Baking with strawberries

While strawberries are the essence of summer, they are as fleeting as the season.

Once you buy strawberries, you must consume them in a couple of days or they turn from crisp, plump ruby berries to soft, withered, watery specimens.

But there are ways to prolong the lifespan of strawberries.

Before buying them, examine the strawberries to make sure none of them are moldy.

At home, let the strawberries breathe by removing them from their packaging. Cover a wide-bottom bowl with a paper towel and place a layer of strawberries on top. Add another paper towel and repeat with a second layer of strawberries. Do not pile up more than two layers.

Never rinse strawberries under water until right before using them. Like most fruit, they last longer in the refrigerator than at room temperature.

However, should your strawberries linger in the refrigerator until they soften (but are still viable and vibrant), baking them will extend their longevity. What could be better than strawberry pie, strawberry crisp or strawberry shortcake?

Inevitably, people will compliment these pink-tinted confections. But never admit that if you hadn’t turned those strawberries into pastry, they’d be too far gone by now.

Strawberry Kuchen
Dairy, serves 12

Kuchen is a traditional Jewish cake. It tastes best when made a day ahead.

Ingredients
Nonstick vegetable spray
2 extra-large eggs
Sugar (amount to be weighed soon)
Flour (amount to be weighed soon)
Butter (amount to be weighed soon)
¼ teaspoon vanilla
Grated rind of ¼ of a lemon
½ pound strawberries, rinsed under cold water and drained on paper towels
Optional accompaniment: whipped cream (recipe below)

Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-x-8-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

On a scale, weigh one egg. Remove the egg and reserve it. Spoon an equal weight of sugar onto the scale. Reserve it in a small bowl or cup. In the same manner, weigh out the flour and butter.

Wait for the butter to come to room temperature or microwave it for five seconds to soften. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add both eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition. Add the flour and beat again.

With a spatula, scrape down the bowl. Add the vanilla and lemon rind and mix until well combined. Move the batter to the prepared baking pan and spread evenly.

Hull the strawberries and slice them in half or quarters if very large. Arrange the slices on the batter, cut side down and rounded side up. Place the berry halves as close together as possible. Do not overlap.

Move to the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool to warm before serving or, better still, consume the next day.

Slice three across and four down to serve. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Farmhouse Strawberry Pie 
Dairy, serves 8

Ingredients
For the crust
Nonstick vegetable spray
1½ cups flour, plus 2 to 3 teaspoons for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1 stick sweet (unsalted) butter, cold and cut into 6 pieces
¼ cup ice water

For the filling
1 pound strawberries, rinsed under cold water and drained on paper towels
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, diced fine and then chopped very fine
⅓ cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 drops of vanilla
⅔ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 tablespoon sweet (unsalted) butter, cut into pea-sized pieces
Optional accompaniment: whipped cream (recipe below)

Directions
Make the crust

Coat a 9-inch shallow pie pan with nonstick spray. Reserve.

Fit a food processor with the sharp metal blade. Place 1½ cups flour and the sugar in the food processor bowl. Add the chunks of butter.

Cover and process for several seconds, until the flour is moistened by the butter. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the water through the feed tube. A clump of dough will form quickly. Within seconds, it will stick together. Stop the machine.

Dust a clean kitchen counter with two teaspoons of flour and spread it around evenly. Dust a rolling pin with flour, too. Remove the dough from the food processor and with your hands form it into a ball. Flatten it slightly forming a thick disk. Place the dough disk in the center of the counter dusted with flour.

Roll the dough into a 10½-inch circle, which may be scalloped at the edges. Lift the dough occasionally to make sure it’s not sticking to the counter. To prevent sticking, sprinkle more flour on the counter. If the dough tears, patch it together with your fingers.

Cover half of the dough circle with a piece of aluminum foil. Fold the other half of the circle over the foil. Lift the dough, foil and all, and drape it over half of the prepared pie pan. Open the dough over the remaining part of the pan. Discard the foil. With your fingers, push the dough into place. Let the extra 1½ inches of dough overhang the pie pan. Reserve.

Make the filling
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Hull and cut the strawberries ¼-inch slices. Place the strawberries in a bowl and add the ginger, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, lemon juice and vanilla. Gently mix together with a wooden or plastic spoon until well combined.

Spoon onto the dough. Spread evenly in the pie pan. Fold in the dough that overhangs the pie pan. Sprinkle the nuts over the strawberries. Dot the nuts with butter pieces.

Place in the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the strawberries bubble. Cool on a metal rack for 30 minutes before slicing.

Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Strawberry Crisp
Pareve or dairy

Ingredients
Nonstick vegetable spray
1½ pounds strawberries, rinsed under cold water and drained on paper towels.
⅓ cup sugar, plus ⅓ cup
⅛ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup flour, sifted
Dash of salt
4 tablespoons margarine, cold
½ cup uncooked oatmeal
Optional accompaniment: whipped cream (recipe below); or coconut or lemon sorbet

Directions
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-x-8-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

Hull the strawberries and slice them ¼-inch thick. Pile the slices onto a plate and reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, add ⅓ cup sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and lemon juice. Using an electric mixer, mix together on low speed until combined. Add the strawberries to the sugar-cardamom mixture. Stir with a wooden or plastic spoon until the strawberries are coated. Move the strawberries to the prepared pan and spread evenly.

In a medium-sized bowl, place ⅓ cup sugar, flour, salt, margarine and oatmeal. With your hands, blend the ingredients together. The consistency will be crumbly. Dot the top of the strawberries with this mixture as evenly as possible, but it’s impossible to be perfectly even.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until the strawberries soften and the topping is brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or sorbet, if desired.

Strawberry Shortcut Cake
Dairy, serves 8

Ingredients
1 pound strawberries, rinsed under cold water and drained on paper towels.
2¼ teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons water
1 pound cake, purchased at a bakery or supermarket
Whipped cream (recipe below)

Directions
Hull the strawberries and cut them into four to six wedges, depending on their size. Move them to a small- to medium-sized saucepan. Add the sugar and water. Cover the saucepan and heat on a medium flame until the mixture reaches a boil.

Immediately reduce the flame to low and simmer until the strawberries soften and the liquid is slightly syrupy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the flame and uncover the saucepan.

As the strawberries cool to warm, cut the pound cake into ½-inch slices. Arrange one slice of cake in the center of eight dessert plates.

Spoon some of the strawberry mixture over each slice of cake, including some syrup. Place a generous dollop of whipped cream (see below) over the strawberries. Serve immediately.

Whipped Cream
Dairy

Ingredients
½ pint of heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions
Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, beat on high speed until the mixture starts to thicken. From this point on, turn the beaters on and off, checking the mixture often.

Once firm peaks form when you lift the beater blades, the whipped cream is ready. Do not overbeat or you’ll make butter.

Linda Morel is a food writer in Philadelphia.

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