Strawberries reign as the undisputed ‘King’ of the berries; the most cherished of soft fruits, few are able to resist the lure of their juicy scarlet flesh. I have vivid, sun-dappled memories of childhood strawberry picking. I would clasp my punnet close as I stooped and ferreted amongst the shrubs; my nimble hands seeing out the deepest reds and pulling them from the plant stems with a satisfying ‘pop’. The best form of quality control was always taste. Even as a child I knew that the act of eating strawberries, freshly picked and sun-warmed, was something special. With the juices dribbling down my chin, my young palette didn’t even want for a dusting of sugar. My Father would tease me, in the way that only light-hearted Fathers can, by threatening to have me weighed on the way out to reveal any mid-harvest gorging.
We would take our punnets home where the strawberries would be washed, cut and kept in a bowl in the fridge until they began to syrup. We would eat them with meringues and cream or atop our morning cereal. One summer I meticulously crafted a strawberry shortcake from my Grandmother’s copy of ‘Mary Berry’s Desserts and Confections’. I remember the taste and the greedy reception it received; a pivotal moment for any young baker. These days I’m more inclined to enjoy my strawberries naked but for a spritz of lime juice or tumbled on top of pancakes throughout June and July.
I was initially alarmed, upon spending an English winter in New Zealand, to learn that strawberries were a key component of the kiwi Christmas spread. Of course December in NZ is, seasonally, early summer and just as we treasure winter fayre for our festive banquet, the New Zealanders look forward to salads, grilled fish and pavlova. Strawberries, due to their intense seasonality, are a fruit intrinsically associated with the summer months. By the time these luscious berries appear at roadsides and fruit farms, one can hope for some sporadic British sunshine to accompany them. When I eat ripe, seasonal strawberries my mind conjures the sights and sounds of summer; the drone of light aircraft, the lazy buzz of insects, the heady scent of meadows and the smoky trace of barbeques on the breeze. If you find yourself craving these ruby red fruits this summer, I urge you to look beyond the supermarket. Source them locally if you can or, better still, pick them yourself. These sweet bites of summer are all the better for their fleeting season.
Vanilla French Toast with Strawberry Coulis
The English summer is rarely reliably dry. In fact, it’s not unusual to be stuck at home in mid-June, staring mournfully out of the window at the pouring rain. For those days I highly recommend a brunch that is both comforting and seasonal. This Vanilla French Toast, when combined with a sharp, strawberry coulis, puts me in mind of jam doughnuts.
For the French toast:
6 thick slices (slightly stale) brioche or white bread
150ml whole milk
150ml single cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
butter (for frying)
100g sliced strawberries
For the coulis:
200g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1 tbsp. icing sugar
- In a shallow disk whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, cinnamon and vanilla.
- Cut the bread slices into halves and lay them in the shallow dish.
- Leave for 5 minutes to soak up the custard, turning once to coat the other side.
- To make the coulis blend the strawberries with the icing sugar. Use either an electric blender or mash them with a fork and then pass through a sieve.
- Heat a little butter in a non-stick pan on medium heat.
- Add the soaked sliced of bread and cook gently for 5-8 minutes before flipping over and cooking for a further.
- Check under the bread regularly to ensure it doesn’t burn, it should be lightly golden.
- Stack the slices of French toast on two plates, adding fresh strawberries between each layer.
- Finish with a dusting of icing sugar.
- Serve with crème fraiche and a bottle/bowl of fresh strawberry coulis.