Yogurt, fresh cream better together with berries

Strawberry season seems to be either feast or famine. Showing up in stores by April, berries from points south tend toward pale, hard and sour or squishy, moldy and musty. And that’s not to mention their price of $5 or more per pint.

Now that berry season has really arrived, that price has dropped to “two for $5,” with the organic brands just as affordable as conventionally farmed. Oh, and we also have the cutest, the sweetest — the crème de la crème — of berries in our backyard patch.

None too numerous, those backyard berries are reserved as garnishes, sort of like the cherry on top of a sundae, for special desserts. Store-bought berries are consumed indiscriminately. And if they threaten to spoil before we can eat them all, I slice them, dust them with sugar and pack them into Ziploc bags for freezing. Or I puree or simmer them to serve as a sauce.

The following dessert, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, came together in my kitchen under all the right conditions. Strawberries I had on hand, along with an unusually large quantity of whipping cream and plenty of Nancy’s Honey Yogurt, a dead ringer for Greek yogurt.

Don’t let the lack of a heart-shaped mold keep you from trying this supremely simple dessert that’s more satisfying than sweetened whipped cream with sliced summer fruit. Even before molding and leaving overnight to drain, the mixture of heavy cream and yogurt put me in mind of marshmallow fluff, only less sticky and without all the synthetic chemicals. I’d also serve it on the spot, simply spooned into a bowl and sprinkled with a bit of citrus zest or cardamom, for dipping whole berries.

Tribune News Service photo

Coeur à la Creme

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pinch kosher salt

1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon honey

1 pint fresh raspberries

Strawberry sauce (recipe follows)

If you have one of those lovely porcelain coeur à la creme molds, use that. If not, choose a fine-mesh strainer. Set mold on a rimmed baking sheet or suspend strainer over a bowl. Cut a 14-inch length of cheesecloth. Run cheesecloth under cold water and squeeze dry. Un-crumple cloth and line mold (or strainer) with it, leaving an overhang.

Pour the heavy cream into bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Drop in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Whip to soft peaks, for about 2 minutes.

Into mixer bowl, spoon the yogurt and honey. Whip, stopping and scraping down sides once, until smoothly blended and beautifully fluffy, for about 1 minute.

Scrape cream mixture into mold. Fold up cheesecloth overhang to cover cream. Slide mold (along with its drip-catching sheet or bowl) into fridge. Let drain, pouring off accumulated liquid now and then, for 12 to 24 hours. This wait both firms texture and mellows flavors.

Unfold cheesecloth. Set a serving platter over mold and invert mold onto platter. Peel off cheesecloth. Scatter platter with a few of the raspberries, and serve the sauce separately. Or spoon brilliant sauce around pale cream heart. Scatter sauce with whole raspberries. Enjoy.

Makes 1 (7-inch) heart-shaped cream dessert, about 6 servings.

STRAWBERRY SAUCE: In a blender jar or food-processor bowl, heap 2 pints hulled strawberries, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice. Swirl to a pulp. Press through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard solids. If working ahead, cover and chill.

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