There really is nothing more summery than a bowl of English strawberries over which you’ve poured some fresh cream. Sadly, strawberries are one of those foods that are becoming readily available out of season, flown in from afar, and stacked on our supermarket shelves as if they in themselves might bring a taste of summer; but really, in the middle of November, what’s wrong with a taste of winter? These strawberries are never the same as the real thing: a fresh-picked English strawberry bursting with life and sweetness. But while there is something quintessentially English about the strawberry (think Wimbledon) it did in fact come to us via America – more particularly Virginia – and the garden strawberry as we know it was first cultivated in Brittany in France in the late 18th century. People have often asked me, do I prefer strawberries or raspberries? But why would one want to choose? It’s a bit like being asked which of your children you prefer; you love them both equally but in some different ways. While the raspberry has a gorgeous deep floral, sweet-sour taste the strawberry is intensely sweet and juicy. This juiciness makes it a fruit that doesn’t freeze very successfully while raspberries freeze well.
We’re big on birthdays in my family. This probably began with my parents who although they didn’t go as far as putting a crown on our heads when it was our birthday, from early childhood a birthday was always a special occasion: it was your day, you were ‘king’ or ‘queen’ for the day and everything revolved around what you liked best. Thus, although Jonathan’s birthday isn’t until the end of the month, The Birthday Party is already a subject of conversation. Especially since it will happen just four days after he and Lyndsey move into their new home so there won’t be much time for food preparation and making anything ahead will be a bonus. Like ice cream. Would he like me to make some ice cream for dessert, I asked. Without hesitation Jonathan asked me to make my Citron Green Tea Ice Cream – that’s his current favourite. But you need at least one other flavour for a party, I pressed. Strawberry! he said. Strawberry? But I haven’t make a strawberry ice cream on the blog … Well, it was a bit of a silly thing to say, as if I might not make strawberry ice cream anyway. I used to make it a lot, years ago, but haven’t recently. So I gave it some thought. And I thought I’d like to add just a little special touch. I consulted my brilliant The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, as I often do, and found she quoted Heston Blumenthal describing mint as a classic partner to strawberries. I therefore headed into the garden, cut some fresh mint, and that would be my ‘special’ touch. And as for those quintessentially English strawberries and cream, they were coming in a frozen form in my house and would bring a genuine taste of summer for a little while to come.
First of all, I made the custard so that it could cool down before adding cream and the pureed strawberries. I heated 300ml milk until bubbles started to show around the edges, then I turned off the heat and added 6 large fresh mint leaves and set aside for about quarter of an hour for the milk to infuse with the mint. If you dip a finger in and taste, you will catch that minty flavour in the milk.
I put 120g caster sugar in a bowl with 6 egg yolks and 1 teaspoon custard powder (or cornflour – to stabilise the custard when cooking) and whisked until thick and pale.
Then I slowly poured in the warm milk through a strainer to remove the mint leaves, whisking all the time, and transferred back to a clean saucepan. Now all you do is heat over a medium heat (the addition of the custard powder allows you to do this without risk of it separating), until the custard has thickened. Pour back into a bowl and leave to cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries. Hull 500g English strawberries and blend to a puree with juice of 1/2 lemon and some caster sugar.
How much sugar you need will depend on the sweetness of your strawberries but I put in about 4 tablespoons. Just taste for sweetness as you go and stop when it seems right. Strain into a jug, to remove the pips. I had about 600ml of puree.
When the custard is cold, lightly whip 300ml double cream and fold into the custard with the strawberry puree.
It was a gorgeous deep strawberry colour. I could tell already it would taste good.
Then taste and check sweetness. Mine was fine but if you don’t think it’s sweet enough you can always add a little more caster or icing sugar to get it right. Remember the custard is sweet too so it’s when you bring it together with the puree that you can get a real sense of how your ice cream will taste in the end. Now it’s ready to put into your ice-cream maker and churn. I had to do mine in two batches as I had quite a bit of mixture for one small machine!
As always, I couldn’t resist a taste immediately – and also spooned some into Jonathan’s mouth as he came into the kitchen at that moment. It was very good, we agreed! Such a deep strawberry flavour: the mint and lemon juice intensifying the sweetness but also bringing a nice fresh edge. Later at lunchtime, I spooned a proper serving into a dish.
I rather think this ice cream will end up being a dummy run for the birthday party. There is no way it’s going to sit in my freezer untouched for another four weeks! Especially with Jonathan and Lyndsey in the house at the moment. But then really, such a wonderful ice cream, full of the summer taste of strawberries and cream shouldn’t sit untouched for too long. And the recipe definitely deserves another making before the English strawberries disappear for another year.