Saturday, December 7, 2013


Exoticica--sweet cherimoyas, ready to eat.
I once lived in an old house in the village with a big, overgrown garden behind it. Stone dry walls divided the sloping garden into terraces, on which were planted many trees. Olive, fig, both orange and lemon, peach, pear and apricot, all those I could identify. Others, such as the pomegranate with its flamboyant red flowers, were new and exotic to me.

Photo ©Pilar Esteban Ordorica
One tree with broad, swishy leaves in early winter produced large green, heart-shaped fruit with a faceted surface that made them look like hand grenades. My neighbor, who pointed out the fruit to me, said they were chirimoyas. Eventually, I learned that the fruit actually comes from South America and that, in English, it is called cherimoya or custard apple.

Highly perishable and with a short season—November to January—cherimoyas are not widely commercialized. Best to enjoy them where they grow. And, where they grow is right here, the southern coast of Spain, from Gibraltar to Almuñecar (Granada). Cherimoyas from the Granada coast have DOP—protected designation of origin—Chirimoya Costa Tropical.

Inside the thin green skin, the flesh is creamy-white with shiny black seeds throughout. It tastes like a really sweet and creamy lemon-pineapple pudding. The aroma is “tropical”—banana, papaya, mango, all rolled into one, but subtle. The texture, like some pears, is slightly grainy. Did I say? really sweet.

When ripe, the skin and flesh darken.

Buy (or pick) cherimoyas when they are still firm and allow them to ripen until the green skin begins to darken in patches and the fruit, when gently squeezed in the palm of the hand, shows a little give (just like you test an avocado for ripeness).Small ones, as shown at left, ripen very quickly (two to three days).

Spoon the flesh from the skin.
The best way to eat this fruit is to cut it in half and spoon it right from the shell. The tongue and teeth easily deal with seed removal. Just spit the seeds out. Nothing simpler.

Yet, such a fabulous fruit certainly deserves something fancier. And, so, this season, I began seeking the perfect cherimoya dessert.  I’ve done sorbet, I’ve done mousse. Looking through online recipes, I liked the ideas of Pavlova with Cherimoya (meringue layers filled with fruit puré and whipped cream); Cherimoya Smoothie; Cherimoya Soufflé. The chef on Cómetelo (Canal Sur TV) made a scrumptious looking cherimoya flan  with white chocolate sauce. I loved his clever idea of dipping almonds in melted dark chocolate and scattering them around the finished dish so that they looked like shiny black seeds from the fruit.

I wanted a festive dessert in which the fruit could shine all on its own. A creamy tart? As the cherimoya pulp is so smooth and creamy, I needed something crunchy or crisp as contrast. How about a crumb crust? Yes! And some melted chocolate to dribble over the top to add a luxurious touch for the holidays.

Seeds are not easy to remove.

Now, about those seeds again. Each one is enclosed in a fleshy cell and does not easily separate from the flesh. I tried rubbing them through a sieve and that didn’t work either. You pretty much have to use a knife or fingers to extract each seed. Yeah, that’s a drag. But, once a year, worth the trouble. I did find that, the riper the fruit, the easier to squeeze out the seeds. Add lemon juice to the fruit pulp to prevent its oxidizing.

Because the cherimoyas are so very sweet, you will need very little sugar to make the tart filling. I used none at all. Taste the pulp and add sugar to suit yourself.

Cherimoya tart, a festive holiday dessert.

Tarta de Chirimoya
Cherimoya Tart

The tart filling, which is set with gelatine, can be made a day in advance of serving. It also freezes well. If frozen, allow to stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Serves 6 to 8.

2 pounds ripe cherimoyas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon medium Sherry
½ cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup sugar, or to taste
¼ cup milk
2 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatine
1 cup whipping cream
Baked crumb crust
Dark chocolate, melted over hot water (optional)

Cut the cherimoyas in half and scoop out the flesh. Remove and discard all the black seeds. Puré the flesh in a blender or food processor with the lemon juice. Place in a bowl and stir in the lemon zest, cardamom, Sherry, yogurt and sugar.

Put the milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine into it. Allow to soften for 5 minutes. Dissolve the gelatine in a microwave or by placing the bowl in a pan of hot water and stirring. Whisk the gelatine into the fruit mixture.

Beat the cream until it holds soft peaks. Fold the cream into the fruit mixture. Pour the mixture into the spring-form mold lined with baked crumb crust. Refrigerate the tart for at least 8 hours.

Run a knife around the edges of the pan and remove the sides from the pan. Carefully loosen the crust from the bottom and place the tart on a serving dish.

If desired, dribble melted chocolate over the top.

Chocolate adds a luxurious touch to cherimoya tart.

Almond Crumb Crust

Use any favorite crumb crust recipe. I invented this one because I had some leftover pieces of marzipan (almond-sugar paste).

1 ½ cups crushed crumbs
4 ounces marzipan
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a food processor, grind the crumbs finely. Add the marzipan and process until combined. Add the egg white and process to a paste.

Spread the mixture in the bottom of a spring-form pan that has been lightly greased with almond or olive oil. Bake the crust until golden around the edges, 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely before adding the filling.

Cherimoyas make good stocking-stuffers!


  1. I love when cherimoyas are in season - thanks for the recipes!

    1. Sue: I always think of oranges as the Christmas fruit--but cherimoyas are also. Enjoy the season.

  2. Si te gusta cocinar prueba a añadir azafran manchego en tus comidas. Es un potenciador de sabor tan bueno como la sal!

    1. David: I considered adding saffron to the cherimoya tart--I think saffron would complement the fruit's flavor. But decided I did not want it to have a yellow color.

  3. Wowzers! Want any help one winter let me know, anything for a piece of that pie :)