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Fans are going bananas for soft serve fruit

MICHELLE LOCKE, For The Associated Press

Publication: The Day

Published September 26. 2012 4:00AM
Matthew Meade/AP Photo
Creamy Blueberry Banana Soft Serve

Pureed frozen fruit probably won't become the next bacon, or even cupcake. It's simply not sexy enough.

So-called soft serve fruit is, however, having a moment, recently becoming a darling of the mommy blog set, showing up on ABC's "Good Morning America," inspiring a new countertop kitchen appliance, even spawning a product line and small chain of shops, the New York City-based Soft Serve Fruit Co.

And to be clear, we are talking about something that is precisely as it sounds - frozen fruit that is pureed until it reaches the consistency of soft serve ice cream. That's it.

Soft serve fruit is "the answer to an ice cream lover's cravings," says Francesca Borgognone, Entertain Editor at The Daily Meal.com, who adds that the appeal is easy to understand. "A fraction of the calories and mixed with the same type of fixings that frozen yogurt has - it can be sweet, savory as well as an any-time-of-the-day treat."

Soft serve fruit has been quietly building a following online, where recipes abound for turning all manner of frozen fruit into treats. It's hardly complicated. A splash of juice or water, a bag of frozen fruit and a few minutes in a food processor and the result is something that begs for an ice cream cone.

Just type "soft serve fruit" into Pinterest and see the multicolored flurry of frozen fancies that pops up. And kitchen supply companies are keeping up with the trend, marketing appliances specifically for making frozen fruit desserts, like the Yonanas machine that costs around $50. Of course, most people just use their food processors or blenders.

Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of Epicurious.com, has been on to this idea for a while, keeping foil-wrapped, frozen over-ripe bananas in the freezer for times when she wants a treat that's tasty without being calorific.

"I started making them when my kids were little and I was trying to not only curb their constant need and quest for sugar, but also my own," says Steel, coauthor of the cookbook "Real Food for Healthy Kids." Steel says her site has a number of frozen fruit dessert recipes and "we see incredible interest in them," she says.

Soft serve fruit "makes so much sense," she says. "It's an almost guilt-free treat and you actually feel good about giving it to your kids and you feel good about giving it to yourself."

For Chloe Epstein, a partner in the Soft Serve Fruit Co., the love of soft serve fruit began with bananas. Expecting for the second time (twins, as it turned out), she craved something sweet, but she wanted it to be healthy, too. Up to then her career had been in law, but she was always looking for innovative ways to create healthy alternatives to favorite indulgences so she decided to try to come up with her own solution.

"We started to experiment with frozen, old, over-ripened bananas in a blender, juicer and Cuisinart and learned, like many who play in the kitchen, that there was a way to create something like the creamy frozen consistency we craved without all the other 'stuff,'" she says. The first few efforts encouraged them to incorporate soft serve machines and learn the steps needed to guarantee consistency and taste.

The big challenge was sticking to the goal of keeping the product simple - minimal ingredients - wholesome and nutritionally sound. After a lot of trial and error they found that fruit, filtered water and a touch of organic cane sugar - to keep the machine from "hard-freezing" the mix, not for taste - did the trick. After perfecting bananas they moved on to mango and apple, working with a food professional to get things right.

Today, Epstein, her husband Jason, and business partner Michael Sloan run the company (soon to be renamed Chloe's Soft Serve Fruit Co.) together. They have two stores, one on the Upper East Side and one in Union Square, as well as a seasonal store in Watermill, Long Island, and are carried in several cafes in the region. They're also considering opening a branch "somewhere warm," such as Miami, Atlanta or Los Angeles, and have plans to grow their wholesale business for outlets such as schools and universities.

Epstein expects interest in soft serve fruit to grow along with the general emphasis on eating healthier and more wholesome and natural foods. As for the at-home devices, Epstein says her product has been developed to have a creamier, more frozen yogurt-like texture "that we feel is unique. Nonetheless, eating a frozen banana in a home machine or a blender is a fun way to eat fruit and maintain a healthy diet, always a priority for us!"

CREAMY BLUEBERRY BANANA SOFT SERVE

The bananas provide most of the "creamy" in this soft serve. They combine so wonderfully with the blueberries to create a silky, creamy soft serve. If you want to keep it dairy free, substitute plain rice milk, coconut milk, or apple juice for the regular milk. You also could use water.

Start to finish: 5 minutes. Serves 6.

12-ounce bag frozen blueberries

2 frozen bananas, cut into chunks

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch salt

2 tablespoons milk

In a food processor, combine the blueberries, bananas, honey, cinnamon and salt. Pulse several times to roughly chop, then add the milk. Process until very smooth, this may take several minutes. You may need to stop the processor several times to scrape down the sides of the bowl or move any chunks of fruit that aren't being pureed. Serve immediately.

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