Noble names for berry desserts

The French love to name desserts for royalty. This is especially true of those made with strawberries, which were always considered a noble fruit. Indeed , one of the oldest varieties of strawberries in France was known as la princesse royale, or royal princess.

Take Fraises a L'Imperatrice (Empress Strawberries), for example, in which the fruit is arranged around a mixture of rice with candied fruits enriched with whipped cream and set with a little gelatin.

This masterpiece was created for the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III of France. Many Frenchmen, however, felt the Empress didn't deserve this glory. They found her taste in cuisine deplorable because she preferred the foods of her native Spain.

In the 18th and 19th centuries French cuisine became popular in Russia, and French chefs were invited to cook for the Russian royalty. The famous chef Careme worked for Czar Alexander in 1820.

Strawberries Czarina, in which the berries are placed on a bed of pineapple ice cream and decorated with whipped cream, honored the Czar's wife.

Celebrities also motivated chefs to make up new dishes. The Australian opera star Nellie Melba, who performed in the capital cities of Europe during the 1890 s, inspired the great French chef Escoffier to create Strawberries Melba.

The dessert was originally made with peaches, but the strawberry version has become very popular and has the advantage of being easier to prepare because the fruit did not require poaching.

Fraises a la Ritz, in which the fruit is covered by a pink cloud of pureed berries and whipped cream, is dedicated to Cesar Ritz, a Swiss and one of the greatest personalities in the luxury hotel business.

Whichever recipe you choose, strawberries will add a noble note to your table. Strawberries Melba 2 cups milk 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise 6 egg yolks 2/3 cup sugar 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries, thawed 3 to 5 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted 3 cups fresh strawberries 2 teaspoons sugar

To make vanilla ice cream, bring milk and vanilla bean to a simmer in a large heavy saucepan. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 15 minutes.

Whisk yolks lightly in a large bowl. Add sugar and whisk until thick and smooth. Gradually whisk in half the hot milk mixture.

Return mixture to the pan, whisking. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes or until mixture thickens.

To check whether it is thick enough, dip spoon in mixture and draw your finger across the back of spoon - your finger should leave a clear trail in mixture that clings to spoon.

Be careful not to overcook or it will curdle. Strain into a bowl. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Freeze in an ice cream freezer until firm.

To make raspberry sauce, drain then puree raspberries in food processor or blender. Strain to remove seeds. Whisk in powdered sugar to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use. Sauce can be kept up to 2 days in refrigerator.

A short time before serving, sprinkle strawberries with sugar and chill for 30 minutes.

To serve, scoop or spoon ice cream into 6 dessert dishes or stemmed glasses. Top with strawberries. Pour a little sauce over each. Serve remaining sauce separately. Makes 6 servings. Strawberries a la Ritz 3 cups (about 12 ounces) fresh strawberries 1 teaspoon sugar 2 large strawberries, halved lengthwise (for garnish) Berry-cream sauce: 1 cup fresh strawberries 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries, thawed and drained 5 to 6 tablespoons powdered sugar 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Halve strawberries, put them in a shallow serving bowl in two layers and sprinkle each layer with 1 teaspoon sugar. Chill about 30 minutes.

To make sauce, puree strawberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Puree raspberries in blender or processor until smooth. Strain to remove seeds. Mix with strawberry puree and add 4 tablespoons powdered sugar. Chill about 30 minutes.

Finish sauce a short time before serving: In chilled bowl, whip cream until nearly stiff. Add vanilla and 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and continue whipping until very stiff. Gradually fold berry puree into whipped cream. Taste sauce; fold in another tablespoon powdered sugar if desired.

Spoon sauce over halved strawberries in bowl and garnish with the 2 reserved strawberries. Serve immediately; dessert can be kept up to 30 minutes in refrigerator but should not be kept for longer or berry puree will separate from cream. Makes 4 servings.

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