Oh, the strawberries this year! They’re a poem, a song, a one-bite perfection!
We start getting long, narrow, slightly tart gariguettes in May, shipped in from Provence. I wait until I can smell their aroma before I buy them, and then I get just a few because I’m waiting for the real deal, the strawberries grown in soil I can see.
When they arrive – like these Cléry variety – I’m first in line. When I get home with my two “barquettes” filled to the brim and protected by a brown paper bag, which is already stained blood-red in the short amount of time it took me to walk home. I open my basket, take out the berries, transfer them to a serving bowl and wait. About five seconds. It doesn’t matter who is in the house or where, those berries are a siren call and they last for less then ten minutes. This is appropriate behavior; strawberries like these are volatile, fragile, ethereal. They must be enjoyed within seconds of being brought home.
Now, though, it’s time to start making one of my favorite strawberry desserts, Galette de Fraises, which is the French name for Strawberry Shortcake. The cake isn’t at all like shortcake – it’s a very cream-rich baking powder and butter dough that is folded over and over, like puff pastry, to produce a light yet hearty result. The recipe comes from the best baker I know, Cathy Burgett, who was with me at cooking school in Paris a hundred years ago, baked in restaurants in San Francisco, and is now head of the pastry department at the Santa Rosa Junior College. She has the lightest, most delicate hand with pastry and you’ll find this marvelous galette a testament to her sill.
I’ve adapted it over the years. Sometimes I add ginger; sometimes I add orange or lemon; occasionally I dust it with nutmeg. It’s simple, and simply irresistible!
When I put the shortcakes in the oven, I turn to the berries which I slice and toss with a touch of sugar. They’re already as sweet as heaven, but the sugar draws out their juices, which will then soak into the shortcake. This is an essential element of the dessert, along with a dollop of cream and a mint sprig!
Bon Appetit, and happy strawberries!
STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM SHORTCAKE, FROM ON RUE TATIN
GALETTE DE FRAISES
For the shortcake:
1 cup (130g) all purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
The zest from 1 orange, preferably organic, minced
5 tablespoons (70g) sugar
6 tablespoons (3 oz.; 90g) unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup (250ml) heavy, non ultra-pasteurized cream
For the Berries:
1 pound (500g) strawberries, hulled and sliced, lengthwise
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
For the Crème Fraîche:
1 cup (250ml) crེeme fraîche or heavy, non ultra-pasteurized cream, chilled
2 tablespoons (25g) vanilla sugar, ground fine
For the garnish:
Fresh mint or lemon verbena sprigs
1. Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Chill a large-size bowl and a whisk or whisk attachment or rotary blades of an electric mixer (for whipping the cream).
2. In a large bowl, or in a food processor, combine both flours with the salt, baking powder, the orange zest, and 4 tablespoons of the sugar. Stir well, or process once or twice, to mix. Add the butter and process, or cut it in with a pastry blender or two knives until it ranges from the size of coarse cornmeal to the size of a pea. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add the cream all at once, and lightly mix until the dough gathers together but does not completely adhere. Be very careful not to overmix.
3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, dust it lightly with flour, and press it down with a rolling pin until it is somewhat rectangular in shape and about ½ inch (1.3 cm) thick. Fold it in thirds like a business letter, and turn it one quarter turn (90 degrees). Lightly flour it and gently press it out again until it is an even rectangle about ½ inch (1.3 cm) thick, fold it in thirds, and turn it another quarter turn. Lightly flour the dough again if necessary to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin, and roll it out to form a very even rectangle measuring 6 x 12 inches (15 x 30cm). Cut it in half, crosswise, then cut an X through each half so that you have eight triangular pieces. Sprinkle the pieces with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about ¼ inch (1/2 cm) between them. Bake in the center of the oven until the shortcakes are golden and puffed, about 12 minutes. Slide the parchment paper off the baking sheet and onto a wire rack to cool.
4. Combine the strawberries and the tablespoon of sugar in a medium bowl, toss, and set aside.
5. Whisk the crème fraîche or heavy cream in the chilled bowl until it holds a stiff peak. Whisk in the sugar and taste – add additional sugar if necessary.
6. To serve, arrange a piece of shortcake on the center of each of six plates. Top with equal amounts of berries, and a dollop of cream. Garnish with herb sprigs.