Damson Bavarois with Spiced Baked Damsons and Petit Brown Sugar Meringues
We have three rather old damson trees of the early variety in our garden, situated next to the beehives. What a great combination! The bees work very hard to pollinate our damson trees and, consequently, we benefit from some wonderful honey and plenty of delicious damsons. We have been at the British Larder Suffolk for 4 years now and every year so far we have enjoyed a healthy crop of damsons from these wonderful trees. I feel quite guilty as they are very old and I feel that I might be taking advantage of them. The advice I have been given is to remove them and replace with new trees, but I am not quite ready to say my goodbyes just yet. So, it’s my passion to use the damsons for as many recipes as I possibly can. You could almost call this story my ‘damson diaries’! We harvest the fruits as soon as they are ready, then remove the stones from as many as we can, keeping the good halves (those that are not too squished by removing the stones) in the freezer for using as decoration or for the baked damsons part of this recipe, then the other squishy halves or ones with the stones left in are used to make the neutral damson purée.
What I mean by neutral here is that the damsons are only cooked with a little water until puréed with no sugar added. The purée is then separated from the stones (which are discarded), and frozen in 500ml blocks. This measurement is to make storage and use easy, but you can store it in varied quantities, as you wish. The frozen damson purée and good halves will last a few weeks in the freezer, ready for me to make delicious desserts such as this one for the menu. The purée usually amounts to quite a lot, so I also turn some of it into damson cordial (which we use for non-alcoholic and alcoholic cocktails in the bar), and then some of the very ripe and squishy damsons are used to make damson gin. I also sometimes make damson cheese with any remaining damson purée, and if there are any leftover good halves then I often make a delicious damson, apple and blackberry crumble or a plate pie. I hope my ‘damson diaries’ inspire you to do the same with your garden glut, whatever it may be. Greengages, wild plums, bullaces and Victoria plums would all be suitable.
Ingredients & Method
For the brown sugar meringues
- 2 large free-range egg whites
- 200g soft dark brown sugar
- a pinch of table salt
For the spiced baked damsons
- 250g (stoned weight) damsons, halved and stoned
- 125g soft dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
For the damson bavarois
- 400g damsons, stones in (see Cook’s Notes)
- 140ml cold water
- 200g caster sugar
- 6 large free-range egg yolks
- 3 leaves of gelatine, bloomed (softened in cold water, then squeezed gently to remove excess water)
- 400ml double cream
First prepare the brown sugar meringues. Preheat the oven to 110°C/Gas Mark ¼ and line 2 large baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
Place the egg whites, brown sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Cover your hands with clean disposable gloves. Place the saucepan over a very low heat and gently heat the egg white mixture to melt the sugar. Stick one of your hands into the egg white and sugar mixture and stir it continuously. By using your hands you can control the heat, as you should not heat the egg whites and sugar above 37°C. Stir it all the time to help dissolve the sugar.
Once the temperature has reached 37°C, transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, and whisk to the thick ribbon stage (or stiff peaks). Transfer the meringue mixture to a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle and pipe the meringue into five-pence piece-size droplets (pulling the bag upwards to create peaks) on the prepared baking trays; leave sufficient gaps between each one as they will swell as they cook.
Bake the meringues in the oven for about 45 minutes–1 hour or until they are dry. Check that they are cooked by touching their outsides; if they are firm on the outside but still slightly gooey in the centre, then they are done. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on the baking trays, then remove. These can be prepared in advance; keep the cooled meringues in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 1 month.
Next, prepare the spiced baked damsons. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 and line a deep roasting tray with non-stick baking paper. Place the damsons, brown sugar and mixed spice in the lined tray, stir to mix and then roast in the oven for 20–30 minutes or until the mixture has a jam-like consistency and is slightly thickened, stirring once. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray for 30 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container and keep refrigerated until needed. This mixture can be made up to 1 week in advance; store in the airtight container in the fridge.
For the bavarois, place 12 suitable dessert glasses on a tray in the fridge (I used a random selection of large wine glasses), then prepare the damson purée. Wash the whole damsons and place them in a large saucepan with 100ml of the water. Bring the damsons to the boil over a medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer for 10–15 minutes or until very soft and almost jam-like, stirring regularly to prevent burning.
Remove from the heat and pass the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, pressing the mixture through using a spatula, leaving the stones behind. Discard the stones and cool the damson purée rapidly over ice (see also Cook’s Notes, if you prefer to use a Thermomix).
Place the caster sugar, the remaining 40ml water and the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the mixture continuously for about 12 minutes or until the mixture (sabayon) becomes thickened and pale yellow in colour. Remove from the heat, add the bloomed gelatine and whisk for about 30 seconds or until dissolved. Whisk in the cold damson purée. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl set over ice and leave to cool (see also Cook’s Notes, if you prefer to use a Thermomix).
In a separate bowl, semi-whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the damson mixture until combined. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large plain nozzle (or simply use a disposable piping bag and snip the end off to make a hole for piping).
Pipe the bavarois mixture into the dessert glasses, dividing it evenly, leaving a 1.5cm space on top of each dessert (this allows enough room to top each dessert with the spiced baked damsons). Refrigerate for about 4 hours or until completely set.
Once set, serve, or cover the glasses with cling film (if you are serving the desserts the next day). To serve, uncover the desserts and spoon some spiced baked damsons on top of each one, dividing evenly. Serve immediately.
For the damson bavarois, 400g whole damsons will make about 350g neutral damson purée, so if you are using frozen damson purée, you’ll need 350g of purée.
For Thermomix users, the damson purée can be made successfully in the Thermomix. Place the washed damsons and water in the Thermomix jug, set the timer to 15 minutes, select reverse blade action button, on speed 1. Once cooked, follow the method and recipe as directed above.
For Thermomix users, you can make the bavarois using a Thermomix. Place the caster sugar, the remaining 40ml water and the egg yolks in the TM jug and insert the butterfly whisk. Set the timer for 20 minutes at 80°C, on speed 3. Once the time is completed, add the bloomed gelatine and whisk for 30 seconds, then add the cold damson purée and whisk it in on speed 1 for a further 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a bowl set over ice and leave to cool, then continue with the recipe as directed above.