Individual Fresh Berry Gratins

I had all these fresh strawberries and a desire to make a relatively easy dessert from them. I found this recipe in the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Little did I know such a simple recipe could be so fraught with epic fail.

I wanted a mixture of berries, so I retrieved some blackberries and raspberries from the freezer. I had frozen the berries myself; they weren’t supermarket berries in sugar syrup. The recipe clearly states “Do not use frozen berries,” but I figured it was to prevent sugared berries from being used.

I thawed out the blackberries and raspberries, and left them to drain in a colander set over a bowl. I sliced the strawberries into quarters, added them to the rest, and tossed them with two teaspoons of granulated sugar and a pinch of salt.

Macerating berries

I divided the mixture into four six-ounce gratin dishes.


While the berries released some more juice, I whisked together three egg yolks, two tablespoons plus one teaspoon granulated sugar, and three tablespoons of dry white wine in a glass bowl.

Whisked yolks

I set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and proceeded to whisk the bejeebus out of the yolks, until they reached the consistency of hollandaise. I removed the bowl from the heat and continued whisking for another minute to cool down the resulting zabaglione.


I chilled the mixture in the fridge for ten minutes, then turned on my broiler.

At this point I was supposed to whip three tablespoons of heavy cream into soft peaks, but I was out of heavy cream. I made an educated guess and added about three quarters of a cup of whipped cream right out of the spray can, then folded it into the zabaglione. I spooned this mixture over the berries. I mixed together two teaspoons each of white and light brown sugar, then sprinkled a teaspoon over each dish. I let everything sit until the sugar had been absorbed.

Topped berries

I slid the dishes into the broiler on a rack about seven inches below the flame. The recipe calls for a browning time of one to four minutes. I set the timer for two minutes. Mistake.

Epic fail!

It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but the top didn’t turn black — it was a very dark brown, not unlike a well-toasted marshmallow. It was appropriately crispy, like the top of a well-torched crème brûlée.

Sadly, even though I was willing to overlook the topping, I couldn’t also claim “I meant that” when we reached the interior, which was too watery. It tasted of fresh berries, and the strawberries were warned through without being mushy, but the raspberries and blackberries had dissolved, diluting the zabaglione.

Leaving aside the timing of the browning step, the failure here could be blamed on the two substitutions. The frozen berries continued to release all of their liquid during the preparation. The whipped cream wasn’t dense enough to add structure to the egg foam — the canned stuff injects too much air.

I should have used my blowtorch to crisp the tops. I would have had better control over the browning, and it would have looked cooler.

I’ll make this again beacuse the recipe didn’t fail me, I failed the recipe. Lesson learned: Don’t fuck with Cook’s Illustrated.

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5 Responses to Individual Fresh Berry Gratins

  1. is a blog I helped get running.

    Nell has been making berry cobbler (fresh berries) that I’ve been making myself sick with. As long as there is enough vanilla ice cream I appear powerless against the ENTIRE pan of the stuff. The last batch had an extra helping of oatmeal (oat meal?) and that made it almost seem healthy.

    • David says:

      I usually leave the fruit crisps to Di, who has a better feel for them. But the gratins looked so easy…

      And don’t kid yourself – the oatmeal isn’t healthy, it’s where all the sugar collects.

  2. Aimee says:

    Reminds me of a wonderful dessert I had a few years ago (good enough that I can remember it) involving berries, a zabaglione made more substantial with marscapone cheese, and brulee topping. I made several attempts to recreate it, some more successful than others, and then berries were no longer in season. You’re inspiring me… I love fresh berries and custards of all kinds.

    • David says:

      If memory serves, you have a kitchen cabinet full of dishes from the Trader Joe’s berry creme brulees.

      But folding in mascarpone instead of whipped cream is a great idea; I’ll try that next time.

  3. Pingback: Individual Fresh Berry Gratins (Slight Return)

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