Springtime is all about inspiration in the kitchen. There are so many fresh ingredients in vibrant colors that you want to cook and eat everything. I was hoping to post this yesterday, but have been faced with an extreme case of writer's block. The weather is too nice to stay inside so I'm hoping to get this post out soon and close the laptop to enjoy the entire weekend of much needed sun till Monday rears its ugly head. While the ideas are struggling from pen to paper, I'm certainly not facing any pastry block. I've been furiously trying to catch up with all the dogeared recipes before the lovely produce disappears while I'm summering at the beach. Before you know it the berries and stone fruits will dry up, and root veggies return.
Unlike the aforementioned ugly step child, root veggie, nature's bounty in spring requires little to no cooking. I remember one of the best desserts I ever had was at Chez Panisse - just a simple bowl of cherries, still warm from the sun.
What could you possibly do to these strawberries to make them any better than they already are?
Well, the kitchen is my domain. It's where I get to exert all my power and my minions, strawberries in this case, have no choice but to give in to my commands. I usually don't bake with strawberries. I might toss a few in a scone, but usually they get a quick rinse and eaten fresh. One exception is my sun-riped strawberry jam (my first post!). Basically, you trim the strawberries, toss in the sugar, add a split vanilla bean, wrap in plastic and leave out in the sun to stew. Then you heat it up on the stove and jam as usual. It's absolutely the most intense strawberry jam ever. So, I realized that manipulating the strawberry might lead to something equally as good as the original thing. Inspired by my 20-hour apples, I decided to give slow-roasted strawberries a go.
These get trimmed and tossed in light brown sugar. Put a little bit of melted butter in the bottom of a non-metal, oven-safe pan. Cut 1/2 vanilla bean and scrape the pulp out and mix in with the butter. Place the strawberries trimmed side down, giving each one space. Place in a 200F oven for about 3 hours...a little more if they are large, but leave them whole. Try to pick small strawberries - I used about 4 dozen. I cut one of my large strawberries in half and much preferred the whole roasted strawberries.
The strawberries shrivel and slump into what looks like a hershey kiss. Once they are cool enough to handle, gently remove them and set aside. Pour the roasted strawberry juices in a small saucepan and add an equal amount of Sauternes, or another sweet white wine. Reduce liquid by half, whisking occasionally. The leftover butter from the pan creates a richness and the final sauce is like liquid strawberry candy. Drizzle over the strawberries. Eat plain or with ice cream.
This got me thinking about roasting fruits I traditionally eat fresh. I came across a recipe in the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook for roasted cherries served with a hazelnut flan. Since its a few weeks till cherry season is in full-swing I thought the hazelnut flan could use some slow-roasted strawberries. Remember flan should be made the day before serving.
HAZELNUT FLAN ***adapted from Big Sur Bakery Cookbook
For the Caramel Layer -
- 3/4 c sugar
- 1 1/2 c hazelnuts - (this is 1/2 c more than the original recipe)
- 2 c whole milk
- 2 c heavy cream
- 3/4 c sugar (scant)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 whole eggs
- 5 egg yolks
To make the caramel for coating the bottom of the ramekins (8 - 6oz ramekins). You could also use french glass yogurt cups, which require no un-molding later! Melt the sugar with 1/4 cup water over high heat and let cook until sugar caramelizes to a deep amber color, about 7 minutes. Do not stir or walk away! Once the desired color is reached, turn off the heat and swirl the liquid sugar. Pour evenly amongst your ramekins and set aside until it hardens.
Toast the hazelnuts until gently golden, about 10 min in a 350F oven. Let cool and then roughly chop. Reduce oven to 300F.
Bring chopped hazelnuts, milk, cream, half of the sugar and salt to a scald. Cover and let mixture steep for half an hour. Reheat the mixture and whisk eggs, egg yolks, and remaining sugar together (do not whisk eggs with the sugar ahead of time - this will "cook" the eggs). Temper the eggs with the heated mixture, and thicken the entire mixture over a very low heat, constantly stirring, until it coats the back of the spoon. Strain through a fine sieve and pour evenly among the ramekins.
Place in a deep roasting pan and fill with warm water to reach halfway up the sides. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and carefully transfer to oven. Bake for 30 minutes, and then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes till the custard is set. It should giggle ever so slightly when the pan is tapped.
Once you can handle the ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, gently run a knife along the edge and un-mold onto the dish you'd like to serve it on. Serve with roasted strawberries.