- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2005

One of the best things about summer is berry season. Of all the summer fruits, berries are my favorite.

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries - they’re all like little jewels, with deep, sparkling colors, and they have an intense flavor and juiciness to match. In fact, at their best, they’re perfect to eat with no cooking at all. That’s why I love to go to berry farms at this time of year, because I wind up popping into my mouth almost as much fruit as I take back to the kitchen.

Berries need very little cooking to turn them into wonderful desserts - a good thing, because, as the days grow warmer, nobody wants to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. My favorite is a quick berry gratin.

That French word “gratin,” which you might know best referring to anything topped with melted, browned cheese, actually means “crust.” (In France, they even refer to what we call society’s “upper crust” as “le gratin.”) A gratin doesn’t need to be savory, however, or include cheese. My berry gratin gets its “crust” from a classic sweet sauce called “sabayon” in French, also known by the Italian zabaglione, made by whisking together egg yolks, sugar and fruity wine over gentle heat until they form a warm froth. Spooned over the berries in the shallow baking dishes called gratin dishes, the sauce is very quickly browned under the broiler, a process that also gently warms the berries, enhancing their juicy flavor.

Choose your berries carefully. If you don’t grow them yourself, seek out a local farmers’ market that offers the best quality, fresh-from-the-field selection. Let your nose lead you to the most sweetly fragrant choices. Then pick fruit with good, blemish-free color and shape, checking - especially by looking at the bottoms of their containers - for signs of bruised, crushed or moldy specimens. The recipe will work well with whatever is available; you can make it with an assortment or just one kind.

Use the berries within a day, or two at most, storing them loosely wrapped in the refrigerator. Before preparing the dessert, let them come to room temperature for at least half an hour, as refrigeration mutes their flavor.

The recipe invites elaboration. Sometimes I’ll add toasted slivered almonds or chopped candied ginger, either tossed with the fruit or sprinkled over the sabayon. I also like to include chunks of other sweet ripe fruit, such as pineapple, peaches, nectarines, plums or juicy pears. If I want to be really decadent, I’ll even add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to each serving after the gratin comes out of the broiler.

However you prepare it, one taste will leave you dreaming of sweet summer berries.


Serves 6


8 egg yolks

3/4 cup (180 ml) sugar

1 vanilla bean

1 cup (250 ml) Moscato d’Asti or other fruity sparkling wine

Pinch salt


3 1/2 cups (875 ml) fresh raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or sliced strawberries

Powdered sugar

First, make the sabayon: Bring 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) of water to a boil in a saucepan. Meanwhile, on the kitchen counter, in a heatproof glass bowl large enough to rest on the rim without its bottom touching the water, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. With a small, sharp knife, carefully cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise; then, holding each bean half cut side up on a cutting board, use the back edge of the blade to scrape out the tiny black seeds, transferring the seeds to the egg yolk mixture. Whisk until blended. A little at a time, whisk in the sparkling wine. Add a pinch of salt and whisk again.

Reduce the heat under the saucepan to maintain a simmer. Set the bowl containing the egg yolk mixture on top of the pan and whisk vigorously and continuously until the sauce is thick and fluffy, about 10 minutes.

Preheat the broiler.

Distribute all but about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the berries evenly among 6 shallow individual gratin dishes or ovenproof bowls; or spread them in a large gratin dish. Spoon the sabayon evenly over the berries. Scatter the remaining berries evenly over the sabayon. Put the dishes on a baking sheet and place the sheet under the broiler. Broil until the sabayon is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes, watching carefully to avoid burning.

Before serving, spoon some powdered sugar into a fine-meshed sieve held over the gratin dishes. Gently tap the side of the sieve to dust the top of each gratin with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network. Also, chef Wolfgang Puck’s latest cookbook, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, is now available in bookstores.

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