Red alert: Skye Gyngell's strawberry desserts

Skye Gyngell can't keep her fingers out of the punnets at Petersham, where beautifully ripened English strawberries go into everything from cakes to sorbets

Sunday 24 May 2009 00:00 BST

Strawberries are one of the pure joys of an English summer. Gloriously plump and fragrant, with a sweet and gentle flavour, no other berries anywhere else are quite like them. The English summer allows them to ripen slowly, so the result is ripe to the core – their juice less of an explosion, more of an ooze down the throat.

At Petersham, we make sorbets and granitas with them, often adding only a drop of pouring cream at the last minute. Then there's Victoria sponges filled with home-made jam, and meringues with finely chopped strawberries, laced with orange juice. Whole strawberries with a trickle of balsamic vinegar make a lovely simple dessert – but only if it is balsamico tradizionale; the sharp vinegary syrup that in this country passes as balsamic does not work at all.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Strawberry sponge

Serves 10

11/2 tsp baking powder
175g/6oz self-raising flour
175g/6oz softened unsalted butter
3 large eggs at room temperature
175g/6oz caster sugar
120ml/4fl oz double cream
4 generous tbsp good strawberry jam
1 (or 2) punnets of strawberries
1 tbsp icing sugar

Sift the baking powder and flour into a bowl, add the butter, eggs and sugar and stir to combine. Whisk together until you have a smooth, well-combined batter; this takes a minute or so with an electric whisk.

Heat the oven to 170C/335F/Gas3. Prepare two 20cm cake tins (with removable bottoms): grease with butter and cover the base with parchment paper. Now divide the mixture between the tins, spreading evenly. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

As the cakes cook, whisk the cream to a firm consistency. Hull the strawberries. Now remove the cakes from oven; the centre should feel springy. Cool for a few minutes before turning out on to a wire rack. Once completely cool, spread the jam over the base cake evenly, followed by the cream (and halved strawberries, optional). Sandwich the two cakes together, and arrange a punnet of strawberries over the top. Finish by sifting over the icing sugar. Serve on the day you bake it.

Strawberry sorbet

Icy-cold and very refreshing, this is one of the best sorbets of the summer months. A whole lemon – skin, pith and all – is puréed along with the strawberries to keep the fruit's flavour pure, preventing the sugar content causing the finished sorbet to be sweet. Like all home-made ice-creams and sorbets, it best eaten within a day or so as it ruins quickly.

Serves 8

2 punnets strawberries (400g/13oz)
A little pinch of sea salt
1 unwaxed lemon, pips removed, cut into little chunks
120g/4oz caster sugar

Hull and roughly chop the strawberries, place in a blender, along with the salt, chopped lemon and caster sugar. Purée until smooth. Now place directly into an ice-cream maker and churn for 20 minutes. Spoon into a container and place in the freezer. If you don't own an ice-cream maker, place into a shallow container and put directly into the freezer. Every 30 minutes or so, drag a fork through the mixture, working from the outside in. This is known as a granita and its chilly, chewy texture, though altogether different from a sorbet, is equally delicious.

Strawberries and cream

A little Eton mess, but without the meringue. If you prefer a chewier texture, simply crumble a little meringue through the mixture before you serve.

Serves 6

2 tbsp icing sugar
A small pinch of sea salt
The juice of one orange
2 punnets of strawberries, hulled and chopped into 4 pieces
150ml/5fl oz double cream

Place the icing sugar in a bowl. Add the salt and pour in the orange juice, stirring as you go. Add the chopped strawberries, stir once or twice more and place in the fridge to macerate for half an hour. Just before you are ready to serve, whip the cream until just thick enough to fall from the spoon and fold through the strawberries. Serve at once or the strawberries will bleed into the cream, which although it still tastes good, looks less pretty.

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