Food & Drink

Strawberries forever: this in-season fruit brings back special memories

Lisa Williams photo

Underneath this layer of fresh strawberries, is a bed of rich vanilla pastry cream and strawberry puree in a sweet pastry crust.
Lisa Williams photo Underneath this layer of fresh strawberries, is a bed of rich vanilla pastry cream and strawberry puree in a sweet pastry crust.
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I mark the progression of summer by what blooms in my garden — lilac, then iris, then peony, all the way to aster.

And I mark summer’s too-fast pace by what fruit comes in season.

After rhubarb is strawberries. It’s at this point where I get a little anxious — but in a good way. The list of dishes to make grows longer each year as there are always new recipes to try, in addition to old favorites.

Even though strawberries can be purchased year-round, there’s nothing like the flavor of local, seasonal fruit.

Strawberries happen to be one of my favorites. They star in two vivid food memories. There was the strawberry ice cream, the purest flavor of berries and cream, when I was barely 4 years old, sitting with Papa as he churned by hand on the back porch.

And there was the small container of tiny, late-season berries purchased at a market in Paris more than 15 years ago. Crowded in a friend’s backpack with other picnic items, they traveled in the warm summer sun to be eaten with amazement on the steps of the palace at Versailles.

I’m haunted by the flavor of those berries, which were perfectly ripe and so fragrant as to be intoxicating.

(By the way, scent is how I choose whether to purchase supermarket berries: Hold the container up to your nose and sniff. If you don’t nearly swoon from the perfume, put down the berries and walk away.)

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When it comes to eating berries, everyone loves them fresh, tossed over cereal or eaten out of hand, one after the other. But some berry varieties are tart and a little sweetener brings out the complex flavors. Sprinkle some sugar or honey on sliced berries, then let the whole thing sit for about 15 minutes while the sugar draws out the juices.

Don’t be afraid to add heat, either. As with those mythical strawberries I dream about, one of the reasons they were so good is they’d been warmed by the sun. Place lightly sugared berries in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Warm gently until the juices thicken slightly. Use this compote over cake, toast, ice cream, you name it.

I’m sharing a few of my favorite strawberry desserts, which I think also happen to be good basics for a home cook to know. Master these recipes and you can adapt to use other fruit as it comes our way — cherries, blueberries, peaches, plums.

With recipes these in hand, you’ll be all set to mark time as I do — by enjoying every bit of sweetness and beauty that summer has to offer, and planning your next moves in the kitchen.

RECIPES

Strawberry CrEme FraIche Biscuits

All the ingredients of strawberry shortcake, but more flavorful and less fussy. No rolling is required for these tender, buttery biscuits studded with bits of strawberries. The crème fraîche spread is rich, tangy and sweet. Substitute peaches and plums as the summer wears on.

Strawberry Swirl

1 cup diced strawberries

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Biscuits

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup crème fraîche

1 large egg

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup diced strawberries

Whipped Crème Fraîche

3/4 cup crème fraîche

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

Strawberry swirl: In a small saucepan, cook the strawberries with sugar and lemon juice over medium heat until the berries break down and the juices thicken, about 12 minutes. Let cool completely.

Biscuits: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until pea-sized pieces form. In another medium bowl, whisk the crème fraîche with the egg, buttermilk and vanilla. Stir the crème fraîche mixture into the dry ingredients until a dough just comes together. Fold in the diced strawberries, being careful not to over mix.

Scoop 12 1/4-cup mounds of the biscuit dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the biscuits for about 30 minutes, until browned. Halfway through baking, shift the pans from top to bottom and front to back. Transfer to a rack and let cool slightly.

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Make the whipped crème fraîche: In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, whip the crème fraîche with the cream, sugar, vanilla and salt at moderate speed until medium peaks form. Fold in the cooled strawberry swirl until just combined. Serve with the warm biscuits.

Source: Food & Wine

Orange-Scented Eton Mess

Said to have originated at England’s Eton College, this dessert is greater than the sum of its parts. I’ve added orange to this classic dessert because strawberry and orange are BFFs. If you have it, add a little orange liqueur to the strawberries. If not, a splash of orange juice will work, too. Later this summer, change out the strawberries for peaches, blueberries or plums. These can be made in individual cups or scooped from one big bowl, but use a glass bowl if you have it because the color is so pretty.

4 egg whites

1 cup superfine sugar, plus 2 tablespoons (see note)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups heavy cream, whipped with 2 tablespoons of sugar just before serving

3 cups of strawberries sliced

1/2 teaspoon orange zest, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon orange liqueur or orange juice

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Butter a large rimmed baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form. Whisk in the 1 cup of sugar and beat until it looks glossy. Add the vanilla extract and orange zest. Beat the egg whites until firm peaks form. Gradually whisk in the sugar. Put big spoonfuls on the baking pan. Bake about 3 hours, until the meringues are almost dry but slightly chewy in the middle. Remove and let cool.

Toss the strawberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar and orange juice or orange liqueur. Let sit for 10 minutes, then lightly crush berries with a potato masher. Reserve until ready to use.

Fold together the crushed meringues, whipped cream and strawberries, adding more fruit, meringues or cream to suit. Garnish with orange zest.

Note: To make superfine, or caster, sugar, place regular granulated sugar in a blender and process for about 15 seconds. A finer texture dissolves faster.

Strawberry Tart with Pastry Cream

The secret to this tart is what lies beneath the berries — crème mousseline, a rich, vanilla-flavored custard to which a little butter is whipped, making it both fluffy and sturdy at the same time. This pastry cream is the same luscious filling for cream puffs and eclairs. One taste and you will fall in love.

Pastry Cream

1 1/4 cups whole milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

The Fruit

4 cups fresh strawberries

2 teaspoons powdered sugar

Marshmallows for garnish, homemade or good-quality store-bought (optional)

Crust

1 9-inch tart crust, baked

Prepare the pastry cream: In a small saucepan, heat milk until hot and set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together. Drizzle one-quarter of the hot milk over the yolks. When the yolks are warm, whisk the remainder of the milk into the yolks in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, bring the mixture to a boil. Keep it boiling and whisk constantly for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and press the cream through a strainer into a small bowl. Let it cool on the counter for about 3 minutes.

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Cut half the butter into 5 or 6 chunks and stir into the hot pastry cream, continuing to stir until the butter is melted and fully incorporated. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal. Place in refrigerator until cold.

Remove from refrigerator and put into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Put the remaining 5 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl and work it with a spatula until it is soft and creamy. With the mixer on high speed, add the butter to the pastry cream. Keep whipping until the pastry cream is light, smooth and satiny. You can use it now or chill until needed.

Assemble the tart: Fill the tart shell with enough pastry cream to come about 1/4 inch from the top of the crust. Smooth the surface so it’s even. (You will have leftover pastry cream.)

Put 3/4 cup of the strawberries in a small bowl with the powdered sugar and lightly crush the berries with a fork or potato masher. Let the berries sit for 5 minutes, then put them in a wire strainer to let as much of the liquid drain as possible. Spoon the berries over the pastry cream, leaving a small border around the edge.

Cut the remaining berries in halves, quarters or slices. Arrange them attractively over the surface of the tart. Slice bits of marshmallow to fill in some of the edges.

Source: Dorie Greenspan, Paris Sweets

The Sweet Tart Dough

This tart dough is sweet like a sugar cookie. The recipe makes enough for three tart shells.

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/2 cup ground blanched almonds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large eggs, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Place the butter in a food processor and process until it is soft and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and process. Add the ground almonds, salt and vanilla and continue to process until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary. Lightly stir the eggs together with a fork and add them to the mixture. Process for a few seconds. Add the flour and pulse until the mixture just starts to come together. Gather the dough into a ball and divide into 3 pieces. Cover each piece with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Roll out one piece of dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Gently move the dough over the tart shell and let it settle in. Press the dough against the bottom of the pan and up the sides, but do not stretch the dough. Chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to bake the crust, preheat the oven to 350º. Line the crust with a piece of parchment paper or foil and fill with dried beans or rice. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly colored. Remove the parchment and beans and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes until golden. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Source: Dorie Greenspan, Paris Sweets

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