First taste of summer – Strawberry and lemon spelt sablée mignardises

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.

My first strawberry of 2013

My first strawberry of 2013 – Marshmellow

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.

Ingredients

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

Method

  • 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.

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Passion fruit curd

iPhone 2 June 2013 065

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.

Ingredients

200 ml passion fruit contents (about 9 fruit)

3 large egg yolks

70g caster sugar

60g unsalted butter, softened

Method

  • 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:

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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.

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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.

Sunset 3 june 2013

Passionfruit and orange tart with homemade vanilla ice cream

Hidden gems

I have spent a couple of nights this week rummaging about in the fridge and the cupboards to make sure any of the festive residue that may be lurking in nooks and crannies is used.  I abhor food waste.  Although I keep a stealthy eye on perishables sometimes fridge contents get beyond ‘use by’ dates. I basically ignore these anyway and let my palate tell me if something is beyond the point of usefulness.

I managed to squeeze a good-sized pot of jam out of some leftover cranberries and made an array of dishes with some kilos of beetroot given to me by my parents (great stuff, versatile, delicious, can’t get enough of it). I poured all the remnants of the various cream cartons into a wonderful cream of celeriac soup. It is amazing how creative you can (try to) be with sprouts.

So, what did I do with the cream from which the remnants were derived?  Well, there had to be ice cream, of course, and a passion fruit and orange tart with a lovely crisp crust.

Passion without guilt

I really do try to make all my food predominantly from local, seasonal produce but as stated in Ethos, I maintain food integrity as much as I realistically can, but there comes a point where I cannot castigate myself to the stage where I end up restricting my diet to the detriment of my health, mental, not least.  Self flagellation for breaking ones strictly defined rules is a matter for others more committed than me.

Passion fruit and orange tart

This passion fruit tart is a ray of sunshine for the palate, and to behold on the greyest of dark winter days, not least served with homemade vanilla ice cream. The contents of the tart are courtesy of Gordon Ramsay (yes, I know – but he can cook), with a tweak – I processed the passion fruit pulp to maximise the flavour from the seeds.  Pastry is a classic Michel Roux pâte sucrée.  Ice cream is from the lovely Leibovitz bible ‘The Perfect Scoop’.

Pastry – Pâte sucrée

Pâte sucrée is a classic for fruit tarts. It is a forgiving sweet pastry, less delicate than pâte sablée and thus is perfectly capable of containing the wet tart mixture – with a bit of help (well, belt and braces) from some chocolate. It is easy to roll super-thin and remains very crisp in the tart base. I make the pastry the Roux way, all ingredients on the work surface, but you could easily combine the ingredients to form the pastry in a bowl.

Ingredients

250g plain flour

100g butter, cubed and slightly softened

100g icing sugar, sifted

Pinch of salt

2 eggs at room temperature

Preheat oven to 180C

Method

  • Put the flour on a work surface, make a well in the middle and add the butter, icing sugar and salt to the well and mix with your fingertips.
  • Gradually draw the flour into the centre and mix with your fingertips until the dough is slightly grainy.
  • Form a new well and add the eggs and work them into the mix until it begins to hold together.
  • Once amalgamated, knead a few times with the palm of your hand until it is smooth.
  • Roll it into a ball and rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  • Roll out to the desired thickness of  2 – 3 mm on a lightly floured surface.

I used a 24 cm flan tin (with a removable base) to make sure the tart is thin because I think this gives more elegant presentation than a deep slab (it will also cook more evenly).

  • Lightly butter the tin to help the pastry adhere to the sides.
  • Carefully transfer the pastry on a rolling pin and form the pastry to the shape of the tin.  Use a ball of extra pastry to push the lining pastry into the corners of the tin if it is not compliant.
  • Do not trim off the excess pastry because the edge of the case will shrink a bit in the oven – trim after the pastry is baked.
  • Prick the base gently with a fork, line with greaseproof paper and baking beans. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  • Blind bake for 15 minutes, remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes. Trim the overhanging pastry and leave to cool.

Chocolate pastry case lining

Tart case lined with quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate

Tart case lined with quality 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate

The inside of the case was lined with a thin layer of dark chocolate, which acts as the perfect foil to the sharpness of the fruit and gives an extra dimension of flavour. This also provides a nice surprise for your guests. You will need:

40g quality dark chocolate

Place in a bain marie and melt.  Let it cool slightly and brush onto the slightly warm case, filling in any holes and pores with the chocolate. Allow to cool and set.

Passion fruit and orange tart filling

Ingredients

6 ripe passion fruit, blitzed in a food processor and then sieved

350ml fresh orange juice

250g caster sugar

200ml double cream

6 medium eggs

Reduce the oven to 150C

Method

  • Put the pulped passion fruit and orange juice in a pan, bring to the boil, reduce by half and then sieve, allow to cool.  There should be about 250 ml.
  • Beat the fruit mixture, sugar, cream and eggs together until smooth, pass through a sieve into a jug.
  • Pour the filling into the case until it reaches the top.  I would sit the tin in the oven and pull the shelf out to do this – it is tricky to lift the full case and not spill the mixture otherwise.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes at 150C until the top forms a light crust and is set (it can be a bit soft in the centre), allow to cool and chill until ready to serve.

Additional option:  Dust with some sieved icing sugar and use a blowtorch to caramelise the top.

Vanilla ice cream – the real icing on the cake

The grand finale is an easy vanilla ice cream, so-called Philadelphia style, made without a traditional egg custard.  It is lighter tasting, cheaper and easier to make than the full-blown custard version, but doesn’t taste any less delicious.

Ingredients

500ml double cream

250ml whole milk

150g sugar (granulated is good)

Pinch of salt

1 vanilla pod, slit in half lengthways

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  • Pour 250 ml of the cream into a pan with the sugar and salt.
  • Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add both pod and contents to the pan.
  • Warm over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining cream and milk and the vanilla extract.
  • Chill thoroughly, remove the vanilla pod and churn using your ice cream maker or do so by hand.

tart