In Season 5 of Top Chef, host Padma Lakshmi actually spit out Ariane Duarte's cloying dessert, layered with cherries that tasted like canned pie filling and topped with overly sweetened meringue. Gail Simmons adds lemon zest to fresh lemon curd for balance and makes a compote with tart cherries and vanilla bean. A dollop of crème fraîche provides more tang. More Desserts from F&W Editors More Fruit Desserts
Fill a bowl with ice water and set another bowl in it. Set a strainer in the bowl. In a large metal bowl, whisk the lemon zest and juice with 1 cup of the sugar, the eggs and the egg yolks. Set the metal bowl over a pot of simmering water and cook the curd, whisking, until thick, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cubed butter until melted. Strain the lemon curd into the bowl in the ice water bath and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the water, vanilla bean and seeds and dried cherries and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderate heat until the cherries are plump and the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely, then discard the vanilla bean.
Spoon the lemon curd into 6 glasses and top each with a dollop of crème fraîche. Spoon the cherries and sauce all around and serve with the Buttery Vanilla Shortbread.
The lemon curd and cherries can be refrigerated separately overnight.