By Rick Nelson
A customer buys raspberries from Enderson Xiong, left, and his father Cha Fong Xiong, right, at the St. Paul Farmers Market.
It was a perfect Saturday morning at the St. Paul Farmers Market.
We found a decent parking spot, the Capital City Brass Quintet was playing an amusing version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and my eyes immediately landed on a table covered with one of my greatest temptations, pints and half-pints of gloriously ripe raspberries. The shopper standing next to me verbalized my thoughts.
“These raspberries are gorgeous,” she said, “the best I’ve seen all morning.” Same here.
Cha Fong Xiong and his wife, Nang Her, cultivate a diverse acre in Lake Elmo, and while most of their vegetables are still spurting toward maturity in mid-July, their raspberry patch is going crazy, yielding plump, ruby-red berries so juicy they look as if they’re going to burst. They taste that way, too.
“So far it’s been a good season for raspberries,” said Xiong. “Picking raspberries isn’t hard work, but it requires patience.”
If only the same could be said for raspberry eating. When it comes to this tenderest and sweetest of berries, what little self-control I have quickly evaporates into thin air. I managed to get them home before spending an afternoon sneaking them, one by one, out of the refrigerator. It’s a good thing I bought enough to cover both my snacking and baking needs.
Don’t wash raspberries until just ready to serve. (Here’s a tip from Fine Cooking magazine: Fill a bowl with cold water, gently add the berries, then lift them out with your hands – again, gently. Let them dry in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.) Raspberries will flourish a day or two in the refrigerator, but last up to 10 months in the freezer. Carefully rinse berries, transfer to a paper towel to dry completely, then arrange in a single layer in a shallow baking sheet and freeze. When firm, transfer berries to a tightly sealed container and freeze.
These muffins came together in less than five minutes, filled the house with an intoxicating aroma and flew off the plate at the office.
Makes 1 dozen.
Note: From “How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking” by Nigella Lawson (Hyperion, $19.95).
1/4 c. butter
1 1/3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Finely chopped zest and juice from 1 lemon, divided
Approximately 1/2 c. whole milk
1 large egg
5 oz. raspberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with 12 paper baking cups. Melt butter and set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt and lemon zest. In a large measuring cup, pour in lemon juice, then enough milk to come up nearly to the 1 cup mark (milk will curdle, but that’s just fine), then beat in egg and melted butter. Pour milk-egg mixture into dry ingredients and stir briefly; the batter should be scarcely combined. Fold in raspberries and spoon this lumpy mixture into muffin cups and bake for about 25 minutes; muffin tops should spring back to your touch. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes, then transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool for a further 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm.
Note: From “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” by Suzanne Goin (Knopf, $35). “Everyone has had berries in cobblers and pies, but when people see this gratineed dessert, their eyebrows rise in curious anticipation,” writes Goin, chef/owner of Lucques in Los Angeles. “The raspberries and custard are cooked briefly under the broiler, creating a delicious warm crust that only partially hides the tart berries and warm cream beneath. Once you learn this technique, you can use it with other berries, or even peaches or nectarines. In the winter, a gratin made with sauteed apples or pears with dried fruit is delicious, too. Choose an attractive dish that can go from oven to table.”
1 1/2 c. whole milk
3 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 c. plus 1 tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch, sifted
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of kosher salt
1 c. creme fraiche
1 pint raspberries
1 tbsp. powdered sugar
In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, bring milk to a boil then turn off heat. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks, then whisk in 1/2 cup granulated sugar and cornstarch. Continue whisking until mixture thickens and is pale yellow color. Slowly whisk in hot milk, at first a few tablespoons at a time, and then more quickly. Return mixture to stove and cook over medium heat, alternating between a whisk and a rubber spatula, until pastry cream thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Remove from stove and stir in butter and salt. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap on surface to keep it from forming a skin. Poke a few hole in plastic to allow heat to escape. Cool in refrigerator. When custard cools, fold in creme fraiche.
Preheat broiler. In a large bowl, toss raspberries with remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and scatter half of raspberries on bottom of a 9×9-inch (or equivalent) gratin dish. Spoon custard into dish and scatter rest of berries on top. Sift confectioner’s sugar over top and pass under broiler for about 7 minutes, until bubbling and gratineed on top. Remove from oven and serve at the table with a big serving spoon.