I heard that cherry season in the States has been prodigious and succulent. In lieu of that blessed news, here's a blancmange dessert with those crimson red miracles as the topping.
Blancmange w/ fresh cherries and basil coulis - serves 8
450 gr (1 lb) skinned sweet almonds
20 bitter almonds* or 2 drops bitter almond extract
1/2 tsp agar-agar powder (you might want to test the gelling capacity of your agar agar)
125 gr (1/2 cup) unrefined cane sugar
*The sale of bitter almonds seems to be prohibited in the States, as the kernels contain traces of prussic acid, which is lethal. Not to worry, the toxicity is destroyed during heating.
For the almond milk:
Blanch the sweet and bitter almonds (if using them) in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and let cool just long enough to be able to handle. Remove the skins by squeezing one end of each almond between your fingers. Soak them in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes to render them whiter. Drain and transfer to a blender. Add 1 liter (4 1/4 cups) cold water. When the liquid is smooth and milky, strain
through a fine muslin or kitchen towel in two batches, slowly twisting the towel until you have removed all the liquid. The almond milk can be made the day before.
For the blancmange:
Combine the agar-agar and almond milk in a saucepan and let stand for 5 minutes. Add the sugar (and bitter almond extract if using) and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring from time to time. Lower heat and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat. Pour the blancmange into small individual ramekins. Set aside to cool then refrigerate until firmly set (1 - 2 hours).
For the basil coulis:
1 bunch fresh basil
2 -3 tBsp unrefined cane sugar
2 - 3 tBsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp grated zest of an organic lemon
Few grinds of the pepper mill
2 generous handfuls ripe cherries Wash and dry the basil. Place in a blender along with 2 tBsp of both the sugar and olive oil, and blend until smooth. Add a bit more sugar and/or oil if not quite sweet enough or a bit dry. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the lemon zest. Wash and dry the cherries. Pit then dice them. Unmold each blancmange by running a knife around the inside edge of the ramekin, then pulling lightly inward to loosen. Turn each out onto individual dessert plates. Place a generous teaspoon of the basil coulis on top of each and garnish with the cherries. Finish with a generous twist of the pepper mill.
Note: You can also use a mixture of blanched nuts to make the nut milk, for example: 225 gr (1/2 lb) each of almonds and hazelnuts, or
400 gr (14 oz) almonds and 60 gr (1/2 cup) raw pistachios...