Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. – Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
I really did not think that I would be making strawberry jam this early in the season. Strawberries had just begun making their appearance at the market, large, plump, lipstick red strawberries, and I usually follow the popular reasoning that early fruit, the first fruit, no matter how lovely, no matter the heady fragrance, is flavorless, hot house fruit that is costly and uninteresting. So I avoid it. I stopped by to see Christophe, my fruit guy (he is in my phone contact list as my fruit guy), as I always do each Thursday after picking up my fresh goat cheese for the hotel breakfast, to purchase oranges and avocados for eating, and, as I did last week, bananas that I had ordered to make another batch of jam.
“If you ever have crates of strawberries for jam at a good price, please let me know,” I told him. “Oh, I never will be able to get you good berries at a good price but check with my neighbor (pointing to another stall), she’s a local producer.” I sidled up to her stand which was covered with pint boxes of strawberries (three different varieties, none of which I dared judge) and told her what I was looking for. She pointed at a large crate sitting on the ground half pushed under her table. “Fraises pour confiture” it read, “strawberries for jam”. “3 kilos pour 10€”
And so, after having lugged my crate of bananas to the hotel, I scuttled back to the market to pick up three crates of strawberries. And spent an hour shoulder to shoulder with one of my receptionists cutting off the stems of 9 kilos of strawberries.
Three large plastic buckets, elbow to elbow, spent the night on one end of my kitchen table, fruit macerating for jam: banana mango, strawberry vanilla, and strawberry banana (as I hefted my crate of bananas off of Christophe’s stand, he tossed in a couple of extra bunches, maybe too ripe to sell. “A gift!” he shouted after me as I hobbled away.)
What little time and energy I have to cook or bake has been going into making jams for the hotel, jams I serve at breakfast every morning. Arriving in the middle of winter, of course I began with bitter and sweet orange marmalades and all of the variations I could squeeze in. As we slide slowly out of the bleak days of winter and into the subtle softness of spring, I walk home from the Thursday morning market laden down with crates of ripe bananas with which I made jars upon jars of banana rum raisin, banana vanilla ginger, and banana mango.
And now, with the summer sun splashing down into the hotel courtyard, the garden bursting with roses abloom (in strawberry milkshake pinks!), and strawberries appearing bright and sassy every Thursday, I shift gears and enter a new phase, a new season of jam making.
Strawberry with Elderberry Flowers, Strawberry with Acacia Flowers, Strawberry Vanilla (Fraise Bonbon), Strawberry Banana, Strawberry Jelly. Suggestions?
But strawberries are not only for jam, even as I am tied to my copper jam basin by my apron string. My friend Marge Perry of A Sweet and Savory Life recently shared a photo and a recipe for a luscious Strawberry Cheesecake Tart that has stirred up memories of my own favorite strawberry tart. And so I will share it with you once again, another recipe redux too good to be left behind (at the risk of being forgotten amid the dust) on the old blog.
This is one simple and sensational tart, redolent of summer and kissed with both the sweetness of fresh strawberries and the indulgence of chocolate. A blissful dessert of ethereal, luxurious whipped mascarpone cream atop a thin layer of chocolate – in using Lindt Mint Chocolate I added a delicate hint of mint – all topped with luscious, seasonal berries. Pretty, light and sweet, a truly exquisite treat for the halcyon days of summer.
- 1 pre-baked Sweet Pastry Crust of your choice
- 3.5 oz (100 g) semisweet chocolate (I use Lindt Menthe Intense Chocolate Noir 70%)
- About 3 or 4 cups strawberries (about 1 ½ - 2 lbs), fresh, seasonal & local when possible
- ½ cup (125 ml) heavy whipping cream, chilled
- ½ cup (125 g) mascarpone cheese, chilled
- 1 Tbs powdered/confectioner’s sugar
- Vanilla extract
- Powdered/confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Use either pâte brisée (short crust), pâte sablée (cookie crust) or pâte feuilletée (puff pastry) rolled out to line a 9-inch (24-cm) pie plate, trimmed and pre-baked. I used my favorite Sweet Pastry Crust (recipe found here) and although delicious, I do think that using a pâte sablée or a crust a bit more crumbly would have been perfect.
- Roll out the pastry and line a lightly buttered pie plate. Trim. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove the piecrust from the refrigerator, prick lightly all over with a fork and place a large piece of parchment paper in the crust and weigh it down with dried beans or pastry weights. Bake for 10 minutes and then carefully remove the pie plate from the oven to a cooling rack. Carefully lift off the parchment and the weights/beans and discard (saving the beans or weights for later use). Press down the crust if puffed up and return to the oven to bake for an additional 8 – 10 minutes or until golden and baked (if using a glass pie plate, carefully lift the plate to check the bottom of the crust; it should be evenly golden).
- Remove the piecrust from the oven and place on a cooling rack (turn off the oven as you will no longer need it).
- Melt the chocolate gently either in a microwave oven or over a pan of gently simmering water until smooth. Poor the warm/hot melted chocolate into the still-warm piecrust and, using the back of a soup spoon, spread evenly over the bottom. Allow to cool to room temperature; once cooled, place in the refrigerator to chill so the chocolate solidifies.
- Trim and remove the caps and slice evenly or you can simply trim the caps and leave whole as I did.
- Whip the heavy whipping cream until peaks hold, beating in the tablespoon of powdered sugar and a small drizzle (maybe about ⅛ teaspoon) of vanilla as you whip. Add the mascarpone and beat together just until light and fluffy.
- Once the tart shell and chocolate are just chilled and the chocolate set, simply spread the mascarpone whipped cream over the chocolate to fill the shell and top with the strawberries. Dust with the powdered sugar just before serving.