Black Raspberries Get Their Due

Black raspberries have never been the most popular kid on the block. Their cousin, the red raspberry, enjoys enduring fame and adulation while the black raspberry is a one hit wonder known only for being distilled into Chambord, the French Liqueur. Ever the fan of the underdog, when I planted raspberries in my backyard a few years ago, I put in rows of both black and red.

The red raspberries delivered as expected, gorgeous thumb-sized berries full of flavor. The black raspberries, though smaller and less aromatic, provided a tart counterpoint with a darker berry flavor. And then I discovered their secret.

That secret, revealed after failing to pick them fast enough, was to let the black raspberries hang on the bush just a little bit longer. My reward was a much sweeter berry, sweeter than the red ones, that intensified the dark berry flavor. The black ones held up well and were less susceptible to the funky flavors that red raspberries acquire when left on the bush too long.

Of course, eating both types off the bush is the best recipe, but the cook in me desired something different, more involved, for the black raspberries. I wanted to show them a little respect this year. The bushes were loaded and ripe. The recent heat wave had created a sense of urgency and my wife was willing to brave the thorns with me. (Did I forget to mention that black raspberries have nastier thorns than red raspberries? Aggressive thorns that want to poke you. They catch your skin and when you flinch, draw blood.) So we suffer a bit before we feast.

After bending, stooping, and stretching to pick as many as we could, our hands were stained dark purple from the juice and we looked like villains in a low-budget horror film. I took the bounty into the kitchen. My thoughts turned to soup, not because I was suffering from heat stroke, but because I had just remembered a favorite recipe. It was for blueberry soup from the French Laundry Cookbook and I had made it several times in past summers. The chilled dessert soup captured the blueberry’s essence, and the recipe was an inspiration for my plans for the black raspberries.

I wasn’t about to replicate the rather involved process required to make the blueberry soup. The original recipe had three separate components including a red raspberry and strawberry syrup and yogurt charlottes. Instead, I borrowed a few ideas: make a fruit syrup and mix it with crème anglaise, use white wine to provide complex acidity, and add a small amount of cracked pepper to enhance the raspberry flavor.

Instead of presenting the dessert as a soup, I wanted to present it like a café au lait: pour some of the black raspberry syrup into a small coffee cup and follow it with the crème anglaise. Latte art is optional. Add a piece of high-quality dark chocolate or a plain cookie on the saucer and you have a fun, intensely flavored dessert.

I poured the inky colored raspberry syrup into a small white coffee cup. After adding an equal amount of the crème anglaise and gently stirring, the inside edges of the cup took on a vivid pink-purple color. I knew I had captured summer in a cup as my wife dipped a piece of dark chocolate into her faux coffee and nodded approvingly.


Black Raspberry Syrup


3 cups black raspberries

1 ½ cup crisp dry white wine (sauvignon blanc or similar)

1 ½ cups water

3 T Lemon juice

4-5 Tbl Sugar (to taste)

Freshly cracked black pepper


In a medium saucepan, combine the white wine and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half. Add the water, sugar, berries and a short twist of very coarsely ground black pepper. 

Gently simmer until the berries have broken apart, about 10-15 minutes. Halfway through the cooking, taste the syrup and adjust for sweetness.

Strain into a container (preferably a pourable one), cover and refrigerate.


Crème Anglaise


1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

½ vanilla bean

½ cup sugar

5 large egg yolks


Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan and stir in half of the sugar. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the pan and add the pod. 

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, cover for 30 minutes to an hour.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and the egg yolks and whisk until creamy and thick.

Prepare an ice-water bath.

Slowly add about a third of the milk and cream mixture to the egg mixture. Return the egg mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the custard starts to thicken and coats the back of the spoon, strain the mixture into a metal bowl set in the ice water. When cool, cover and refrigerate.


For the “café au lait”


Into a small coffee cup, preferably with a white interior, pour 2-3 ounces of the raspberry syrup. Add a similar amount of crème anglaise or more or less according to your taste. Stir to combine. Serve with chocolate or simple cookies.


Steve Subera a freelance writer, recipe consultant, and avid home cook. He also volunteers for Cooking Matters Minnesota and teach families how to cook healthy, tasty, and affordable foods at home.