Vail seasonal: Colorado cherry season is short but sweet
VAIL, Colorado – Don’t blink Vail Valley, or you’ll miss the Colorado cherry season. The luscious bing cherries that grow on the Western Slope begin to ripen in mid June and are often available for just a couple of weeks. Their heart shape, passionate ruby red color, juicy ripeness and wistful availability create a fleeting romance.With their sensual appeal, cherries make romantic desserts. Paired with chocolate, they are sheer decadence. But for all their sophistication, they are just as lovable in homey baked cobblers, pies and muffins. On the savory side, cherries are dramatic accompaniments to beef, lamb and game meats and are perfect pairings with cheeses, especially tangy goat. They are a welcome surprise in salads, their natural sweetness balancing tart greens.Eating cherries right out of hand, fresh picked from the tree, at the neighborhood farmers market is a healthy summertime pleasure. They are low in fat, sodium free, high in vitamin c and fiber. Cherries are a superb source of antioxidants and are high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.More than 500 varieties of cherries grow worldwide, ranging the gamut in flavors from sweet to sour. The tart cherries tend to be used in baking since their natural acidity counteracts the sweetness of the added sugar and the richness of butter and eggs. The bing cherries of Colorado lean toward the sweet side of the spectrum, and most cooks would agree they will yield great results in any recipe.
3 cups flour1 teaspoon baking soda1/2 teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon baking powder1/2 cup margarine2 cups sugar1/4 teaspoon almond extract3 eggs1 1/4 cup applesauce1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and choppedStreusel:1/2 cup brown sugar, packed1/4 cup flour1 teaspoon cinnamon1 teaspoon grated lemon zest2 teaspoons butter, meltedMix all streusel ingredients together. Set asidePreheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper cups. Toss together flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, cream together margarine and sugar. Add eggs and mix to incorporate. Add applesauce and almond extract. Mix in the dry ingredients, just until moistened (do not overmix). Fold in the cherries. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Top with streusel. Bake 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Makes 15 – 18 muffins.
Crust:1 1/4 cup flour1/3 cup powdered sugar1/2 teaspoon salt5 ounces chilled butter, cut into pieces2 egg yolks1 Tablespoon cold waterFilling:1 cup cherry preserves2 Tablespoons water1/3 cup heavy cream2 Tablespoons butter4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped1 1/2 pound fresh bing cherries, pitted and halvedMix flour, powdered sugar and salt in a food processor. Add butter to mixture and pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Mix yolks and water together, then add to mixture. Pulse just until moist clumps form (do not overwork the dough). Gather dough into a ball, flatten to a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate one hour.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough 2-inches larger than diameter of standard tart pan. Transfer to pan, pressing firmly to bottom and sides. Fold overhang in to form double thick sides. Trim excess. Freeze crust 15 minutes.Line crust with foil and fill with dried beans. Bake till sides are set, about 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans, pierce lightly with a fork, and bake until golden. Let cool before filling. To make the filling: Combine preserves and water in saucepan, stir over low heat until melted. Strain, save liquid, discard solids. In a clean saucepan, combine heavy cream, butter, and 1/4 cup of the strained cherry mixture. Stir over low heat until butter melts. Add chocolate to butter mixture and stir over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat, let cool 15 minutes. Spread chocolate over prepared crust. Refrigerate until almost set, about 20 minutes. Arrange cherries decoratively over filling, cut side down, pressing lightly to adhere. Warm the remaining strained cherry preserve mixture over low heat. Brush generously over cherries. Chill until chocolate sets, about 1 hour. Makes 1 tart.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market-driven menu.
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