Raymond Blanc is a gastronomic icon, acknowledged as one of the finest chefs in the world. He is chef-patron and chairman of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, the two-starred Michelin hotel-restaurant in the Oxfordshire village of Great Milton. In July 2012 Raymond was appointed President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
For the wine
250ml Monbazillac or desert wine
90ml red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon (*1)
40g caster sugar
4 turns freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp vanilla puree (*2)
100g cold water
For macerating the fruit
230g raspberries, washed (Glen doll, Glen Ample and Autumn Bliss) (*3)
160g strawberries, stemmed, halved, and quartered (Mara de bois, Marshmallow)
100g blackberries (Loch Ness)
20g caster sugar
12 leaves spear mint
6 leaves fresh basil
6 leaves Vietnamese Coriander or Lemon Verbena (*4)
(All macerated together for 30minutes)
½ Charentais melon, scooped into 12 balls with parisienne spoon
100ml chilled pink champagne (the remainder will be very much appreciated by your guests)
Garnish: Optional (the threaded caramel will only keep for two hours)
Spun sugar sheet with dried zests, chopped herbs etc.
100g cold water
300g caster sugar
Pinch of lemon, lime, and orange zest
Pinch of finely julienne herbs – mint, basil, lemon verbena
Pinch of dried raspberries, strawberries – finely chopped (*5)
To prepare the red fruit soup
In a small saucepan mix the Monbazillac wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon, sugar, and vanilla puree. Bring to the boil for 1 minute, (*6) turn off the gas and add the cold water. Cool down to approx 40°C (*7)
Add the cooled wine mixture to the macerated fruit, add the melon and cover, refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 1 day.
To make the sugar threads (*8)
Pour 100g of water into an 18cm sauce pan, add the sugar and let it absorb the water. You can simply make the caramel without any water, but you have much more chance to crystallise the sugar instantly.
Over a medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to a boil. Cook the sugar and water till it reaches a golden colour. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the caramel to cool down and thicken a little.
Using a fork, thread the caramel onto your greaseproof paper, using a back and forth motion. Sprinkle your citrus zest, herbs and chopped dried fruit evenly over the threads. Thread over, creating a lattice work.
You can thread this caramel over the back ladle to create a lovely dome of caramel.
Place the soup and fruit into a large glass serving bowl or 4 individual glass bowls. Pour a little pink champagne (*9) into each of the individual bowls and add the sprig of mint and spun sugar.
*1 Cooking Wine – My general rule about wine when cooking is not to use expensive wine, I don’t spend over £5 per bottle. I have seen some wonderful, expensive Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignons murdered by boiling them! What you are looking for is a deep, rich coloured Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. The Pinot Noir are usually too light and delicate.
*2 Vanilla syrup – Every recipe in the world tells you to infuse a whole vanilla pod in milk, cream etc. then to be discarded and occasionally washed off and recycled as vanilla sugar. A good vanilla pod will cost you up to £2.50 each. I have found a much better way to use 100% of the pod. It is simple and keeps for as long as you want it to as the sugar content will act as a preservative. Store in a sealed jar in the fridge. Roughly chop together 6 large vanilla pods, removing the hard nib at one end and puree together with a warm sugar syrup (100ml water and 100g of caster sugar boiled together).
*3 Fruit – the secret to this dish is to use the freshest, ripest fruit you can find, to bring full flavours to your soup. In Britain, we have some of the most extraordinary varieties of summer berries that beg to be used. You can now find these varieties on the supermarket shelves.
*4 Vietnamese coriander or Lemon Verbena – These herbs will add a wonderful depth of flavour to your dish, with the peppery mint and citrus verbena giving off all their perfume. They can easily be grown at your own home if you cannot find them in your local area.
*5 Drying berries and other fruits – you can simply do this by slicing up strawberries and raspberries and placing them onto a tray lined with greaseproof paper and dry them overnight in a 60 degree oven. All the moisture will be gone, the texture will be crunchy, the colours ruby and flavours intense. Pears, apples, aubergines can also be done in this way.
*6 Boiling wine – This is to burn off the alcohol to give a rounder flavour, but you cannot remove all of the alcohol, so it is not the best dessert to give to your children.
*7 Cooking temperature – If the soup is too hot it will cook the fruits. 40°C is the perfect temperature and the warmth will help the exchange of flavours between the herbs, the pepper, the fruit and the wine.
*8 Cooking the sugar – As sugar is in a crystal form when at room temperature, when dissolved, it will always try and recrystalise – this will ruin your caramel. There are a few tips to ensuring that you do not crystalise your sugar; never stir the sugar when it is boiling, always use a totally clean pan and have a pastry brush with a small pot of water ready to brush down the inside of the pan as you boil your sugar. If you do manage to crystalise your sugar, as believe me, I have done many times, simply swirl the pan to incorporate the crystalised sugar into the mass and continue to cook the caramel. By cooking the sugar a bit further, all these flakes will dissolve.
I prefer to cook the caramel to a darker gold colour, by doing this you intensify the flavour as well as removing more moisture, thus allowing the caramel to stay harder for longer.
If you want to stop the cooking, prepare a bath of water and dip the base of the pan into it for a few seconds and then remove.
To thread the sugar, at this stage the caramel will be very hot and the thread will not form properly, wait until the caramel cools down a bit and the threads become thicker, this is the time to thread the caramel onto your greaseproof paper.
Make sure that the sugar threads form a lattice pattern to trap all the herbs and citrus zest.
Humidity is the enemy of the caramel threads, you can replace 30% of the sugar with glucose which will help with anti-crystallisation and increase the density of the caramel, making it more pliable.
These sugar threads will only keep for one hour, so they must be made at the last minute or kept in an airtight container with silica gel crystals.
*9 Champagne – When the champagne, which is dry, is added to the sweet fruit and juice it will create a very festive foam which will finish this dish beautifully, adding a little drama and extra flavour to the dish.