As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have a new oven and so I wanted to bake something to test it out. Ovens always vary a bit and as a cook, one gets used to how your own oven relates to recipes – do you always have to cook a little bit more or a little bit less than a recipe? So, here we were at the beginning of June and amazingly (given recent weather) it was warm enough to eat outside. And what could be more quintessentially English than a dessert of strawberry shortbread in June? Well … actually … having written that I thought, I’d better check! I’ve found followers of the blog are quick – quite rightly! – to put me right if I make a statement like that and it’s wrong. Was strawberry shortbread English? Google wasn’t much help. It gave me a lot about American strawberry shortcake but that looked more like English scones. And then, I thought, one thinks of shortbread being Scottish. I even had a discussion about it in Ruben’s Bakehouse with Marco who, having discovered I have Italian lessons now won’t speak to me in English. How do you explain strawberry shortbread in Italian? Back home I turned to my Italian dictionary and found shortbread is biscotto di pasta frolla. In the end, I was using a French recipe anyway! I always turn to my copy of The Roux Brothers on Patisserie for this dessert. I was given the book in 1987 and it’s still my patisserie bible. I’d always carefully followed the instructions for Pate Sablee – shortbread dough – before and made it by hand. There’s something comforting about quietly and gently making a dough that way. But I’d taken on rather a lot yesterday and ended up throwing all the ingredients in the food processor and punched the button.
It was fine. The shortbreads were light, buttery and delicious. Into my machine went: 125g plain flour, 100g butter, 50g icing sugar, 1 egg yolk and a couple drops vanilla essence. I gathered the dough together, wrapped it in cling film and put in the fridge for about 20 minutes. It was a very soft dough. I needed a fair amount of flour on the surface to roll out – perhaps because I’d used the processor rather than hand? Anyway, it all worked out and I rolled them to about 2-3 mm thick and cut out shapes and laid them on a greased and floured baking sheet. I pricked them with a fork and popped them into a preheated 200C oven for 10 minutes. Watch them and take them out when nicely golden but not browning (mine were slightly overdone in the end but I’ll blame it on the new oven). Cool them on a wire rack. Earlier I’d made a coulis of mixed strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, blending the fruit with some sugar syrup. Strain the mixture and put in fridge. A little while before serving cut some strawberries in half and mix with some of the coulis.
The day before I’d made the ice cream. This was a thought process that led from, Shall we have whipped cream with the strawberry shortbread? to, Shall I flavour the cream with mascarpone? ending in, I think I’ll make mascarpone ice cream! Google turned up trumps this time and gave me a Giorgio Locatelli recipe. It’s wonderfully easy. You make a sugar syrup with 250g sugar and 175ml water. Stir over medium heat to dissolve the sugar and then allow to bubble briskly for about 7-10 minutes until the bubbles are syrupy. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and leave to get completely cold. Then add 250g mascarpone, 175ml milk and 5 tablespoons plan yogurt. Mix together well – I used an electric hand mixer – until nice and smooth. Then pour into an ice-cream maker and churn until you have a nice, creamy set.
Transfer to a freezer container and freeze. You will need to take it out of the freezer about 20 minutes before serving though, to allow to soften again.
Assembly time! Take your shortbreads and start to stack them with layers of the strawberries that have macerated in the coulis. Put one shortbread on each plate, lay a few of the strawberries on top and then carefully add another shortbread. Now another layer of strawberries. Sprinkle the third and top shortbread generously with icing sugar before resting it on the top and decorate with a half strawberry. Spoon some of the coulis round the edge and then add a spoonful of the mascarpone ice cream. And now you have a wonderful looking dessert.
And yes, appreciative Jonathan and Lyndsey did actually say, Wow! Not only did it look fabulous (please forgive my lack of modesty here!) but it tasted wonderful. Light buttery shortbread, sweet-tasting strawberries and a glorious rich and creamy ice cream. In fact, I had to go back to the kitchen and bring the ice cream out so we could have seconds!
You can use other fruit, if you prefer. My daughter Nicola can’t eat strawberries so I’d do a raspberry version for her. It’s such a great dessert and makes one feel that summer really is here!