Describing these treats as mignardises is a tad pretentious, but seems more appropriate than calling them petit fours as in the traditional sense, since they don’t conform to the typical descriptions being neither glacé nor sec. In fact, they are an altogether more rustic, less refined affair than the delicate one bite offerings one may anticipate at the close of a fine dining experience.
Whatever one might call them, be it mignardises, mignonardise, petit fours, amuse-bouches sucrés or friandise, it’s all a bit irrelevant, it’s how they taste that matters – and everyone knows how incredible the first home-grown strawberry of summer tastes. The scent and sweet flavour explosion are imprinted on the memory from first experience. This year, as ever, the sensation has not disappointed.
My strawberries are grown in planters in the polytunnel and started producing ripe fruit about 10 days ago, first in ones and twos which, of course, did not make it out of the tunnel as I munched them as soon as they were ready, revelling in their luscious warm ripeness. Now, the plants are more prolific and I have allowed a punnet to survive long enough to get to the house.
I wanted to celebrate the deliciousness of my first strawberries of the season without smothering or overwhelming them with cream, glaze or meringue, so I delicately nestled them on a cushion of cool vanilla crème Chantilly, with a smidgen of passion fruit curd in the hulled strawberry top, all resting on a lemon spelt sablée biscuit. A summer flavour explosion ensued.
Lemon spelt sablée biscuits
I chose these delicately short and light biscuits from Annie Bell’s baking bible. The recipe suggests refined spelt, but I used wholegrain for a deeper colour and flavour. The recipe is very simple and quick to make and the dough logs are rolled in a thin coating of Demerara sugar which gives them a shimmering, jewel-encrusted edge. The biscuits are not too sweet which is important as the strawberries don’t need shedloads of additional sugar – they are already exceptionally sweet.
115g lightly salted butter
50g caster sugar
150g wholegrain spelt flour
60g ground almonds
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
a sprinkle of Demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 160C
- Put all the ingredients into a food processor, blitz until a soft ball of dough forms.
- Divide the mix into 3 and roll into logs about 3 – 4 cm in diameter. Roll the logs in some Demerara sugar sprinkled on the surface, wrap each in clingfilm and place in the fridge overnight.
- Slice the logs to form biscuits each about 1 cm thick, place on a baking sheet, spaced out a bit then place in the oven for 30 minutes until colouring slightly.
- When out of the oven, loosen each biscuit with a palate knife and leave them to cool.
Passion fruit curd
I happened to have made a jar of this curd a couple of weeks ago when we were still in the depths of winter (there was no spring this year that I noticed) and I needed a ray of culinary sunshine and a reminder of how summer tastes courtesy of one of my favourite fruits. The curd is very soft set. For a firmer set, reduce the volume of passion fruit to about 150 ml.
200 ml passion fruit contents (about 9 fruit)
3 large egg yolks
70g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, softened
- Blitz the passion fruit contents in a blender to break down the seeds then sieve to extract maximum flavour.
- Place the strained passion fruits, egg yolks and sugar in a bain marie over barely simmering water. Stir continuously until thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.
- Place in a sterilised jar.
- For the mignardises, place a small amount of curd in the space where the strawberry was hulled:
Vanilla crème Chantilly
This is simply whipping cream (1 large tub , 300ml), whipped with the contents of one vanilla pod and with a sprinkle of sieved icing sugar gently folded in, to taste. I purposefully did not add very much sugar (about 2 tsp) as I did not want the crème to have any more than a hint of sweetness. The cream should be lightly whipped, just holding its shape and not quite be able to bear the weight of the strawberry.
Strawberry and lemon spelt sablée mignardises
To assemble, place a teaspoon of crème Chantilly on the biscuit, place a small blob of curd inside the hulled strawberry and sit the strawberry on the crème cushion. Eat immediately as the curd starts to ooze out over the crème. It is over in one (large) mouthful, but oh so very much worth the effort.
All to be enjoyed with tonight’s sunset, one of many spectacular sunsets we have enjoyed in the last week. The view of the bay, this time with the tide out, taken from the bottom of the garden at 2215 hours.