BERRY LOVELY Strawberries, cream and shortbread are a classic summer combination.
Strawberries are one of the great joys of summer – pinky-red, love-heart shaped, sweet and juicy … What’s not to love? From June on, we eat them nearly every day in our house.
If you have children, you might find strawberries can bring strife, though. Each of our children would eat their own bodyweight in strawberries given the chance. Even when they both get an identical number of strawberries in a bowl, each believes the other is getting a better deal. It’s fruit war. John Lennon would not approve.
The very basic step before eating your strawberries is to wash and hull – remove the green bit at the top. If you lop it off with a knife, you can lose some of the fruit, so be mindful. A nifty trick is to insert a straw into the pointy bit of the fruit, wriggle it up, twist it up and pop goes that stem.
Summer strawberries are utterly delicious on their own, but they’re extra lovely with a serving of cream. Chop the hulled strawberries into halves or quarters. Macerate with a couple of spoons of sugar for a few minutes to extract a nectary juice. Top with whipped cream … or be lazy, and just pour the unwhipped cream straight into the strawberries. Divine.
If you have guests coming, impress with a strawberry Pavlova. For years, I was scared of attempting meringues. There seemed to be so many daunting rules. Your bowl and utensils must be scrupulously clean – one spot of grease and the meringues won’t peak; add the caster sugar to the egg-white mix practically grain by grain, etc.
Then I discovered Darina Allen’s brilliantly fool-proof Ballymaloe Break all the Rules Meringue. You need two egg whites and 130g of sieved icing sugar. Mix the icing sugar with the eggs all at once in (yes, this is essential) a spotlessly clean bowl. Whisk with an electric whisk till the mixture forms stiff peaks. (Don’t despair, it does take quite a long time!) Either pipe or spoon onto a baking tray lined with silicone paper (I find greaseproof paper does the job fine). Bake at 150 degrees for around 30 minutes. Spoon on a deep layer of whipped cream and add a generous helping of strawberries.
When I was a child, my mum used to make strawberry shortcake. There are many takes on your classic shortcake recipe – butter, sugar, flour – and any will be good. I like to use icing sugar in mine; it seems to do something extra nice to the sandy texture. My mum used to let us help roll and pat down the dough. I remember as a child staring at the oven until the shortbread was done. It would come out buttery and hot, some bits maybe unevenly (extra delicious) cooked.
What you need
- 100g butter
- 100g plain flour sieved
- 50g icing sugar sieved
- 1 free-range egg yolk
- pinch of salt
- ¼ punnet strawberries
- 150ml cream with icing sugar
What you do
If you have a food processor, put in all the shortbread ingredients and pulse until the dough is formed. If doing it by hand, beat the butter in a large bowl until soft. Add the sugar and salt, beat again until soft. Add the egg yolk, then the sieved flour. Keep mixing until your dough forms. This can take time, and you might want to use your hands. Chill the mix for 15 minutes.
Roll the dough a quarter-of-an-inch thick. Pat and patch it up if bits break off. Cut into rounds with a pastry cutter or small glass. Place on a tin lined with greaseproof paper and bake for eight to ten minutes at 190 degrees. It over-browns easily, so be vigilant. You will smell when they are ready. Remove from oven and let the shapes cool.
For your fancy dressing, whip up 150ml of cream and add a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar. Hull and quarter a punnet of strawberries.
Top the bottom layer of shortcake with cream and strawberries, top with another round, and pile on more cream and strawberries on top of that. Indulge!