Husk Cherry French Pastry at Bistro Les Gras in Northampton Highlights a Local, But Unusual Fruit

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, September 30, 2016, by Lisa Spear

French baking is world renowned as a delicious art form, but husk cherries can take it to a whole new level.

While arguably as tasty, husk cherries are not cherries at all. These fruits have a consistency more like that of a tomato, infused with the sweetness of a pineapple, blended with the tartness of a tomatillo. They have no stem or pit.

When baked into a pastry crust, they make for a smooth and subtle dessert.

At Bistro Les Gras in Northampton you can find these golden orbs cradled in a fluffy and layered galette crust.

Baking them brings out their natural honey flavor. Lemon or lime juice highlight their tomatillo taste. Cornstarch binds the juices and keeps them from running.

This is the work of pastry chef Christina Praine, 26, who mixes the dough from scratch, and dices and tosses raw cherries into the crusts before sliding them into the oven.

“It’s a different kind of flavor. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is. It’s delicious,” she said.

Praine judges the success of the dish by the clean plates that come back to the kitchen.

I can say that eating one of her pastries brings the kind of comfort you get from eating a warm piece of apple pie with ice cream on top, but more sophisticated.

A dental hygiene school dropout, Praine has worked with food for seven years. Now, she said, as a pastry chef, she is still working, in some way, to keep the dentists in business.

She loves to bring happiness to people through food. “It just feels really good when someone comes up to you and says, ‘I had your tart, it was really awesome — I had your cupcake, it was really freaking good.”

The galette is one of a handful of desserts that alternate on the menu at Bistro Les Gras.

Other popular options are the Earl Grey panna cotta with a husk cherry jam and regulars are always asking for the pot de crème.

The ingredients alternate with the seasons. As the leaves change and the air gets crisp, apple pastries will make a more frequent appearance on the menu.

These desserts are hard to resist. The pastries are often served warm with a scoop of hand-churned vanilla ice cream. A few toasted almonds are sprinkled on top.

The fruit in the husk galette tart is grown right here in the Pioneer Valley, just about 10 miles down the road from the West Street restaurant at Warner Farm in Sunderland.

The season is winding down, but the restaurant will be serving it as the cherries are available.

“If people are buying it and loving it, we will still make it,” said Peter Bunce, the restaurant’s chef.