BERRY EXPLOSION!

Jul 1st, 2008

It’s the week of the 4th of July so no wonder I am exploding with berries! The Cannon Beach Farmers Market has been going for three Tuesdays now and I have walked away with a flat of strawberries each time. I know that seems a bit greedy because there is no way Lenore and I alone can eat them fast enough especially when they have been just perfect for eating NOW! So that is why I am sharing my berry season strategies with you today.

First and foremost, we like to eat them as they are, fresh picked and at their peak! We like them room temperature or even sunshine warm, as nature intended them to be. So my simplest strategy is to use them as is for a topping on a creamy freshly made shortcake biscuit with some lightly whipped cream. No need to improve upon the shortcake formula—it works as is.

Now I could eat shortcake every week until strawberries are gone, but for spice in life, I am always looking for other complimentary foods to top with these beauties. There’s always cheesecake—our dessert at our first market dinner was cheesecake made with Lisa Jacob’s fresh made ricotta and cream cheese. In addition whole berries have been appearing in our fresh market green salads. Who needs tomatoes when we have fresh strawberries? Add balsamic vinaigrette and it’s a salad I truly enjoy after a big meal.

Our next market dinner will see strawberries again—from Columbia farms and Luna sea Gardens, no doubt. Perhaps some blueberries will show up or a raspberry or two. I am open to all that arrives. Anyway, at our next market dinner we will top yet another classic but perhaps not as well known. We are making Pavlova, a light meringue dessert that just cries out for berries, although I have used other fruits as well. For this time, we might use a Romanoff approach and top the Pavlova with the strawberries which have been soaked in a little orange liqueur. They might be a bit sweet for the top of a sweet meringue so I will balance the flavors with a bit of crème fraiche whipped into some heavy cream. Of course, I recommend the strawberries Romanoff as a great dessert by itself; as well as to top an artisan made creamy goat cheese, for another simple dessert or starter course.

Do we all remember the wonderful strawberry pie, you know, the one in a blind baked pastry shell glazed with a shiny red berry sauce? I remember it first at the Howard Johnsons along the turnpike on the way to the Atlantic shore for summer vacations, and Lenore tells me she first ate it at Denny’s in Seattle. We both remember it as a seasonal specialty in these two restaurants and how much we looked forward to it. Now we think it is on the menu all year long, although, I cannot say for sure since we’ve not been to either restaurant in a very long time. But back to this impressive pie, best in season, when topped with sweetened cream, it has about the same satisfaction for me as strawberry shortcake, but for the extra work in making it. I am not including the recipe we use because a package glaze is prolifically available in the supermarkets today, right next to the fresh berries. It works, I am told.

About the fourth or fifth week of the season I am running low on ideas for using the fruit as a topping, so I start using them in recipes for ice creams and sorbets as well as pie. It is also about this time that the stone fruits begin to appear and just as I think that sour rhubarb and fresh strawberries make a great pair, so do berries of all kinds match up well with peaches and apricots. What comes to mind is a slab pastry dessert. This is a double crusted cookie sheeted dessert that sports a thin but tasty fruit filling. A bit easier to make than traditional pie, yet definitely less formal for eating since it eats right out of the hand like a bar cookie.

It is also about now that I start freezing the berries I cannot use up while they are at their peak. I anticipate this so that I actually buy the berries to freeze at their prime. I take a couple pints for room temperature storage—just for eating; a couple in the refrigerator for toppings, and the rest are washed, hulled and placed stem side down on a cookie sheet for individual freezing. They freeze quickly and I scoop them into plastic bags and date them for use through out the year. I use these frozen berries like fresh in that I don’t thaw them when I bake or cook with them. And Lenore makes berry sauce all winter for topping French toast in Omelet class.

One more recipe to share, another classic is the glazed hard shell candied fresh strawberry; it is one of my wife’s favorite things in life, she tells me and can only be made while with fresh berries. I like using these candy shelled beauties to accent a dessert plate, much as I would use a bright strawberry sorbet, for both offer an extraordinary punch of strawberry flavor to the plate. The glazed strawberry is still warm from the candy coating so there is a rush of sweet warm juicy strawberry when it is bitten. These are tricky in that the coating needs to be cooked to the hard crack stage or 300°F, and must be eaten within the hour or two that they are made for best results; a nice afternoon snack after the market on Tuesdays!

I hope you enjoy the recipes posted here, but remember to enjoy lots of these delicious fruits while they are at their seasonal peak for their shear overall best impact!

SLAB STYLE PASTRY WITH SEASONAL STONE FRUIT & BERRIES
2- cups stone fruits, pitted peeled and sliced
1 cup raspberries or strawberries or blueberries or combination
1- 1 ½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
Juice of ½ lemon
Pinch of salt
Enough Pastry to cover top and bottom of a sided cookie sheet (see recipe.)
1-2 TBS butter, cold pieces
1 lightly beaten egg with 1 TBS cream for coating top crust, optional
Sugar for sprinkling
Method: toss stone fruits, berries, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and salt in a large bowl; set aside. (they may be frozen)
Roll out half the pie crust on a floured surface, 1/8” thick and slightly longer than sided cookie sheet. Place the crust on the pan and pour the fruit mixture overall evenly. Dot with butter pieces if desired. Roll out the second half of crust and top the pie; seal the edges with a crimp. Dock top with fork or small circle cutter. Whisk egg and cream together and brush lightly on top of pie. Bake in preheated 375ºF oven for approximately 1 hour or until berries begin to bubble in the middle. Let rest until cooled. Cut into squares or rectangular pieces about 3”x 3”.

MELTED CANDIED STRAWBERRIES
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
½ cup light corn syrup
1 # fresh strawberries, firm, stems on
Candy Thermometer or review cold water method
Method: Get a cookie sheet ready with buttered parchment or silicon liner. Wash berries, and dry very well. Prepare a bowl of ice water to help cool your saucepan of candy when needed. Set each aside.
Cooking: In medium sauce pan or straight sided deep fry pan, stir together sugar, corn syrup and water; place over medium high heat. Stir to dissolve sugar about two minutes. Cover with concave lid (not flat) so steam washes down the sides of the pan, catching any sugar crystals that may be left (about 3 min). Uncover and continue cooking without stirring until you reach 300°F on a candy thermometer. (Old fashion check cold water test: spoon a drop simmering sugar into glass of cold water; if it forms the hard crack stage you will see hard brittle threads.) It can take 10-15 minutes to reach 300 degrees. Be sure to change glass of water for each test. Once at 300°F or hard crack, remove pan from heat and immerse into the prepared bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and make the bubbles subside. Take care not to let even a single drop of water touch the sugar liquid.
Dipping: Carefully hold the berry by the stem with fingertips and dip until strawberry is almost submerged in candy. DO NOT TOUCH CANDY! (use food grade glove for extra protection for your hand.) Remove the berry and allow excess to drip off. Place dipped berry on your prepared parchment or silicon mat. Repeat until all the berries are dipped, about 12 is a good number. Allow room temperature cooling; when cool serve immediately or within the first 2 hours.

PAVLOVA (with BERRIES)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 TBS superfine sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

1-2 pints berries, cleaned and cut if desired
1 cup heavy cream, whipped and sweetened with 1 TBS sugar
1 cup crème fraiche, if desired Method: preheat oven to 300ºF; Trace 6 equal circles evenly spaced on two pieces parchment paper. Use a 3 “ cup or bowl to outline your circles. Flip the paper over so you can still see the outline; set aside.
Place egg white and salt a mixer with whisk attachment and beat on medium-high to create medium peaks; with mixer running slowly add sugar to whites beating until stiff and glossy. Fold in cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla. Place mixture in a large pastry bag with a large tip; pipe 12 mounds of whites inside each drawn circle on the parchment. Reduce oven temperature to 250°F and bake until meringues set, crisp on outside but like marshmallow on the inside, approximately 1- 1 ¼ hour. Turn off oven and allow the meringues to cool slowly in the oven, about 2 hours.
To serve, top each meringue with prepared whipped cream and crème fraiche and sugar. Top with fruits and serve immediately.

QUICK STRAWBERRY ROMANOFF*
2 pints strawberries, washed, dried
¼ cup Grande Marnier liqueur ¼ cup orange juice
1 cup heavy cream, whipped with 1 tsp vanilla and 2 TBS sugar
½ cup crème fraiche
Method: Reserve several whole strawberries for garnish. Quarter the remaining berries. Place ½ the quartered berries in bowl and add Grande Marnier or other orange liqueur (or use all orange juice); gently mash with fork. Fold in the second half of the quartered berries and refrigerate 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. Whip the cream with the vanilla and sugar to soft peaks. Fold in the cream fraiche. To serve: Place cut berries into serving glasses; cover with cream. Garnish with whole berry. If topping Pavlova place cream down onto meringues first, and then top with berries.

*Romanoff refers to Russian Tsar, Nicholas I, an early member of the Romanoff dynasty who was served this dessert by the great French pastry chef, Marie Antoine Careme. There are several versions of origin and recipes.