Berry berry marvellous

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Those soft, delicate curves, the rich ruby skin paired with the vibrant green corsage, the seductive scent that smells like warmth and sunlight, the very first bite that results in the almost indecent explosion of sweet juice and tender flesh, filling every corner of your mouth with the taste of summer.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to break into some embarrassingly explicit kiss-and-tell, this ardent description is just the only way I can accurately convey my love of the strawberry!

I gorge myself on these fruits during the summer, and in winter I pine for their presence so much that I am often driven to buy expensive punnets of Californian imports, my need is so great. Of course, after months of tasting the less than fresh berries that have made the trip halfway around the world, it is always with great anticipation that I await our own berry season.

And OH, what a season it is!

Anyone in Australia who is as much a strawberry lover as me will tell you that we are having an exceptionally good strawberry season this year. The fruit seem more fragrant, more potent in flavour, juicier and just exquisite in appearance. And while a beautiful strawberry is indeed marvellous on its own, when the fruit are this flavoursome, bountiful and cheap, they really do beg for you to do something with them that will make the most of their flavour and celebrate it in another form.

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Now I, like most the people in the food blogging world, have seen Bea’s many gorgeous charlottes and drooled over each and every one of them. Cute little things topped with fresh berries – they appeal to me on every level possible, so they very quickly made it to the ‘things to try’ list (I operate on two lists – ‘things to try’ and ‘things to try IMMEDIATELY’). However, for some reason it continued to sit on that list, petulantly staring me and begging to be made while I very pointedly ignored it. To be honest, I’ve no idea why, I mean, once you break it down, this is one of those extraordinary-looking desserts which is stupidly easy to make, but nonetheless I remained wary.

It wasn’t till the past weekend that I actually mustered the resolve to head to the kitchen and make it. It was actually fate that pushed me through the door…

A bit of explanation – to put it bluntly, if I didn’t go grocery shopping, there would never be anything other than carrots, apples, rice and noodles in our pantry (kimchi is of course there – I’m talking about regular grocery shopping items!). The reason for this is that my father cannot be trusted with a shopping list (it happened ONCE…and will never happen again in his lifetime), and the only other person who can really do it is my mother, who absolutely abhors grocery shopping. I mean, she actually loathes it with a passion.

To qualify it for you – she hates grocery shopping as much as I hate Tom Cruise. As for how much I hate Tom Cruise – lets just say, if I had my way, Mr. Cruise would not have been allowed to procreate nor ever appear in public ever again. There, I’ve said it. I’m not one of the Cruise-lovin’ swooners, so sue me.

Anyway, since my mother hates grocery shopping, the duty often falls on my shoulders – either in the form of a shopping list left on the kitchen bench, or my mother nagging me to go in person/over the phone. Before I drove, this was a serious pain in the arse as it meant a half hour walk there and back, the return journey usually quite a strain as I had to carry the groceries back by hand. Because of this, my mother tried to limit her requests, but as I am now legally to get behind the wheel of a vehicle, I am now officially Errand B*tch.

SO – FINALLY getting to the crux of this rather directionless ramble – it was on a grocery shopping trip for my mother that I happened upon a wooden crate filled with punnets of berries, proudly declaring themselves on sale at $2.00 a punnet! Oh, be still my beating heart – I may or may not have drooled at this point, but what I definitely did was halt the shopping trolley and begin maniacally picking up punnet after punnet, lifting the lid of each to inspect the produce and give ‘em a good hard sniff.

(Yes, I’m aware that I looked like a crazy lady doing this – in fact, I actually startled a few middle-aged women who happened to be milling around the berries…but ah, how could I resist? They were strawberries!)

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After I’d half loaded my cart with strawberries (I initially picked out 10 punnets…then looked at them sadly and put 4 back as the berries were ripe and ready for eating now…not in a few days time), I happily finished off the rest of the shopping list before practically floating to the check out counter with the world’s goofiest grin on my face. The lass behind the counter saw my grin, saw my strawberries and laughed aloud, winking at me before telling me “don’t worry, I bought some yesterday and I was just as happy as you!”

So, looks like I’m not the only berry-maniac out there…unless she was just saying it to make me feel better…but we won’t think about that now!

Once I managed to get back home, I quickly put away the shopping before diving into the berry-prep. I half-filled the sink with water and delicately dumped (is that an oxymoron?) all 6 punnets in, gently tumbling them through the water with my hands to rinse the dirt from under their green leaves. One more quick rinse, a light towel-dry with a clean dish cloth, and I was left staring out over a bench half covered with sparkling red jewels. My mother, following her nose in, perked at the sight and nudged me aside with her hip before grabbing one spectacular specimen and popping it into her mouth.

I scowled and batted at her hands. “MO-ther, keep your thieving digits off my bounty! I’m gonna make something with ‘em!”

She snorted. “All of them?? What on earth could you have to make that would need ALL the berries? Hand some over!”

I swatted at her hand again and replied without thinking “A charlotte! A strawberry charlotte! You’ll love it, trust me! Now, piss off!”

I managed to earn myself a bop over the head for that last bit, and as a compromise I gave her a bowl of berries to share with my father then shooed her out of the kitchen so I could have it to myself again.

So, I’d committed myself to a charlotte. I went back down to my room to peruse Bea’s recipe, but noticed that while I had assumed the base to be some sort of sponge, it turned out to be more ladyfingers. Drat it! I’d only bought just enough of the suckers to go round my tin, if I wanted more then I’d have to go back to the store.

Bugger that.

I decided to stick with my initial idea of a sponge base and find a nice light recipe for a strawberry mousse and go from there. And, to be completely honest, I really think I didn’t do too bad a job here :D

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Strawberry Charlotte

Cake Ingredients
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup sifted cake flour
1/2 cup water
1/3 cups sugar
2-3 tbsp strawberry puree *

1. Preheat oven to 200 C. Butter and flour the sides of an 20cm x 30cm jelly roll pan (rimmed baking sheet). Line bottom of pan with a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit bottom pan exactly.

2. Beat eggs, egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar together in a medium bowl until thick and light. Beat in the vanilla and strawberry puree.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, ad cream of tartar and beat until whites begin to form peaks. Add the 2 tbsp sugar and beat until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks (do not over beat).

4. Sift flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold in . Stir in one fourth of the whites. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites.

5. Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake until light brown and springy to touch (10-15 minutes). Cool in pan 5 minutes. Run a knife along edge to loosen. Place a 20cm pastry ring or closed springform cake tin over the sponge and use a knife to cut along the inside edge so the cut out will fit inside. Reserve the cut out, eat the rest :D

* – you can subtract this from the puree used for the mousse

Mousse Ingredients
500g fresh strawberries, washed and dried and stalks removed
1/2 cup pure icing sugar, plus extra to taste
1 tablespoon powdered gelatine
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 tablespoons of cold water (for soaking gelatine)
1/4 cup extra water
1 cup double cream (whipped)

1. Puree the strawberries in a blender with half the sugar. Taste, then add the rest of the sugar, 1 tbsp at a time and stirring well after each addition. You want it to be sweet, but not cloying or overwhelming the berries.

2. Put the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over the top. Leave for 5-10 mins or till water has absorbed. Meanwhile, place the lemon juice and extra water into a saucepan and heat till it begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the soaked gelatine and continue stirring till it has completely dissolved.

3. Let the mixture cool a little, and once it is lukewarm, add the strawberry puree and mix well. Set over a bowl of ice water and stir occasionally, then once it begins to set, carefully fold in the whipped cream.

4. Puree strawberries with sugar in blender. Soak gelatine in water. Place lemon juice and the extra water in saucepan and heat, add soaked gelatine and stir off the heat until dissolved.

5. Let mixture cool a little, add strawberry puree and mix well. Fold whipped cream into mixture just before it sets and make sure it is evenly combined.

TO ASSEMBLE:

1x quantity of strawberry mousse
2x pks small sponge fingers/ladyfingers (2.5″ in length)
300g strawberries, washed, dried and hulled
1x 20cm sponge base
Icing suga, to dust

1. Place the sponge cut-out inside a 20c-diameter pastry ring or springform cake tin and carefully place the ladyfingers around the inside of the tin, wedging it between the sponge base and the tin so they stay in place. Be sure to pack them as close and tight as possible otherwise the mousse will leak out of the gaps..

2. Fill the centre with the mousse mixture then place into the fridge to firm up.

3. Before serving, soak a towel in boiling water and wring it out, then wrap around the cake tin/pastry ring. Leave for a few minutes, then carefully remove from the cake. Decorate the top with the remaining berries, dust liberally with icing sugar and present to your awed guests ;)

[tags]charlotte, French cakes, recipes, strawberries, berries, fruits, dessert[/tags]

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Comments

  1. waht is cake flour is it self raising flour?
    what is a jelly roll pan? rimmed baking sheet?
    Thanks for your recipe

  2. @melissa – You’re better off doing a google search – cake flour is a lower protein flour than all purpose, and is most certainly not SR flour.

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