Story and recipes by Chef Heidi Fink Photography by Don Denton
It’s strawberry season! No imported berry can compare to the sweetness, fragrance and flavour of our homegrown BC strawberries. At first pick in early June, I am content to eat my fill of strawberries, handful by delicious handful, no embellishment necessary. But as our long and lovely strawberry season carries on through the summer, I start to get creative.
Yes, I make jam, and yes, I freeze berries, but mainly I love to concoct dreamy strawberry desserts. Super fruity or rich and creamy, crumbly or soft, warm or frozen: if you can imagine a dessert, I have likely tried it with strawberries.
Delicious cooked or fresh, with a complex sweet-tart flavour and a beautiful colour, strawberries live up to the notion of the “ideal berry.” Summer berry desserts are always a hit: a pleasure to make and a pleasure to eat.
I’ve collected a few of my favourite recipes here: a zingy, lime-scented strawberry popsicle; a creamy cheesecake parfait with crispy almond crumbles and honeyed berries; a perfect Pavlova with Meyer lemon cream and fresh strawberries; and a favourite retro cake.
Enjoy strawberry season and may you be blessed with an overload of strawberries, warm from the sunny field.
STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE PARFAIT WITH ALMOND SHORTBREAD CRUMBLE
Serves 8 to 12.
One of my favourite desserts, this can be subject to endless variations. Change up the strawberries for a different fruit, use different nuts in the shortbread crumble and change the flavouring in the filling. All components (cheese, fruit, crumble) can be made ahead of time and kept separate until ready to assemble the parfaits.
Almond shortbread crumble
105 g (¾ cup) all purpose flour
35 g (¼ cup) whole wheat flour
76 g (1/3 cup) butter
76 g (1/3 cup) sugar
1 g (1/8 tsp) salt
110 g (1 cup) slivered almonds
454 g (2 blocks) block-style cream cheese
200 g (1 cup) sugar
10 ml (2 tsp) vanilla
300 ml (1-1/4 cup) whipping cream
4 cups fresh strawberries
150 g (¾ cup) sugar
15 to 30 ml (1 to 2 Tbsp) mild local honey
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine all ingredients. Mix with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine crumbs, with bigger pieces of almond. Gently press the mixture onto the baking sheet into a very large, roughly shaped cookie, about ½ cm thick. Don’t try to make it perfectly shaped or hold together — it will be broken up into bits after it is cooked. The main thing it to get the thickness more or less even. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until light golden brown and fragrant. Cool on a rack. Once the “cookie” is cool, break it into pieces and buzz it through a food processor until it resembles coarse crumbs (alternatively, put the pieces in a large zipper lock bag and roll with a rolling pin).
Cream together the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whip the whipping cream until peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture, keeping it as light and airy as possible. Place in the fridge to set while you make the topping.
Wash and prepare the berries. Set aside 2 cups of the strawberries for later. Slice the remaining 2 cups of strawberries and place in a medium pot. Add about ¼ cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes, until berries start to break down and give off their juice. Use a fork or potato masher to lightly mash the berries, and simmer for a few minutes more. Add the sugar and honey and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring and mashing the fruit until the mixture looks darker and glossy, with the consistency of runny jam, about 5 to 10 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, slice the reserved fresh strawberries. Mix these into the cooked and cooled strawberries. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.
In small glass jars, layer the components like so: one spoonful of crumble in the bottom of the jar, followed by a dollop of the cream cheese mixture, a spoonful of the strawberry mixture (along with some of its juice). Follow this with more cream cheese and then more strawberries. Top with a large spoonful of crumble and serve. (I put the crumble on the very bottom and very top only — not the middle — so that it doesn’t get soggy. Change this if you desire).
STRAWBERRY POKE CAKE
Poke cake is a retro back-of-the-box recipe, with an ingenious twist — after the cake has cooled, holes are poked in it and filled with fruit jello. I love the perfect texture and super fruity flavour of this cake, but I much prefer my own homemade strawberry gelatin to the packaged stuff. This cake can easily be doubled and cooked in a 9x13-inch pan.
158 g (1 cup plus 2 Tbsp) flour
8 g (2 tsp) baking powder
3 g (½ tsp) salt
85 g (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter
200 g (1 cup) sugar
125 ml (½ cup) milk
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
3 egg whites (no yolks)
Strawberry poke syrup
1 straw (paper, plastic or metal) OR wooden skewer
2 cups frozen unsweetened strawberries (or fresh berries)
100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
60 ml (¼ cup) strawberry jam
60 ml (¼ cup) water
6 g (2 tsp) unflavoured gelatin
15 ml (1 Tbsp) cold water
1 cup whipping cream, cold from the fridge
For the cake:
Generously grease the insides of an 8-inch round cake pan or an 8X8-inch square pan. Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, mix the egg whites, milk and vanilla.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter until it is fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add half of the flour mixture and mix well. Add half of the egg mixture and mix until smooth. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat well. Add the remaining egg mixture and mix well, until batter is smooth.
Use a spatula to scrape this mixture into the prepared cake pan. Place in the oven and bake for 35 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean (with no crumbs attached). Place cake pan on wire rack to let cool.
For the syrup:
Place the berries, sugar, jam and the one-quarter cup water water in a pot. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and let cook gently for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the gelatin powder with the 1 tablespoon of cold water.
Pour the warm strawberry mixture through a strainer into a bowl to catch the juices and strain out the chunks of berries. You should have about 1 cup of strawberry juice. Discard the berries in the strainer, but keep the juice. Use a whisk to stir in the water-soaked gelatin powder. Stir until gelatin dissolves. Let cool for about 30 minutes.
While you are waiting for the strawberry mixture to cool, use a straw or wooden skewer to poke holes in the cake. It’s very important to only poke about half way through the cake; otherwise the berry syrup will make the bottom of the cake soggy. Evenly drizzle the strawberry liquid all over the cake. It will fall through the holes and make stripes through your cake. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours.
To make whipped cream topping:
With an electric mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Spread whipped cream evenly over the cake and slice fresh strawberries over the top.
STRAWBERRY PAVLOVA WITH MEYER LEMON CREAM
A perfect early summer dessert: airy meringue, lemony cream and sweet local strawberries. The lemon cream can be made with regular lemons if no Meyer lemons are to be found.If you are using regular lemons, reduce the lemon juice to 1/3 of the total as regular lemons are three times as tart as Meyer lemons. Other fruit can be substituted for the strawberries: nectarine, peach, golden kiwi, raspberry, blueberry…
An additional advantage to pavlova is that it is gluten free!
4 egg whites*
2 g (1/2 tsp) cream of tartar
200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract
Meyer Lemon Cream
227 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
15 ml (1 Tbsp) finely grated zest of Meyer lemon
60 ml (1/4 cup) freshly squeezed juice of Meyer lemon
60 ml (1/4 cup) freshly squeezed juice of lemon
4 egg yolks + 1 whole egg
167 ml (2/3 cup) whipping cream or solid coconut milk
1 pint fresh local strawberries
*Egg whites must be absolutely free of any trace of yolk or grease of any kind. If they are not completely fat-free, they will not hold enough volume while being whipped. Make sure your yolks don’t break while you are separating your eggs, and make sure that your bowl and beaters are scrupulously clean.
Preheat oven to 250 F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle the parchment paper with a light dusting of cornstarch or tapioca starch (this is to help the meringues come off the paper after they are cooked).
Place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment (alternatively, whip eggs with a hand-held electric beater or a large balloon whisk). Add cream of tartar and whip on low or medium low until foamy. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until very soft peaks form (this happens quickly— keep an eye out!). Now, while machine is running, slowly pour in the sugar along the side of the bowl, beating all the while. Keep beating until egg whites have increased at least 5 times in volume, are smooth and glossy, and hold very stiff peaks, about 3 minutes. (Dip beater in the whites and turn upside down — the peak should hold itself upright like a witch’s hat).
It’s very important to not over-beat it. In these days of electric mixers, it’s more common for cooks to over-beat their egg whites, rather than under-beat them. Over-beaten eggs will not hold their volume. They will create, at best, a low-profile meringue or cake, and at worst, collapse and separate. Over-beaten egg whites lose their gloss and start to appear grainy, lose their structure and elasticity. If you are at all unsure, it is much better to slightly under-beat your meringue, rather than slightly-over-beat it.
Place 8 large spoonfuls of meringue on the prepared baking sheet and use the back of a large spoon to gently form them (without deflating the whites) into small nest shapes. The hollow in the middle of the nests will ultimately hold the cream and berries.
Keep in mind as you are forming the meringues that they will not alter shape while they are cooking.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues in in the oven without opening it for at least two more hours (to fully dry out). I often make the meringues at night, and leave them to cool in the oven overnight.
Fill a medium pot about one-third of the way with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a bare simmer and place a medium bowl directly over the pot. This is a make-shift double boiler. Put the butter in this bowl and melt. Add the sugar, lemon zest and both types of lemon juice. Stir until sugar dissolves.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs yolks and whole egg until frothy. Slowly pour in about one-quarter cup of the lemon mixture, whisking all the while. This helps temper the eggs and keep them from curdling when they are added to the whole mixture.
Slowly pour in the egg yolk mixture into the bowl with the remaining lemon mixture, whisking the whole time. (The bowl should still be over the hot water). Cook, stirring constantly, 5 to 8 minutes, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove the bowl from heat and let the mixture cool completely. Refrigerate until cold. When you are ready to finish the filling, scoop half of this lemon mixture (Meyer lemon curd) into a bowl.
Refrigerate the remaining half for another use.
In a separate bowl, whip cream until medium-stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the bowl containing half of the lemon curd. (If using coconut milk, use only the solid milk at the top of the can.) Refrigerate filling until cold and thickened. It should be as cold and thick as possible when serving the pavlova.
Gently rinse the strawberries in cold water and pat them dry. Remove stems and hulls. Cut berries in halves or quarters, depending on size. Set aside until ready to assemble.
Place a meringue on a plate, fill the hollow in the centre with some lemon cream (several tablespoons), top with some strawberries. This is not an exact science: use as much filling and berries as you can get away with before they start to spill over the edge of the meringue. Repeat with remaining meringues.
Garnish with powdered sugar, if desired.
STRAWBERRY LIME POPSICLES
Makes 8 to 10 Popsicles.
Simple to make and simply delicious! Cooking half the strawberries with strawberry jam and lime zest before pureeing intensifies both the strawberry and lime flavours.
4 cups chopped fresh strawberries, divided
60 ml (¼ cup) strawberry jam
120 ml (½ cup) sugar
120 ml (½ cup) water
zest of 2 limes (use one lime if you like less lime flavour)
15 ml (3 Tbsp) lime juice
In a medium pot, combine 2 cups of chopped strawberries with the jam, sugar, water and lime zest. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes. Pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature.
Combine remaining 2 cups of chopped strawberries, lime juice and cooked strawberry mixture in a blender. Puree until smooth.
Pour mixture into popsicle molds and freeze until firm, about 4 to 6 hours.Take out of the freezer and enjoy!
For more recipes and workshops with Chef Heidi Fink check out here website www.chefheidifink.com