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    Spring Forward: A Fresh Look at Late Winter Desserts

    by Rebecca Cohen
    Shannon Sturgis

    Biography

    Restaurant

    Winter is on the outs, and spring is just around the corner in the Northeast. And we’re way over hot chocolate, apple pie, and bread pudding for culinary comfort. The secret to ushering palates into spring doesn’t lie in heavy pastry flavors used to compensate for winter’s dearth of seasonal fruit, but instead in a sweet re-appropriation of fresh, savory ingredients.

    At Philadelphia’s R2L, 2013 Rising Star Pastry Chef Peter Scarola transforms fennel and tarragon, alongside apples and grapefruit, into a delicately tantalizing dessert that not only embodies winter’s potential, but tastes like a breath of fresh spring air. Originally conceived as a palate-cleansing pre-dessert, Scarola was so intrigued by this interplay that he decided to upgrade the dish to a full menu item.

    “It is challenging to create cold weather desserts that aren't spice-laden or warm and heavy,” says Scarola. But it’s a challenge he’s handled deftly in this dish. The fennel comes in the form of an airy, silken frozen parfait, draped with a sheet of transparent grapefruit gelée. Complemented by the tender bite of compressed Granny Smith apples and the ethereal crunch of tarragon meringue shards, the dish is rounded out by voluptuous grapefruit curd and bright tarragon purée.

    Fennel Parfait, Green Apple Carpaccio, Tarragon, and Grapefruit

    Fennel Parfait, Green Apple Carpaccio, Tarragon, and Grapefruit

    Fennel Parfait, Green Apple Carpaccio, Tarragon, and Grapefruit

    Fennel Parfait, Green Apple Carpaccio, Tarragon, and Grapefruit

    Fennel Parfait, Green Apple Carpaccio, Tarragon, and Grapefruit

    Fennel Parfait, Green Apple Carpaccio, Tarragon, and Grapefruit

    Scarola has delved into the savory pantry in the past with elements like mushroom ice cream and an endive parfait he inherited from a pastry chef predecessor. As with those elements, fennel sparked Scarola’s drive to experiment and search for appropriate pairings, until he hit this winning combination.

    Taking advantage of winter’s bright citrus as a natural match for early spring’s delicate fennel, Scarola sources the last of tart Granny Smith apples from nearby co-op, Lancaster Farm Fresh, and ties them all together with fresh, herbal tarragon. Even while celebrating winter’s beloved mainstays, he has turned his sights toward the springtime abundance to come. Next on his list: rhubarb, mint, and carrots.

    In the chilly meantime, Scarola’s fennel beauty serves as a welcome wake-up call as pastry chefs ride out the last of winter’s dull weather and meager market offerings and transition joyfully into spring.

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