The first of the local strawberries have arrived and now it’s time to make the most of them. Their delicious sweetness is in stark contrast to the blandness of those available out of season. Blind taste at Christmas and they have a flavor profile that is no better than a sweet and sour turnip. Think of them as a friend coming to stay over from abroad – enjoy every limited moment while they’re here, say goodbye when they’re gone, and look forward with anticipation to the next time you’re reunited.
While a bowl of strawberries anointed with cream is a classic way to serve them, there are countless recipes that celebrate this perfect local fruit. French toast, also known as Pain Perdu, has been around for centuries. The earliest reference to it in the literature is in a collection of Latin recipes called “Apicius”. Pain Perdu, which translates from French as “lost bread”, is an ideal way to use up leftover stale bread. Usually the bread is soaked in egg and milk and then baked. In the recipe here, brioche bread, strawberries and custard are placed in a loaf pan and baked. The result is bread and berries that vibrate in the custard. Serve with more strawberries and a generous dollop of cream.
Coincidentally, late May signals the appearance of lacy, creamy elderflowers on the hedges. The citrus scent of the flowers gives a spicy touch to the sweet berries of the new season. You can capture their essence for months to come by making a simple elderflower syrup. Bottled it stays in the fridge for months, but now enjoy it as a refreshing summer drink or in a Hugo cocktail. Muddle mint in a glass with the handle of a wooden spoon, add ice, elderflower syrup and a generous splash of sparkling white wine – a real crowd pleaser. Granita, which literally means “little grains”, is an icy confection of fruit-flavored ice shards. Here it’s made with elderflower syrup and served with diced strawberry jelly. Early summer caught in a dessert.
Strawberry Pain Perdu
What you need
250 g brioche
4 egg yolks
100 g sugar
300 ml whipped cream
200 ml milk
150 g strawberries, sliced
Line a cake tin with baking paper and set the oven to 150 degrees.
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Bring the milk and cream to a simmer and when hot, pour over the egg mixture and beat well.
Cut the bread into slices and line the bottom with some. Divide some strawberries over it and spoon some of the cream mixture over it. Put some bread on top with more berries and then cream. Repeat with a layer of bread on top.
Place the loaf pan in a roasting pan and fill it halfway with boiling water.
Place in the oven and cook for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool to room temperature and let cool. Remove from the mold and cut into slices. Serve with some strawberries and cream.
Strawberry jelly with elderflower granita
What you need
For the strawberry jelly
250 g strawberries
150 ml sparkling white wine or soda water
50 g sugar
5 sheets of gelatin
Soak the gelatin in cold water for 10 minutes.
Cut the strawberries.
Boil the wine and sugar in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the gelatin and strawberries. Cool and mix the mixture. Pass through a sieve into a container lined with cling film. Refrigerate until set. Cut into cubes.
For the elderflower syrup
15 elderflower heads, washed
1 liter of boiling water
450 g caster sugar
1 lemon, finely chopped
2 teaspoons citric acid
Place the sugar in a bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then add the lemon and elderflower heads and stir well.
Add the citric acid and cover for 24 hours.
Strain through muslin and store in sterilized bottles.
For the elderflower granita
100 g sugar
Zest and juice 1 lemon
100 ml elderflower syrup
350 ml sparkling water
Boil the lemon and sugar until the sugar has dissolved.
Cool and add the lemon juice and zest. Mix the cordial with the water and mix it with the sugar mixture. Place in a plastic container in the freezer. After 2 hours, shave with a fork into crystals. Place back in the freezer and repeat every hour for 3 hours.
Put the cubes of jelly in the bottom of a glass and garnish with the granita. Garnish with some elderflower heads.
Paula McIntyre: a dish of a dish