Emily Luchetti's Stars Desserts has been one of my favorite dessert books for many years. It was one of the first all-dessert books I ever owned, and it taught me a lot in my early days of baking. Some of my favorites are the caramel pots de creme (p. 19), orange spice cake (p. 164), chocolate hazelnut crepes (p. 49), or the pear frangipane tart (p. 142). And then there was the Tuscan cream cake (p. 177), a rich and volatile creation of sponge cake layered with zabaglione (a foam of eggs and Marsala wine), coated with vanilla-infused whipped cream. The first time I made it for my sister's high school voice recital in her senior year. It was quite a hit with a few of her teenage friends...
As I tried various recipes in the book, a recipe called "Hollyce's Sin Pot" always intrigued me. The "Sin Pot" is a naturally fermented fruit compote intended to be served over ice cream or mixed with club soda in a drink. To make it, you need only a big jar, a lot of fruit, a lot of sugar, some cheesecloth (to allow airborne yeasts to enter and act as a fermenting agent), patience, and some optimism (or, perhaps, recklessness). The ingredients are minimal: 11 cups of sugar and 11 cups of peeled, sliced, ripe fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, or cherries). This summer, inspired by a glut of plums in a backyard tree, I decided to try it.
The 22 cups of fruit and sugar don't all go in at once. The initial batch is four cups of each. And then for the next 14 days another cup of each ingredient goes into the jar every other day, with a daily stir. My mixture was roughly 25% backyard plum (the little things are very tedious to peel and pit, and nearly impossible to slice), 25% nectarine, 25% peach, 15% commercial plum, and 10% cherry. After the first two weeks, the 22 cups of fruit and sugar have gone into the jar, and it is time to wait for one month.
After a few days, the mixture was about half fruit, and half liquid (the plums I used were very juicy). As time passed, the liquids leached out of the fruit, and the liquid deepened in color. But after about 10 days, mold started growing in places on top of the fruit. Perhaps this is natural, and flavor enhancing, but the recipe is rather sparse, and does not provide guidance about such things. So, to be cautious, I scooped out the top layer of fruit. More frequent stirring (and not placing the jar near my compost "staging" container---i.e., the holding area for fruit and vegetable trimmings before going into my worm box) might have prevented the mold from forming.
My sin pot has been fermenting and transforming for over a month. At this stage, the mixture is not noticeably alcoholic. It's quite sweet, with a strong peach flavor at the start, and subtle plum flavors on the finish. It still has four weeks to go, and I'll post an update around that time.
Emily Luchetti was pastry chef at the landmark Stars restaurant for many years. Stars was founded by Jeremiah Tower (one of the originators of "California Cuisine") in 1984 and was a favorite of San Francisco's elite. It closed in 1999, after lawsuits, expansion pains, and the impacts of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. These days, Luchetti is executive pastry chef at Farallon restaurant in San Francisco.
The Stars Desserts book is out of print, and apparently has become a collector's item: I saw a copy for sale in a used bookstore with a price of $150 for a first edition! My copy of Stars Desserts is also a first edition. However, unlike the copy at the bookstore, mine has hand-written notes on many pages, butter and chocolate stains here and there, and a broken spine (on the Sin Pot page, coincidentally). As much as I love this book, I would be willing to part with my copy for $150....
Indexed under Desserts
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