Soft fruits get their just desserts
I first came across strawberries in red wine, in particular Beaujolais, whilst a nipper of an apprentice at the Normandie restaurant, a few miles from Bury, my home town in Lancashire. As far as I was concerned, strawberries only came with cream and caster sugar (it must be caster, by the way; the same applies to cornflakes and bananas and cream), apart, from Mum's strawberry pie. But more of that later.
Try this singular fruit salad, especially when there is a glut and you are bored with the cream pot. The same applies to the pie, but, here the cream is essential.
I discovered the hazelnut meringue cake which I have slightly adapted from the original in an old Cordon Bleu magazine - in this case, issue number 5, from 1968. As a boy, I drooled over these periodicals each week as they arrived in the post, and would say that they were one of my biggest influences in becoming a cook. If you ever see a set, grab one. You will be amazed to see how well put together they were for the time.
The recipe for the pots de creme comes originally from Sharrow Bay Hotel, on the shores of Ullswater, in the English lakes. The recipe is, no doubt, drawn from French cookery, but the taste and texture seems very fitting within Francis Coulson's repertoire of cream desserts and puddings that form an essential part of dining there. I think I am right in saying that Francis Coulson and his partner, Brian Sack, are about to celebrate 50 years of Sharrow this year - an achievement to be greatly congratulated by those who cherish this marvel of British hospitality.
Finally - and I might have given this recipe before, but it's worth a second airing - the hot strawberry pie was something Mum often made during the summer months as a treat, because we all loved it so. The pastry base acquires a soggy bottom, but I always find that bit particularly delicious: gooey, slippery and liberally soaked in strawberry syrup.
Strawberries in Beaujolais, serves 4
4 level tbsp caster sugar
400ml/34 pint fruity Beaujolais (a Chiroubles would be particularly suitable)
550g/114lb ripe strawberries, hulled and halved
1 tbsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau
Whisk together the sugar and wine in a roomy bowl. Tip in the strawberries and mix in the chosen orange liqueur. Leave to macerate, covered with cling-film, in the fridge, for a minimum of 1 hour, but no longer than 3. Serve with:
Honey madeleines, for about 12 madeleines
You will need madeleine baking trays with the traditional indentations for these. Good kitchen shops stock them. One tray usually has six indentations.
200g/7oz caster sugar
50g/2oz plain flour, sieved
scant 50g/2oz ground almonds
3 egg whites
1 tbsp honey
You will also need a little extra melted butter and some flour, for lining the madeleine tins. Melt the given amount of butter until it turns pale, golden brown. Pour into a metal bowl to cool. Mix together the sugar, flour and almonds in another bowl. Beat the egg whites with a whisk until light and spumous. Add the sugar/flour/almond mixture and thoroughly fold in. Now stir in the honey and browned butter.
Brush the indentations with the extra melted butter and then dust with flour. Tap out any excess flour. Pour about a tablespoon of the mixture into each indentation; they must be filled to the brim. Put in the fridge for 1 hour. Pre-heat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas mark 5.
Bake the madeleines in the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden, puffed up and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in their tins for a few moments, then lift out. Serve them warm with the strawberries, and, perhaps, with a pot of very cold creme fraiche in which to dip them should the urge take you.
Hazelnut meringue cake with raspberries and melba sauce, serves 5-6
For the cake:
4 egg whites
250g/9oz caster sugar
3-4 drops pure vanilla extract
12 tsp white wine vinegar
150g/5oz ground hazlenuts
275ml/12 pint double cream
1 tbsp raspberry eau de vie (optional, but a wonderful addition)
1 rounded tbsp caster sugar
350g/12oz fresh raspberries
For the melba sauce:
juice of half a small lemon
4 tbsp icing sugar
You will also need 2 x 20.5cm/8" shallow cake tins
Pre-heat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas mark 5
Lightly butter and then flour the cake tins (as with the madeleine recipe above), and line the base with a disk of grease-proof silicone paper.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff (electrically, by preference, with whatever equipment you have). Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, incorporating each spoon fully before adding the next, until the mixture stands in glossy peaks. Whisk the vanilla extract and vinegar and then fold in the ground hazelnuts until all is homogeneous.
Spoon the mixture into the tins, and smooth the surface with the back of a metal spoon dipped occasionally into warm water to prevent it sticking to the meringue. Bake in the pre-heated oven, on the middle shelf, for approximately 30-40 minutes, until the surface is crisp and dull-ish golden.
Remove and allow to cool in their tins for five minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes and carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
Whip the cream, together with the eau de vie and sugar, until just stiff. Put one of the cakes onto a suitable serving plate and spread most of the cream over the surface (leave a little extra to pipe onto the surface of cake, in the form of small rosettes if you like). Carefully pile the raspberries onto the cream (keep several back for decoration) and gingerly press in. Fit the other cake on top and sandwich together. Pipe a few rosettes of cream onto the surface, around the edge, and pop a raspberry onto each one. Dust with sifted icing sugar and leave for one hour in a cool place before serving. Note: use a serrated knife when you come to cutting the cake.
To make the melba sauce, simply puree the raspberries, lemon juice and sugar in a liquidiser or food processor, and pass through a fine sieve. Serve separately in a sauce boat.
Raspberry or strawberry pots de creme, serves 4
225g/8oz fresh raspberries or strawberries
275ml/12 pint double cream
4 dsp caster sugar
2-3 dsp orange curacao or Cointreau
3 large or 4 small egg yolks
Pre-heat the oven to 300F/150C/Gas mark 2. Liquidise or process the chosen fruit and then push through a fine sieve into a bowl. Scald the milk and stir in the sugar. Mix with the fruit puree and stir in the chosen liqueur to taste. Whisk the egg yolks until thick, in another bowl and then add the fruit puree to them. Whisk together until thoroughly blended. Pour into 4 large ramekins (if you use small ones, you should manage six servings) and place in a deep-ish baking tray. Pour water around the dishes so that it comes up three-quarters of the way up their sides. Cover the whole thing with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake, having a look from time to time to check, for about 30-40 minutes, depending upon your oven type. A good test as to when they are cooked is to see if they wobble but still seem slightly loose in the centre; they will continue to cook as they cool down. Personally, I like to serve these with good, pouring double cream spooned over the top, so that, as you eat the pot, cream flows into the hole you made with the teaspoon... and so on.
Hot strawberry pie, serves 8
You will need a loose-bottomed cake tin, approx. 23cm/9" wide and fairly deep.
For the pastry:
250/9oz chilled butter, cut into small pieces
500g/1lb 2oz self-raising flour
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
50ml/2fl oz cold water
900g/2lb fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half lengthways
75g/3oz caster sugar (reserve 12oz for sprinkling on the crust)
1 beaten egg mixed with 1 tbsp of milk
a little extra caster sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/Gas mark 6. In a food processor, electric mixer or manually, blend together the butter, flour and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Now tip into a large, roomy bowl and gently mix in the water and egg yolk with cool hands or a knife, until amalgamated. Put into a plastic bag and chill in the fridge for at least one hour before rolling.
Lightly grease the cake tin. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry into a circle; don't make it too thin. Carefully line the tin with this, allowing a slight excess to flop over the rim. Tip in the strawberries, sprinkle over the sugar and shake the tin slightly so that the sugar disperses. Lightly press down with your hands. Now brush a little of the beaten egg and milk around the edge of the pastry that lies just above the rim of the cake-tin. Roll out the remaining one-third of pastry, but to a slightly thinner degree than the base. Carefully lift onto the pie and, with your fingers, lightly press the two pastry edges together. Then, using a sharp knife, cut through the joined edges almost flush up to the rim. Knock the edges together, again with your fingers, to form a crinkled edge all the way around. Brush the whole surface with more of the beaten egg and milk and evenly sprinkle with a little caster sugar. Make a couple of incisions in the centre of the pastry lid to allow steam to escape.
Put in the oven on the middle shelf with a larger, empty roasting tin underneath (this is to catch the dribbles that almost certainly will ooze out of the pie as it cooks; these juices may burn a little, so watch out for that, too). Cook for about 15 minutes at this temperature and then turn down to 325F/170C/Gas mark 4 for a further 30-40 minutes. Take from the oven when the pastry is a rich, golden colour, put onto a large, round plate, and leave in the tin until luke-warm. Cut into wedges and serve with very cold pouring cream
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