Arranging fresh, ripe fruit and berries on top of a sponge cake or tart makes one of the easiest and most elegant summertime desserts. The tarts or sponge shells are usually filled first with a custard filling or pastry cream, then the fruit is arranged artistically on top. To keep the dessert looking its best, most cooks brush a shiny glaze over the fruit to seal out the air and lend the fruit a gloss. One simple and effective glaze can be made with unflavored gelatin.
Place equal measurements of water and sugar in a small saucepan, and bring them to a boil. Simmer the sugar and water together for 10 minutes to make a light syrup. Transfer the syrup to a sterile canning jar, and cool it to room temperature.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of gelatin over a half-cup of cold water, for every cup of glaze you wish to prepare. Set the gelatin mixture aside for five to 10 minutes, until the gelatin has fully "bloomed," or absorbed the water and softened.
Heat the gelatin mixture gently over a double boiler, or by microwaving it at 50 percent power for 30 seconds at a time. Stir frequently, until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
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Stir in an equal quantity of your sugar syrup. For example, if you're making one cup of glaze you'd add a half-cup of syrup to your half-cup of water and gelatin.
Brush the glaze over your fruit as soon as it begins to thicken. If it becomes too cold and thick, return it to the microwave or double boiler just long enough to make it loosen and become liquid again.
Unused gelatin glaze can be stored for three to four days in the refrigerator, and re-warmed for use on additional tarts.
Your leftover sugar syrup, known to professional cooks as "simple syrup," will keep for months in your refrigerator. Use it to sweeten cocktails, sauces or lemonade in place of sugar, or sprinkle it over cake layers to moisten them and give a more tender crumb.
- The Professional Pastry Chef; Bo Friberg
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.