Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Ripe for Picking

Summer has truly arrived when English strawberries are ripe and ready for picking and although they are now available all year round – with foreign countries supplying our needs – you really can’t beat the fruit from our own soil. For me, reserving them as a seasonal treat makes them so much more special.

I grow a few strawberry plants in my garden and there’s nothing more exciting when lifting up the leaves to find the stems swathed in red juicy jewels. If you’re not much of a gardener or simply lack the space, you can still experience the thrill of the strawberry hunt by visiting one of the many pick your own farms in the area.
When the sun is warm the sweet fragrant smell wafts into the air tempting even the most restrained of individuals to sneak a strawberry into their mouths whilst foraging.

The first berries are not often the sweetest though, I think they lack the depth of flavour that the prolonged spells of sun can give them, that said, I do still love to eat then unadorned. No sugar, no cream, just pure fruit bliss. Plucked straight from the plant whether homegrown or ‘stolen’ they just seem to taste better.
However, dairy produce does create a natural harmony, whether it’s cream, yogurt, creme fraiche or marscapone, you can’t go wrong, but I would never cook a strawberry unless it was in a jam of course.

Strawberries and Cream Sponge Cake
This is the sort of thing I like to make for a summer Sunday treat, just perfect for all the family to enjoy or for when you have friends over.
A light buttery sponge filled with the sweetest of English strawberries and billowing clouds of cream is hard to resist.

200g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g self raising flour
half teaspoon baking powder
1-2 tablespoons milk
strawberries, hulled and halved lengthways, reserve some whole for decorating the top of the cake
6 tbsp good quality strawberry jam
300ml double cream, lightly whipped
icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 4.

Grease two 18cm sandwich tins and place a circle of baking parchment in the bottom of each one.

With an electric food mixer beat together the softened butter and sugar until it becomes pale and creamy.

Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract in a jug until slightly frothy.

With the mixer still running, add the eggs by pouring very slowly in a thin stream into the butter and sugar mix. When the mixture is pale, and increased in volume, stop the mixer.

Sieve in a tablespoon of the flour and using a metal spoon carefully fold in to avoid knocking out any air.
Repeat, adding a spoonful at a time until all the flour and baking powder is incorporated.
The mixture should be of a soft dropping consistency. If it seems too stiff, gently fold in some milk.

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and spread out evenly, smoothing off the tops.

Place in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes.
The cakes are ready when they're risen, golden brown and their edges are pulling away slightly from the sides of the tin.

Turn them out on to a cooling rack and carefully remove the baking paper. Leave until completely cool before filling.
Spread one half of the cake with strawberry jam and arrange the strawberry halves over it. Spread over the whipped cream and carefully place the other cake half on top. Arrange some whole strawberries on the top and dust lightly with sieved icing sugar.

Strawberry Facts
There are about 200 seeds in every strawberry.
A 100g serving contains just 50 calories.
In medieval times they were considered an aphrodisiac.
They can help to whiten your teeth.
They are full of a substance called ellagic acid which can help fight cancer.
Eight of them contain more vitamin C than an orange.
They are a member of the rose family.
They were cultivated by the Romans as early as 200 BC.
They can also be white or yellow and some even taste like pineapples.
Food photos: ©childsdesign 2011

My article previously published in Letchworth Living magazine. (June 2011 edition) www.letchworthliving.co.uk


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