Hallowed berry

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 June, 2006, 12:00am

There are beautiful imported strawberries in the markets now and they taste almost as good as they look. Strawberries are stocked year-round but the tastiest specimens will be available for only another a month or so. Use good-quality berries in these recipes.

Strawberry shortcakes (pictured)

600 grams fresh strawberries

About 20 grams granulated sugar, or to taste

About 15ml fresh lemon juice

About 250ml cream, chilled

Icing sugar, for dusting

For the shortcakes:

250 grams plain flour

50 grams granulated sugar

11/2 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp fine salt

80 grams unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

1 large egg

60ml cream, chilled

Remove the stems and cores from the strawberries. Cut the berries into sixths or eighths, depending on size, then toss with the sugar and lemon juice (if the berries aren't very sweet, add more sugar). Let the berries macerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and use your fingertips to break the chunks into smaller pieces - about the size of small peas. Whisk together the egg and cream. Drizzle just enough of the egg/cream (you won't need it all) into the flour/butter mixture until the dough holds its shape - it should be firm and moist, but not sticky. Do not overwork the dough or the shortcakes will be tough.

On a lightly floured board, use your hands to pat out the dough until it's about 2.5cm thick. Use a lightly floured 6cm round cutter to cut circles of dough then place them on a parchment- or aluminium foil-lined baking tray. The scraps of dough should be pressed together gently so more circles can be cut.

Brush the tops lightly with some of the remaining egg/cream mixture. Bake the shortcakes until golden and fully baked - they will be firm to the touch and should lift off the baking tray without sticking. Cool to room temperature.

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Split the shortcakes in two horizontally and place the lower halves on serving plates. Add some of the whipped cream and the macerated strawberries then top with the second part of the shortcake. Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve. Makes five or six.

Strawberries with Grand Marnier sabayon Sabayon, also known as zabaglione, is a rich but light mixture of eggs, sugar and alcohol. Classically, it's made with sweet wine such as Marsala. This version combines white wine with Grand Marnier. You'll need a balloon whisk and a large metal bowl that fits over a double boiler.

About 750 grams fresh strawberries

6 large egg yolks

75 grams granulated sugar

A pinch of salt

150ml good-quality dry white wine (such as a riesling) or champagne

80ml Grand Marnier

Heat the water in the bottom part of a double boiler - the water level should not touch the bottom of the bowl. When the water simmers, turn the flame as low as possible.

Put the egg yolks into the bowl and whisk in the sugar and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the white wine and Grand Marnier. Place the bowl over the double boiler and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and turns pale. It's ready when you draw the whisk through the mixture and it leaves a 'track' that slowly fills in. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Rinse the strawberries and pat them dry. Cut the berries into slices if they're large, or into quarters if they're small. Divide between serving bowls and spoon some of the warm sabayon over them. Serves six to eight.

Balsamic black-pepper strawberry 'tiramisu'

This dish combines two big dessert cliches - tiramisu, which for a while was so overdone it seemed to be on every menu in Hong Kong (there was even a credit card named after it), and balsamic strawberries, which several years ago were being served at the most fashionable dinner parties. While it's hard to ruin balsamic strawberries, the bastardised versions of tiramisu were too much to bear - you never knew what you would be served. This, obviously, is not the standard version, which is flavoured with coffee and Marsala or other liquor - but at least I'm warning you in advance.

For the balsamic black-pepper strawberries:

400 grams strawberries

About 30 grams granulated sugar

30ml balsamic vinegar

About 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

For the filling:

240 grams mascarpone, chilled

2 large eggs, separated

80 grams sugar, divided

30ml creme de cassis

A pinch of salt

120ml cream, chilled

For dipping the biscuits:

50 grams granulated sugar dissolved in 50ml water

200 grams strawberries

About 30ml fresh lemon juice

12-18 Savoiardi biscuits (ladyfinger biscuits)

Rinse the strawberries and remove the stems. Slice the berries about 5mm thick then mix them with the sugar, balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Taste to see if the flavours are balanced and adjust if necessary. Allow to macerate for about an hour.

Puree the 200 grams of strawberries with the sugar/water and lemon juice.

To make the filling, beat the mascarpone with 40 grams of sugar and the egg yolks until combined. Stir in the creme de cassis and whip until the mixture is light and smooth. Do not over-whip or the mascarpone will curdle.

Wash and dry the beaters. Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until frothy. Slowly whip in the remaining sugar then whip on high speed until the whites form soft peaks. In another bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Add half the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and gently fold it in, then fold in remaining whites. Fold in the cream in three additions, trying to maintain as much volume as possible

Use five or six individual serving bowls or glasses that hold about 200 grams. Break the Savoiardi biscuit in two or three pieces, depending on the size of the serving bowls. Soak each piece in the dipping sauce until saturated but not falling apart. Squeeze out excess moisture then place in the bottom of each bowl. Top with some of the mascarpone filling then add a spoonful of the balsamic strawberries. Add two more layers of soaked biscuit, mascarpone filling and balsamic strawberries, smoothing the top of the third layer of mascarpone and covering it completely with balsamic strawberries. Chill for about an hour before serving.

styling Rachael Macchiesi