Berry Good Desserts

by: M.R. Stanton

If you live in New England, one of the first local fruits to make its way into the kitchen in June is the strawberry. On Nantucket, the charm of this fruit is that it is easily grown. If you have young children at home, or grandchildren who visit frequently, strawberries are a joy to have in the garden, whether they are edging a perennial bed or spilling out of a container. I used to plant the tiny fraises de bois when my daughter Andrea was young. We had a small patch out by the barn, and when she went out to feed the horse in the morning, she’d keep her eye on how the plants were progressing. 

She delighted in spotting the first sawtooth-shaped leaves after they’d emerged from the ground, and would run and get me when the first tiny white blossoms appeared. In a few weeks she’d come to me with a sweet smile on her face and the first berries of the season in her small hand. Foraging at its best.

It’s far easier to grow one’s own strawberries than to rely on the spotty produce section or the generosity of neighbors. One of my first memories of strawberries as a young child was when my friends and I were chased out of Matty Jaeckle’s strawberry patch. Matty lived in our neighborhood up at the corner of Somerset and Vesper and grew the best strawberries around. But he was a crabby old man who had a dog, Salty, who bit. One night after supper, when we thought Matty wouldn’t be watching and Salty would be sleeping, my two best friends and I decided to pick some strawberries for dessert. We didn’t succeed. No sooner had we snuck into the strawberry patch than Matty was out in the yard shaking his fist and yelling at us. He must have had ESP because his garden was a good ways away from the house. Anyway, we high-tailed it out of there, with no berries. It was my Peter Rabbit moment.

Today I get my strawberries in June at Bartlett’s Farm, which they grow on the premises. That is important to note as most of the fruit sold there is not local. But the strawberries early in the season are, and while they are smaller than the supermarket giants you see, they are also far sweeter and superior in taste. Most years Bartlett’s also has pick-your-own berries. This can be fun for young kids, but tragic for the berry crop if the kids are too young to pay attention to where they are stepping. Toddlers who run amuck in a strawberry field usually trample more than they pick.

My favorite way to eat strawberries is either right out of the garden, or baked in concert with rhubarb. Strawberry rhubarb pie is a favorite seasonal treat, but I am probably more apt to buy a pie at Bartlett’s than bake one, as making pie crust is not my forté. I’d much rather take the easier route and whip up a cobbler or crisp, where the crust or topping is not only easier to make, but also acts as an accent for the fruits and lets their flavor shine through.

Strawberry shortcake is another favorite summertime treat, and I like baking this as much as I like eating it. I’m a very good biscuit baker – or so my kids and husband tell me – and it’s always fun to make something you know will bring you compliments. So I usually make baking-powder biscuits, without the sugar, and use these for the shortcake, splitting them when they are still warm from the oven and then filling with berries and whipped cream. An easy way to do this for company is to have the baking-powder biscuits ready to pop into the oven when you sit down to dinner, and have the prepared berries and already whipped, whipped cream (no Cool Whip please!) sitting in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap.

When dinner is done, pop the biscuits in the pre-heated oven while you’re clearing the table and making coffee. They’ll be ready in 12-15 minutes. Serve them in a napkin-lined basket, and pass around the table. Let your guests take a biscuit, split it and fill it the way they want with their own personalized berries-to-cream ratio. Be sure to have some good vanilla ice cream on hand as well, for you can be sure that when you give your guests this degree of autonomy at dessert, some anarchist is bound to pipe up and ask if there’s any ice cream. And at least one person in my family will also call for chocolate sauce! An easy solution to this out-of-control scenario is to serve the Strawberry-Almond Shortcake featured here. Guests get one decision to make as it is all pre-assembled: big piece or little piece.

If chocolate and strawberries are your passion, try Sarah Chase’s Burgundy-inspired Warm Chocolate Boules with Strawberry-Beaujolais Sauce. This is a bit more work for it calls for homemade truffles in chocolate cake batter, but the end result is well worth the effort. I might serve this at the end of a lighter meal such as grilled Striped Bass.


Individual Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisps

This dessert combines the popular seasonal flavors of sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb. Served in individual custard cups or ramekins, a tray of these could be just the perfect ending to a Father’s Day barbecue or graduation celebration. Just set a bowl of lightly-sweetened fresh whipped cream alongside as a decadent topping.

1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups King Arthur unbleached flour
1 cup Quaker Old-Fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup frozen apple juice concentrate
11⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
11⁄2 teaspoons baking soda
3⁄4 teaspoons salt
1⁄8 teaspoon ground mace

2 cups rhubarb, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
3⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
butter for greasing ramekins

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Combine all topping ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Set aside.
  3. Steam the rhubarb for about 5 minutes to lightly tenderize. Combine well with berries and brown sugar.
  4. Grease 8 ramekins well with butter, or use non-stick cooking spray.
  5. Spoon a tablespoon of the topping into the bottom of each ramekin. Fill with a quarter-cup filling. Top with a heaping tablespoon of topping.
  6. Set filled ramekins on a rimmed cookie sheet to keep them from slipping off during the transfer from stove to countertop. Bake 12-15 minutes until topping is browned. Serve warm with whipped cream on the side.

Serves 8.

Old-Fashioned Strawberry-Almond Shortcake

One of the most satisfying desserts, with the combination of sweet, juicy berries, tender buttermilk biscuits and whipped cream, it captures the feeling of grandma baking all day in the kitchen. This version yields one large impressive “shortcake” to be served family-style at the table.

2 cups King Arthur unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. almond paste, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup whole milk
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 quart ripe strawberries, rinsed, drained and hulled
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup toasted, sliced almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In small mixing bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In large mixing bowl, combine butter, almond paste, and a quarter-cup sugar. Beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in beaten egg, milk and almond extract until combined. Stir in flour mixture. Do not overmix!
  4. Spoon equal amounts of batter into two 9-inch ungreased cake pans. Spread evenly and smooth tops. Bake for 20 minutes or until cake is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pans. Cool in pans for 10 minutes on wire racks, then removed from pans and cool completely. Cover with a clean dish towel until ready to assemble dessert and serve. NOTE: The cake can be made early in the day and set aside, wrapped well, until it is time to assemble the dessert.
  5. Cut strawberries in half to equal two cups. Place in small bowl and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Leave the rest of the berries whole for decorating the top, trying to reserve the best-looking ones for this purpose.
  6. In a small mixing bowl, pour the cream, adding 1 tablespoon sugar and the vanilla. Beat until soft peaks form. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the shortcake and serve.
  7. To assemble: Place one shortcake on a serving plate, top-side up. Top with the halved berries and their juices and half the whipped cream. Cover with the second shortcake and “frost” with the remaining whipped cream. Arrange whole berries on the top, stem-end down. Sprinkle sliced toasted almonds on top, in between berries. Serve immediately.

Serves 12.


Strawberry-Chocolate Sauce for
Warm Chocolate Boules

Sarah Leah Chase, who writes The Inquirer and Mirror’s weekly “Feasting on the Faraway Island” column, developed this recipe after leading culinary biking tours through Burgundy for Butterfield and Robinson. It’s elegant and intriguing, and is from her hard-to-find Pedaling Through Burgundy cookbook.

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
10 whole black peppercorns
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 whole cloves
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 bottle (750 ml) Beaujolais wine
2 quarts strawberries, hulled and halved

11 tablespoons unsalted butter
9 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate, such as Callebaut
3 tablespoons heavy, or whipping, cream
2 tablespoons favorite after-dinner liqueurs, such as Grand Marnier, Chambord, Frangelico or Cognac
3 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

  1. Make the Strawberry-Beaujolais Sauce: In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the water, peppercorns, vanilla bean, cloves and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and cook until the liquid turns a golden caramel color, 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat, and taking care to stand back, slowly pour in the bottle of Beaujolais. The wine will spatter initially as it hits the hot syrup, and then the syrup will begin to harden. Return the saucepan to the burner and cook over medium-high heat, stirring well to re-melt the caramel. Let the liquid boil gently until it has been reduced by half, 20-25 minutes. Strain into another large, clean saucepan and discard the spices.
  2. Add the strawberries to the wine syrup, bring the mixture back to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. The sauce may stand for up to 5 hours before using.
  3. To make the chocolate boules, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and brush it lightly over the 12 cups of a standard muffin tin. Set aside.
  4. To make the truffles for the cake’s centers, break 4 ounces of the chocolate into small pieces and combine with the cream in a small, heavy saucepan. Melt over low heat, stirring constantly, until absolutely smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a small dish, place in freezer, and chill until the chocolate firms, but is still malleable enough to shape into a ball, 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. To make the chocolate boules batter, break the remaining 5 ounces of chocolate into small pieces and combine with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a medium-size heavy saucepan. Melt over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove from the heat. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture thickens and triples in volume, 7 to 8 minutes. Fold in the melted chocolate mixture. Sift the flour over the batter and then quickly fold it in.
  6. Spoon the batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Using a melon-baller or rounded teaspoon, scoop 12 one-inch-round balls from the truffle mixture. Push each ball down into the center of each cake. The boules may be made up to this point and held for several hours before baking. If holding for more than an hour or two, store in the refrigerator until ready to bake.
  7. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  8. Bake the boules in the middle of the oven until the top springs back when touched lightly, 12 to 13 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them cool for 2-3 minutes. Run a knife gently around the edges of each boule, and then invert the entire tin onto a flat baking sheet. Using a spatula, transfer the boules to serving plates. Surround with a generous serving of the Strawberry-Beaujolais Sauce and serve at once.

Makes 12 individual servings.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Here’s an easy dessert to whip together for the end of an early-summer simple Sunday supper. Serve it warm with some Häagen Dazs honey-vanilla ice cream on the side.

1 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 cup butter
3 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb
3 cups washed, hulled and halved strawberries
(if strawberries are small, leave whole)
1 to 1-1/3 cups sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg
1/4 cup milk

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. For topping: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
  3. For filling: In a saucepan combine the rhubarb, berries, sugar, cornstarch and 1/4 cup water. Let stand for 10 minutes, 20 minutes for frozen fruit. Cook and stir until filling is thickened and bubbly. Keep filling hot.
  4. In small bowl stir together egg and milk. Add to flour mixture, stirring just enough to moisten. 
  5. Pour filling into square 2-quart baking dish. Using spoon, drop topping into small mounds atop fruit filling, creating a “cobbled” appearance. Fruit will show through in areas. 
  6. Bake cobbler for 20-25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into topping comes out clean. Serve warm with ice cream.

Serves 6.