A fruit fool is a simple dessert made of cream blended with sweetened fruit puree. The dish is decidedly British in origin, but it has become popular throughout much of the world as an easy and often refreshing summertime treat. Traditional fruit fools are made with one type of fruit, generally strawberries or raspberries, which are blended directly into the cream to create a marbled look. Innovative cooks often take liberties with the basic model, however, often combining fruits, adding different sweeteners or playing with the layering of cream and puree.
The word “fool” in the fruit fool context is most likely derived from the French verb fouler, which means “to press.” Early English cooks — dating to the 1500s, by some accounts — made fools by pressing ripe fruits into a pulp, combining that pulp with sugar, then pouring the mixture into freshly whipped cream. Most cooks kept to one fruit, with strawberry fools and gooseberry fools being among the most popular varieties. They often were refreshing ways to end meals during the warmer spring and summer months in medieval England.
Fruit fools have not fallen out of fashion, in part perhaps because of their simplicity. Of course, modern chefs are not limited to local or seasonal produce, but berries remain the most common fruit fool variety. Cooks often experiment with pureeing different berries together or combining berries with other fruits, such as cherries, to create new twists.
Form is another way for fruit fool cooks to innovate. The most rudimentary fools are simply scooped into shallow bowls after blending. More artistic takes include service in decorative glass dishes, particularly presentations in wine or martini glasses. Some cooks also experiment with striation, layering the fruit puree and cream in alternating bands to create a parfait look that diners can then mix together for themselves. The most intricate versions of this type of fruit fool incorporate different fruit purees into the various bands, and they are almost always topped with a fruit garnish.
A fruit fool generally must be served right away because it typically does not store well. Pureed fruits tend to have a lot of residual water. As they sit, that water will separate, which can thin the cream. Highly acidic fruits, such as lemons, limes and oranges, might also sour the cream if left to sit for extended periods time. Citrus fruits are accordingly almost never seen in fruit fool dishes.
In English cuisine, there are many treats that are similar to fruit fools, because British desserts have a long history of combining fruits and creams. A dish known as an Eton mess, for instance, is little more than whole berries — usually strawberries — mashed with heavy whipped cream and meringue crumbles. The Australian and New Zealand favorite pavlova incorporates a meringue base topped with cream and, finally, fresh fruit. Two defining characteristics of a fruit fool is its pureeing step and its use of sugar rather than meringue.