COOKERY: Berries from heaven

Simon Hopkinson says you can't better the combination of sugar, cream and sweet, fresh raspberries. Or can you?

ell, it's that time of year once again, the glorious flush of the British raspberry season. The first ones that I tasted back in July were the finest I have tasted for some time: big, blowzy, ripe, juicy and fabulously sweet and fragrant. Always reaching for the caster sugar bowl when eating raspberries and cream, I was caught out on this occasion, finding that I had over-sweetened the little darlings. Irritatingly, I just had to add more cream to counteract this dreadful cock-up ...

There is, of course, no better way to eat raspberries than this. End of story. And the sugar and cream used to have to be just right. You would have to be a complete Philistine to sprinkle granulated sugar on something as soft and delicate as a fresh raspberry. It must be flowing white caster sugar, preferably spooned from a pretty, silver bowl.

The cream also has to pour. Clotted cream, which I adore (particularly when it has not been pasteurised, which you can still find from the odd Cornish farm), is not correct in a bowl of raspberries. Eaten singly, why yes of course! A teaspoon of clotted cream dipped into a pile of caster sugar, a raspberry then picked up in the fingers and placed upon it, is something close to heaven.

So I would rather use standard double cream than a cream which is too thick. However, if you can find some untreated Jersey cream that is not too solid, this can be perfection indeed. If you live in London, head for a shop called Baker and Spice in Chelsea, where you can purchase pots of untreated cream, offered in three stages of consistency: "pouring", "whipping" and "spooning".

So that is raspberries at their most natural and very best. But we curious and inventive cooks need more from our produce, to so challenge and excite our palates: a purist I may be, but even I like to mess with a raspberry from time to time. My American neighbour Suzanne recently visited the Derbyshire town of Bakewell. As she was leaving I suggested - insisted, actually - that she pay a visit to the famous pudding shop in the centre of the town. And she went, of course, sending me a whole one through the post a few days later. Delicious.

I will be doing a version of that pudding in a few weeks' time (it is nothing like Bakewell tart) so will cease talking about it now. However, the idea of the filling and raspberry jam running around my head caused me to think of involving raspberries within a similar vein, baked as a hot pudding - or, at least, served warm. The thought of warm raspberries is an intoxicating one, and further intensified when joined by almonds, butter and eggs surrounding them as a fluffy sponge. The result is rather special and also happens to be very easy to whip-up as a last-minute dessert. (Frozen raspberries may be used, but will throw more juice than fresh ones and they can make the pudding soggy.)

The fluffiest sponge of all, of course, is the souffle. As regular readers of this column will know, I have never been especially proficient at the making of souffles. If the truth be known, all things that are required to rise to order when heat is applied, have always been a bit of a worry to me, I become obsessed with peeking far too much just to be absolutely sure, which when baking cakes, puff pastry and the occasional souffle, is not exactly ideal. In a different context last year (souffles rather than raspberries) I gave a recipe for raspberry souffle, but I trust that you will not mind it being awarded a second outing, particularly as you have a photograph of it this time too. It is also one of the only souffles I feel quietly confident about.

Hot raspberry souffles

serves 4

250g fresh raspberries

100g icing sugar

generous squeeze of lemon

2 egg yolks

8 egg whites

a tiny pinch of salt

softened butter and a sprinkling of caster sugar for coating the souffle dishes

a little sifted icing sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C/gas mark 7.

Liquidise the raspberries with half of icing sugar, the lemon juice and egg yolks until smooth. Pass through a sieve into a bowl, to remove the seeds. Generously smear the insides of four good-sized, individual souffle dishes (the regular-sized ramekins are too small here) with the softened butter. Then sprinkle the first one with plenty of caster sugar, shaking it around so that it sticks to the butter evenly. Tip out the excess into the next dish and continue to do the same with the others.

Put the egg whites and salt into a scrupulously clean metal bowl and whisk until soft and snowy. Continue to beat, sifting over the remaining icing sugar, until the mixture starts to look glossy. Now take about one quarter of the beaten whites and whisk into the raspberry mixture to loosen it. Deftly fold in the rest with a metal spoon until there are no white streaks and all is pink, light and smooth. Spoon into the dishes, filling to the rim. Smooth the surfaces with a pallet knife - and then run your finger around the edge to form a little hat - this will help the souffle to rise.

Put the souffles on to a flat metal tray and place on the centre shelf of the oven: bake for 12-15 minutes. For a nicely crusted surface, sift a little icing sugar over their surfaces after 3-4 minutes of them being in the oven, I like to serve these with some very cold, loosely whipped and slightly sweetened double cream, that has been judiciously flavoured with raspberry eau-de-vie.

Raspberries baked in a light almond sponge

serves 4

110g softened butter

350g raspberries

100g sugar

2 eggs

100g ground almonds

1tbsp amaretto liqueur or a dribble of raspberry eau-de-vie

a little extra caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C/gas mark 4.

Grease a wide and shallow baking dish with 10g of the softened butter. Strew with the raspberries but do not crowd them into the dish. Beat together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy and then add the eggs, one at a time, beating them in thoroughly before folding in the ground almonds (it is a good idea to sift these into the mixture). If you are using the amaretto, stir it in now, if you choose to use the eau-de-vie, dribble it over the finished dish, while it is still hot from the oven.

Spoon the sponge mixture over the fruit, sprinkle with the extra caster sugar and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until puffed up and gently firm to the touch. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before eating with very cold double cream.

Raspberry custard pots

serves 4-6

The final recipe today is for a delicate raspberry mousse. This has been adapted from an original strawberry custard pot created by the late Francis Coulson of the legendary Sharrow Bay Hotel, Ullswater. Its beauty lies in its texture almost more than anything else and one must be particularly attentive to deciding when the little pots are just cooked. A gentle temperature and a keen eye are the key here.

250g fresh raspberries

300ml double cream

3tbsp caster sugar

3dsp creme de framboise (similar to the creme de cassis that one uses to make the drink kir)

4 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 300F/ 150C/gas mark 2.

Liquidise the raspberries and then push through a fine sieve into a bowl. Scald the cream and stir in the sugar. Mix with the fruit puree and stir in the creme de framboise. Whisk the egg yolks until thick in another bowl and then add the fruit puree to them. Beat together until thoroughly blended. Pour into 4 large ramekins (if you use small ones, you should manage six servings) and place in a deep-ish baking tray. Pour water around the dishes so that it comes up three-quarters of the way up their sides.

Cover the whole thing with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake, having a look from time to time to check, for about an hour, depending upon your oven. A good test as to when they are cooked is to see that they still wobble when nudged, but seem slightly loose in the centre; they will continue to cook as they cool down. Chill before serving with a little double cream spooned over the top, so that as you eat the pot the cream flows into the hole you have made with the teaspoon. n

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