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Cooking

Berried Treasure

Taking sweet, fresh strawberries -- that harbinger of summer -- beyond the basics.

Gigantic berries -- sometimes the size of small plums -- are surprisingly sweet, though the texture leaves much to be desired. Gigantic berries -- sometimes the size of small plums -- are surprisingly sweet, though the texture leaves much to be desired. (Jim Scherer)
By Adam Ried
June 7, 2009
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Beautiful fresh strawberries beg to be served simply, often with no more than a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of heavy cream. Occasionally, though, mood or circumstance may call for something just a notch or two up the glamour scale -- nothing as involved as churning your own ice cream or constructing a strawberry cream cake, yet a bit beyond basic. In those moments, consider the strawberry desserts here.

My German relatives used to welcome spring with a celebratory drink of May wine, a punch of light, young German white wine infused with the herb sweet woodruff and served with strawberries. Absent the sweet woodruff, similar flavors are at play in the gelee terrine, which is really just fancy wine-flavored Jell-O. Eton mess, which is said to have originated at Eton College in England, gives strawberries and whipped cream a textural twist by adding crumbled meringue. And creme anglaise -- a straightforward custard sauce you can serve with berries and lots of other desserts -- is richer and a bit more decadent than plain cream.

May Wine and Strawberry Gelee Terrine

Makes one 8½-by-4½-inch loaf

For a red wine version, substitute a fruity red such as pinot noir for the white and omit the lemon juice.

2 pints strawberries, hulled, medium and large berries quartered and small berries halved (about 4 cups)

2 tablespoons plus 2/3 cup sugar

1¾ cups medium-dry or sweet white wine, such as a Riesling spatlese

2 envelopes (4½ teaspoons) plain gelatin

1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Place the berries in a medium bowl, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar, toss to mix, and set aside. Place the wine in another medium nonreactive bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it, and set aside to soften the gelatin, at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, bring ¾ cup water and remaining 2/3 cup sugar to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, about 5 minutes. Add this hot sugar syrup to the gelatin mixture and stir, dissolving the gelatin completely. Stir in the lemon juice.

In an 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan, gently pack the berries with cut sides facing up. Pour in the gelatin mixture, submerging the berries. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the gelatin is hard, at least 3 hours and up to 8 hours.

To unmold, dip loaf pan into hot water until the gelatin loosens slightly, 5 to 10 seconds. Run a paring knife between the walls of the pan and the terrine, invert the pan onto a serving platter, and shake the loaf pan gently to release the terrine onto the platter. Slice with a serrated knife, and serve at once.

Eton Mess

Serves 6

Serve the Eton mess the moment you put it together. The combined forces of cream and time are not kind to the meringues' texture.

1½ pints strawberries, hulled (about 3 cups)

Sugar, to taste, for berries, plus 1 tablespoon for cream

1 tablespoon pomegranate or berry juice, Chambord or other liqueur, port, or cognac (optional)

1½ cups heavy cream

½ cup plain Greek-style yogurt, creme fraiche, or sour cream

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ounces packaged or homemade meringues, crumbled

Roughly chop 2 cups of the strawberries. In a medium bowl, mix berries with sugar to taste and juice, liqueur, port, or cognac, if using. Slice the remaining 1 cup of berries and, in a small bowl, mix with sugar to taste.

With a standing or hand-held electric mixer (or a whisk), softly whip the cream, adding 1 tablespoon of sugar once the cream has thickened (1 to 1½ minutes in a standing mixer on high speed). Add the yogurt, creme fraiche, or sour cream and vanilla and mix very briefly, just until blended. Fold in the chopped berries and crumbled meringues to distribute well. Divide the mixture among 6 serving dishes, top with a portion of the sliced berries, and serve at once.

Creme Anglaise

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups half-and-half

1 large vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

Salt

In a small, heavy saucepan, heat the half-and-half over medium-high heat until simmering, about 5 minutes. With the tip of a paring knife, scrape the seeds out of the split vanilla bean and add them and the bean pod halves to the warm half-and-half. Set mixture aside off heat to steep for 20 minutes. (If using vanilla extract, skip this step, but remove the half-and-half from the refrigerator so it comes to room temperature. The extract goes in later.)

Meanwhile, set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl and set the bowl in a shallow pan of ice water. In a medium, heavy saucepan, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt until frothy, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the half-and-half into the yolk mixture. Place the pan over medium-low heat, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is steamy and thickens enough that you leave a crisp-edged, clear trail when you draw your finger across the back of the spoon, about 8 or 9 minutes (do not allow it to boil). Immediately strain the sauce into the bowl in the cold water bath, discarding vanilla bean pod. (If using vanilla extract, stir it in now.)

Cover the creme anglaise with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap on to its surface and poking holes with the tip of a paring knife so steam can escape. Allow the custard to cool to lukewarm and then refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours and up to 4 days.

Variations

Ginger Creme Anglaise Follow the recipe for creme anglaise, reducing the vanilla to ½ bean or ½ teaspoon extract. Add 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger to the warm half-and-half.

Orange Creme Anglaise Follow the recipe for creme anglaise, reducing the vanilla to ½ bean or ½ teaspoon extract. Add 1½ tablespoons finely grated zest from 2 oranges to the warm half-and-half.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.