartered
2 tbsp icing sugar

for the sauce:
200g smooth apricot jam or jelly
2 tbsp kirsch or apricot brandy
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Blend the butter, eggs and sugar in a food processor. Add the almonds and blend to a soft creamy paste, then pour into a 30cm baking dish. Arrange the pear halves on top, rounded side up, pressing them into the almond paste. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the paste is firm and lightly coloured. For the sauce, heat the jam with 3 tbsp of water and the brandy, and stir until it melts. Let it cool if you are serving the pudding cold. Sprinkle the pudding with icing sugar and serve with the sauce and cream.

Frozen Cream with Prunes and Armagnac
This Chantilly-type cream can be served from the freezer. Use moist Californian prunes. Serves 4.

200g Californian pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
85ml Armagnac brandy
300ml whipping cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 drops vanilla essence
Chop the prunes coarsely in a food processor and leave them to soak in the Armagnac for an hour. Beat the cream till it peaks, beat in the sugar and vanilla and fold in the prunes. Cover with clingfilm and freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.

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