Each year in Beaune at Christmas time, I look forward to the selection of exotic fruits, and I keep a basket of them in the kitchen to incorporate in my meals or nibble on. It’s incredible to find yourself in France, in the heart of the Burgundy wine country, and have such a diversity of fruits and nuts, which have come from places like Corsica, Brasil, Reunion Island, Spain and Morocco. And it’s all fresh, as fresh as the best market in Paris. Except of course, you’re not in Paris, and for me that means I have all the kitchen tools and all the space I need to cook and eat at home, probably with some local wine. Let me take you on a brief tour of the exotic fruits at the Saturday farmers market in Beaune on a winter morning. First we have citrus, lots of citrus. I take it for granted in California, but in France in winter, it’s perfectly exotic, a reminder of warm Mediterranean winter days in Corsica or Spain. I look for the clementines, especially the ones with the glossy fresh green leaves, like this~
These figs are from Brasil. And seriously beautiful. I’d roast them and drizzle with honey and balsamic.
In recent years we have Asian fruits, like lychee and pitaya (aka Dragon Fruit)~
You can find kumquats, bananas, pineapples, melons, pomegranates, cherries from Chile and grapes from Spain. Goodness, what is missing? Every exotic fruit seems to be here!
And as a special seasonal treat, in December we get candied fruits, here kumquats~
And here, candied ginger. These are chunks of ginger, which have been cooked slightly to soften them, and rolled in sugar. This is the best candied ginger ever; I always buy a little each year.
There are other fruits, such as melon, and kiwi and papaya. I stick to the classics.
There are nuts in many varieties, mostly still in the shell. Hazelnuts, walnuts and chestnuts, among others. I always love how they are displayed in baskets~
Are you inspired yet to serve something with a little French-Exotic flair? What would you serve, and how would you arrange these fruits and nuts? I’d start with a few pieces of high quality candied ginger. While you can make this at home, I usually don’t need all that much, so it’s something I prefer to buy rather than make. If you want to gift candied ginger, you might want to make it yourself, but I found some very tender chunks at my local Savory store. What I like about this ginger is that it is ginger, sugar cane and granulated sugar, that’s it. No sulfites and other stuff. You can buy the cubed, crystalized ginger online HERE.
Savory also offers flat pieces of crystalized ginger. I brought my Mom with me to Savory one day, since our store has a very large jar of each type to sample. It reminded both of us of our trans-Atlantic crossing on the QEII many years ago, where they had an enormous three tiered tray of this same flat candied ginger at the entrance to each restaurant or cafe. Good for seasickness. It’s a nice tangy taste if you’ve never tried it. My Mom and I both love it and she eats it with her granola many mornings.
I love ginger paired with chocolate. I’ll show you the pieces I bought, but here’s a simple way to make your own bars, French-style. You will need a bar of chocolate (I swear by the 71% Valrhona at Trader Joe’s). Today I’m using one bar, the zest of half an orange, and a little candied orange peel for the top.
You can choose any kinds of nuts or marshmallows or fruits for the top of a chocolate bar, but I like the topper to reference what’s inside. I’m going to infuse my chocolate with orange, and the orange on top says “this is orange flavor.” You can leave the toppings whole or chop them. Also consider using or adding some great sea salts to the top. I added just a little to this bar at the end; you’ll see in a minute.
Make a double boiler by placing a small bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Melt all of the chocolate except two small squares in the bowl, and add the orange zest. When it’s melted, add in the last two pieces and remove from heat. Stir stir stir….you have tempered the chocolate. Turn the mix out onto a silpat and spread it out to desired thickness; or pour into any plastic molds you would like to use. I didn’t bother today; this is totally freestyle….don’t make yourself crazy with chocolate shapes, your guests will eat it and love it in any shape.
Sprinkle your topping on, and use a knife to press down just a little into the chocolate. Pop this into the refrigerator for about ten minutes.
Fresh citrus like those in Beaune are great, but go with whatever is local. For me this includes clementines with fresh leaves and fragrant guavas from the farmers market. These are from my friend Saul at Atkins Nursery. The nuts are roasted unsalted pistachios from Smit, and raw almonds from Hopkins.
If you can find the raw unshelled almonds, go for some of those. The shells are soft enough that you don’t need a nutcracker, and the taste is to me a little better than the shelled. Love these, traditional for our Christmas. Next to that I placed sun-dried Bing cherries. There is nothing added to these, from Smit, just pitted cherries. The dried apricots and peaches you often see look appetizing, but they have added sulfites to preserve the color, and I’d rather go with the plain & simple, nothing added.
You can serve your fruits and chocolates any way you like, in bowls or platters. I use my big French bread board. Break up your chocolate pieces, into big shard-like pieces. Here you can see the little bit of sea salt I added; salty-chocolate-orange is a nice combination, and a nice counterpoint to the ginger.
I set everything out on the board, including the ginger, chocolates and a few chunks of white and milk chocolate I found at Whole Foods.
Once your platter is arranged, start to think about how this will be eaten. Finger food is fine, but I add in some sterling sugar tongs to pick up some pieces~
A vermeil pelle or little shovel is also great. I don’t know if my family will use it, but it looks festive, so I’m adding it~
One thing that’s great about this type of dessert platter is that no one can scarf it all down too fast, which is what usually happens at our family dinners. There is a little bit of work involved, and everyone must take a little time shelling nuts, peeling citrus and chopping chocolate. Include a sharp-pointed knife so that the chocolate can be cut.
Here is the overall tray~
But there’s one thing missing: let’s add in a few waste bowls for nut shells and peels. I prefer something small but tall, so it takes up little space. I’m using a porcelain pot-de-creme cup. Anything will do: glasses, teacups etc. Put one nut shell in the bottom of the cup so no one is confused about what this cup is for.
This is a beautiful sight to see on a table, and not too filling after a winter meal~
It’s not the kind of platter we’d have in summer, it’s a celebration of spicy and savory, of winter. It would be excellent with an Armagnac or nice cognac or digestif. As for quantity, my two parents managed to eat every speck off this tray after a recent dinner, over the course of an hour while they watched TV. They loved it, especially the chocolates and ginger. So your quantities will depend on appetites. When my entire family gets together, I’ll have to have more of everything and organize it differently.
It makes use of what we have on offer at the farmers markets, but with a little French flair. And it makes me want to be at the Saturday market in Beaune. Not soon enough~
Hope you will look for some fruits, nuts and chocolates for your holiday desserts. It makes a nice addition to the standard cakes and pies, or as a stand-alone dessert or party food. I’ll show you how my platters will look in the coming weeks.