In Season: Fruit of love

Not only are strawberries in season, but what fruit is better suited for a Valentine's Day dessert?

Strawberry muffin 390 (photo credit: Amy Spiro)
Strawberry muffin 390
(photo credit: Amy Spiro)
When you reach the produce section of the supermarket or wander over to a fruit stand, you can smell them before you see them. Strawberries are in season, and the juicy, ruby-red berries are just crying out to be tasted. Once you’ve had your fill of them fresh and straight off the stem, try out some of these recipes that showcase the seasonal fruit in a variety of ways – from a tasty breakfast muffin to a fruit leather snack or a fresh, fancy mini-tart.
Try to pick nice-sized, bright red berries with no blemishes. Before storing them in the fridge, inspect them to ensure that none are moldy, otherwise the mold will spread quickly to the other berries. Store the fruits loosely packed, and inspect them every day to ensure that no mold has grown. Use the berries within three to four days after purchase, but don’t wash them until immediately before you’re ready to use them.
STRAWBERRY MUFFINS Makes 8-10 muffins
✔ 13⁄4 cups flour✔ 1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. salt ✔ 2 tsp. baking powder ✔ 1⁄4 cup light brown sugar ✔ 1⁄3 cup white sugar ✔ 1 cup chopped strawberries ✔ 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil ✔ 1⁄2 cup milk or soy milk ✔ 1 egg ✔ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and sugars. Add the chopped strawberries and gently toss to coat in flour mixture.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the oil, milk, egg and vanilla. Stir gently until just combined. Do not overmix.
Fill each cup of a greased or paper-lined muffin tin with the mixture – about half full.
Bake the muffins at 190ºC for about 25 minutes or until the muffins spring back when lightly pressed.
Often thought of as a kids’ snack, this unadulterated version of fruit leather, or fruit roll-up, is one that even adults can enjoy. The limited number of ingredients allows the strawberries to really shine, and you can adjust the sweetness level of the mixture – with whatever sweetener you want – to your liking. It takes a long stint in the oven to dry out, so plan it for a day when you don’t need the oven for much else.
✔ Approximately 1 kilo strawberries ✔ 1 cup applesauce ✔ Optional: sugar or honey
Cut off the stems of the strawberries and puree them in a food processor or blender (or with an immersion blender) until smooth. Measure out 2 cups of puree (if there is any left, use it for a sauce or smoothie). Mix in the applesauce.
Taste the mixture: If you use unsweetened applesauce, you may want to add some sweetener – sugar or honey – a tablespoon at a time, to the mixture. Pour the mixture into a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, about 25x40 cm. Dry out in the oven at 90ºC for 4 to 6 hours. When done, the mixture will no longer be tacky to the touch, you will not leave a fingerprint, and it will pull away from the parchment easily. Slice into rectangles (a pizza or pastry wheel works well) and roll up.
When you make every component of these tartlets from scratch, it will take time and you can taste the result, so take shortcuts at your risk. You can make tartlets of any size, depending on your pans. A muffin pan or mini-muffin pan works well – you just need to cut a circle large enough to cover the bottom and the sides of each cup.
Creme legere, which forms the filling for the tartlets, is a pastry cream lightened with whipped cream for an irresistible flavor and texture. The pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance (and the dough can also sit in the fridge for that long). Once it is mixed with the whipped cream, it should be used the same day, and the assembled tarts should be eaten as soon as possible. Though that shouldn’t be a problem.
Dough: ✔ 21⁄2 cups (300 gr.) flour ✔ 1 cup (200 gr.) butter or margarine ✔ 1⁄2 cup (100 gr.) sugar ✔ 1 large egg
Strawberry Cream Legere: ✔ 2 cups (480 gr.) milk ✔ 1⁄2 cup (113 gr.) sugar, divided ✔ 40 gr. butter ✔ Pinch salt ✔ 1⁄4 cup (42 gr.) cornstarch✔ 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk ✔ 2 tsp. vanilla ✔ About 250 gr. fresh strawberries, pureed and strained✔ 11⁄4 cups (285 gr.) whipping cream ✔ Fresh fruit for topping, sliced or chopped. Strawberries and kiwis taste great together and look pretty, but any can be used.
To prepare dough: Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat to combine, then add the flour and mix until no streaks remain. Gather the dough together into one cohesive ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
To prepare cream: Mix together the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla in a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining sugar, eggs and cornstarch until smooth – make sure no lumps remain. When the milk comes to a boil, pour half of it slowly over the egg mixture, whisking constantly, then return everything to the pot and bring back to a boil, whisking constantly. When it comes to a boil, remove from the heat and immediately pour into a clean bowl (have on hand before you begin). Whisk in the strawberry puree until evenly distributed.
Cover with plastic and refrigerate the pastry cream until chilled through – several hours.
(If you don’t whisk constantly, you will likely end up with a very sweet, very thick omelet. Not the desired outcome.) Remove the dough from the fridge, and roll out on a well-floured surface (and continuously reflouring) until about 1⁄2 centimeter thick. Using a cutter that is big enough to cover the bottom and sides of your tart pans, cut as many circles as possible from the dough and fit in to the molds, rerolling as necessary. Prick the bottoms of the shells with a fork several times and put them in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Then bake the shells at 190º C for 12-15 minutes until just starting to brown. Let cool.
Whip the whipping cream until it holds soft peaks. Remove the pastry cream from the fridge, whisk well to break up any lumps, and fold in the whipped cream. Spoon or pipe the cream out evenly among the cooled tart shells, and top with the fresh fruit.
Serve immediately.