I am not sure which is easier, to be a fool or make one. I’ll admit to my share of being one. The other kind of fool is a cloud-like dessert of fruit folded into whipped cream. I love its cheeky name.
Fools weren’t among the “New American” luxuries on the menu when I was a cook at the Quilted Giraffe in New York City in the 1980s. But in those years of crazy excess, I longed to send out a juicy plum version just so the stern tuxedo-clad waiters could say to the masters of the universe who frequented the place, “You sir, the Plum Fool?”
They’re traditionally a summer dessert. Brits sing the praises of gooseberries suspended in farmhouse cream. I haven’t seen a gooseberry in ages, but I know wherever they are, they’re not ripe yet. Still, I can’t resist serving fools on their namesake day, April 1.
Using off-season fruit would be desperately foolish. So, to make a local version now, I turned to my pantry for a jar of beach plum jelly and few dried cranberries.
I grew up with beach plum jelly — Mom served it with roasts. But I was always happy when the Flintstone glass of Welch’s was empty. That meant the chance to smear her beach plum jelly on bread with my peanut butter or cream cheese.
Beach plums are a native stone fruit. They grow in sandy soils and are difficult to domesticate. We’re lucky to still have patches of them here on the Outer Cape — they’re more elusive wherever wild lands are replaced by McMansions with manicured lawns.
Tart and hard to tame, beach plums, I get you. In one of my kitchen jobs, when the staff played “What condiment are you?” I chose beach plum jelly.
A fool starts with fruit macerated with sugar or jam, or as the English, who christened this dish, call it, “slumped fruit.”
Freshly whipped cream is essential here. The key to the whipping is to have everything cold — beater, bowl, and cream. Warm cream can’t hold the air in suspension. Once it’s thickened, stop when the peaks fall from the beater like the sweet curl on a Kewpie doll. Even when using a mixer, I finish by hand to not overbeat. Overwhipping will cause the cream to collapse and get grainy and waxy as it heads toward butter.
Careful folding gives the fool its cloud-like quality. You want to fold about a quarter of the whipped cream into the fruit, then return the lightened fruit to the cream. Fold gently, using a broad rubber spatula. It’s OK if the mixture is streaked.
As other fruits come into season — berries, peaches, plums, mangoes — it’s easy to play with a basic formula of one cup each of pureed fruit and cream. I like to add a bit of sour cream or crème fraîche to balance sweetness. Making your own crème fraîche is easy: warm 1 cup cream with 3 to 4 tablespoons buttermilk or yogurt to room temperature. Cover and set aside at room temperature overnight, then refrigerate for a day to thicken.
There are a number of foolish desserts. When layered with more fruit, a fool becomes a parfait. In a big glass bowl with booze-soaked cake, it’s a trifle. With broken meringues it’s Eton Mess. With split biscuits, you have American shortcakes.
For me, this is a dessert that must be served in cups, mason jars, or wine glasses, for the pleasure of the individual fool.
¼ cup strawberry-rhubarb preserves
2 Tbsp. water
3 slices candied ginger
1 heaping cup strawberries (6 oz.)
2 Tbsp. crème fraîche or sour cream
1 cup cold whipping cream
2 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
Shortbread or almond biscotti
Mince the candied ginger. Hull and dice the strawberries.
Mix the preserves, water, and candied ginger in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring. Add the strawberries, and set aside until very juicy, about 30 minutes. Whisk the fruit vigorously until saucy. Drop a spoonful of the fruit mixture into each of four glasses.
Stir the crème fraîche or sour cream into the remaining fruit mixture.
Whip the cream in the chilled bowl. Beat with an electric mixer or by hand with a whisk until it starts to thicken. Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and continue to beat until the cream holds a slightly firm soft peak.
Fold a quarter of the whipped cream into the fruit mixture with a large flat spatula. Return the fruit mixture to the whipped cream and fold until combined. Divide the fool into the glasses. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Top with crumbled cookies and a mint sprig.
6 dried apricots
½ cup cranberry juice
½ cup beach plum jelly
¼ cup dried cranberries
3 Tbsp. golden rum
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla
Shortbread cookies or granola
A few mint sprigs
Combine apricots, cranberry juice, jelly, cranberries, and rum in a small saucepan. Boil over high heat until fruits plump and texture is syrupy, about 2 minutes. Cool. Puree in blender until smooth.
Mix the cream and vanilla in a chilled bowl. Beat with a mixer or by hand with a whisk until it starts to thicken. Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and continue to beat until cream holds soft peaks.
Drop a tablespoon of the fruit into 4 glasses.
Fold about a quarter of the whipped cream into remaining fruit mixture with a large flat spatula, then return the fruit mixture to the whipped cream and fold to combine. Divide the fool into the glasses. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Top with crumbled cookies or granola and a mint sprig.