When Chef Noel Nalin Fonseka arrived in Delhi to do a trade test as the Corporate Pastry Chef at ITC Hotels, his interlocutors promised to get him the exotic ingredients he asked for “within two days.” He however, had no plans of working with exotic ingredients. He wanted to work with local fruit and come up with exotic results. It’s been something of a leit-motif of his career, right from his days as a pastry chef-trainee in Switzerland. He shares with us some pointers to using local fruit in imaginative ways.
Using local fruit
Pineapples, papaya, mango, lychee, guava, small flavourful bananas, passion fruit, custard apple, soursap, watermelon, musk melon, rock melon, jackfruit, sweet lime, oranges and grapefruit may be available more or less throughout the country, while others like jamun and phalse are available only in pockets. Some pulpy fruit (as opposed to juicy fruit) can be frozen, but they may lose their shape, which is fine if you are going to use them for ice-cream or in cheesecakes. Pineapples and oranges can be thinly sliced and dried slowly in a cool oven. Use them for garnishes. Melons and phalse are great for sorbets and granitas, but while you poach them (as well as white fruit like lychees) make sure you add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice to preserve the colour and enhance the flavour. Note that the fruit should not become sour – use the lemon juice very judiciously.
According to Chef Fonseka, using local fruit doesn’t imply that you’re on a tight budget. It just means that you’re getting the best of the season. Neither does it follow that the rest of your ingredients will be inexpensive. You can combine the fearfully expensive Philadelphia cream cheese with fresh fruit pulp, the best choices being mango, lime (juice and zest of the humble nimbu), banana and chikoo for a cheesecake. The simplest, most effective dessert for a fancy dinner party is slicing mangoes (or any fruit of your choice) thinly and arranging them on a plate, then spooning mascarpone cheese on top just before serving. You can use the same fruit and mascarpone combination in other permutations: make a compote by poaching fruit in a light sugar syrup with a few drops of lemon juice, drain out the liquid, serve in a martini glass with a dollop of mascarpone.
You can experiment with two or more fruits poached together, with or without a defining ingredient. Lime leaves, mint leaves, cinnamon, Cointreau or red wine each impart a distinctive flavour to poached fruit.
Make a thick sugar syrup to pour over cold fruit-based desserts for a professional glaze and enhanced flavour. If you’ve added a few drops of lemon juice, so much the better.
Dip whole cherries with their stem in caramelized sugar syrup and leave to cool. Even the simplest dessert will look professional.
Peel a ruby red pomegranate and sprinkle the pearls together with coarsely chopped pistachios all over the plate.
Make a chocolate, coffee or strawberry sauce, thickened with a smidgeon of cornflour, making sure the colour of the sauce is dark. Pour a teaspoon on the serving plate, put a drop of whipped yogurt on top of it carefully, and with a knife tip, drag the sauce around the plate. With a bit of practice, you should be able to get two-coloured elongated tear drops and hearts. Practice this art with jam, paint brushes and squeezy bottles. It’s so much fun that you’ll never outsource desserts again.
Noel Nalin Fonseka’s Chikoo Cheesecake
500 grams Philadelphia cream cheese
500 grams whipped cream
30 grams gelatin
150 grams milk
4 egg yolks
250 grams sugar
2 tsp lime juice
For the crust:
100 grams digestive or Marie biscuits
50 grams melted butter
500 grams fresh, ripe chikoo
50 grams apricot jam
50 ml water
Method: Boil the milk; whisk egg yolks and sugar together, switch off the flame, add milk to the yolks, return to lowest flame possible and heat till the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add in the gelatin, cool down and fold in the cheese and cream.
Crush biscuits, mix with the butter, line the bottom of a mould, warm for a minute in an oven, cool and set in chiller.
Add the cheese mixture and chill. For garnish, use fresh chikoo sliced for the topping. Boil jam and water together and brush over the fruit.
Noel Nalin Fonseka’s Caramelized Khoya and Cherry Pudding
Castor sugar 50 grams
Water 20 ml
Khoya 62 grams
Ghee 25 grams
Castor sugar 30 grams
Egg 50 grams
A few strands saffron
A pinch of cardamom powder
Almond powder 25 grams
White flour 8 grams
Dark fresh pitted cherries 50 grams
Raisins 10 grams
A pinch of cinnamon powder
Castor sugar 20 grams
Lemon rind 2 grams
Lemon juice 2 ml
Butter 20 grams
White wine 25 ml
Wine and Thyme sauce
Castor sugar 50 grams
Red wine 5 ml
Thyme 2 grams
Place the sugar and water in a thick bottomed pan on a moderate heat till the sugar caramelizes. Pour the caramel into the bottom of a mould.
Cream the khoya, ghee and sugar until fluffy. Gradually add the egg, then the saffron (which has been soaked in warm water). Finally, add in the flour and almond powder. Pour the mixture over the caramel so that only half the mould is full. Then add a spoon of the cherry filling, top with the rest of the pudding mixture, cover with kitchen foil. Place the mould in a large saucepan of simmering water, and cook for about 20 minutes on the stove.
For the cherry filling, chop the cherries coarsely, add cinnamon powder, butter, lemon juice and rind, sugar and sauté in a pan. Deglaze by adding white wine.
Make the wine and thyme sauce by melting sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan and add the red wine and thyme. Demould the pudding and spoon the wine and thyme sauce around it.