Strawberry Fields Forever
Every Summer when I was a child, we used to go strawberry picking with my Grandpa.
The smell of sun warmed strawberries, and the memory of squatting in a straw-strewn field with my sisters, racing to fill plastic boxes (and our mouths!) with perfectly ripe fruit always makes me smile.
And then my mum would fill the freezer with a huge batch of homemade strawberry icecream which would be eeked out for weeks, and remains the ultimate flavour of summer for me……..
I’m not sure why, but I haven’t ever got around to going strawberry picking as an adult. And now that I have my own little ones I’m simultaneously desperate to take them, and very reluctant to ruin a nostalgic memory with the harsh reality of taking 3 toddlers anywhere!
I imagine that being in a fruit field (open spaces, no baby gates!) with my three little wrecking balls (soft fruit underfoot, irresistible squelchy stamping opportunities!) might not be that enjoyable.
And the sheer logistics of actually picking and carrying any fruit at all while chasing 3 toddlers who will inevitably get tired/grumpy/need a snack/fall over/need a nap/push each other over/need carrying…….. may ruin my beautiful memories entirely.
Hmmmm. Yup. I’ve talked myself right out of that one. Maybe we’ll wait a couple of years til the kiddos are big enough to provide useful child labour in the strawberry fields……
So I guess I’ll be stockpiling British grown summer berries from the greengrocer, and trying (as I do every summer) to recreate the amazing strawberry ice-cream recipe of my childhood (the recipe for which got lost somewhere and which I’ve never quite managed to get right……)
But in the meantime, here’s another summer treat – Strawberry Shortcake. A light, buttery shortbread base, topped with a vanilla mascarpone cream, and piled high with fresh strawberries (or any other soft fruit you fancy!). Simple, yet impressive, and the ideal dessert for this time of year.
Strawberry Shortcake Recipe
Makes: 8 portions (or 6 greedy ones!)
Takes: 35 minutes (plus about 30 mins cooling time)
Storage: you can prepare all the elements (shortbread, cream, fruit) up to a day in advance, but once you’ve assembled it, it will start to go a bit soggy within a couple of hours, so it’s best eaten immediately, though it will be fine in the fridge overnight.
For the shortbread
110 grams salted butter (very soft)
75 grams self raising flour
50 grams corn flour
50 grams icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
For the cream
200g mascarpone cheese
200grams double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 heaped tablespoon icing sugar
For the fruit
400 grams washed and chopped strawberries or other soft seasonal berries
icing sugar to dust the top (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C or equivalent. Grease a 22cm round cake tin with butter, and line the base with baking paper. (If you have a loose bottomed cake tin that makes it easier to get out, but isn’t essential).
2. With a wooden spoon, or electric hand whisk if you have one, beat together all the shortbread ingredients until you have a soft, thick paste.
3. Spread the shortbread mixture evenly into the cake tin, pressing it down with your hands if necessary to make it smooth. Bake for 25 minutes until it is crisp and starting to turn golden brown. Leave the shortbread to cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes before turning it out onto a cooling rack. It will be very fragile and brittle (but don’t worry if it cracks a bit….once you’ve put cream and fruit on top no one will notice!).
4. While the shortbread bakes, prepare the cream filling by whisking together the mascarpone, double cream, vanilla and icing sugar until it is thick and spreadable. Leave in the fridge until needed.
5. Wash the fruit, gently dry it with kitchen paper and cut any large strawberries in half. Leave in the fridge until needed.
6. When the shortbread is completely cool, carefully transfer it onto a serving plate, and spoon the cream on top, spreading it to the edges with a knife. Pile the strawberries on top and prepare to sit back and accept the compliments!