Strawberries these days can be a crap shoot – they look gorgeous and full of potential – only to deliver a watery mouthful that is anything but summery. It’s maddening, especially when I’ve invested a chunk of my hard-earned on the buggers. I like to eat them prepared simply – quartered, sprinkled with sugar and left to macerate. The essence seeps out of the strawberry and creates a succulent syrup around the fruit. Spooned onto crushed meringues and topped with thick cream or ice cream – and you’ve got the perfect Eton Mess. To my mind, England’s finest contribution to desserts.
But you need good strawbs for that. Which you only find out once you’ve paid a king’s ransom for them and taken them home. And then it’s too late. Because you aren’t going to drive back to where they came from to return them. (However you will berate the traffic light entrepreneur the next time you see him – and he will respond “Yissus merrem, I don’t make the blerrie things, hey, I yus’ sells them.”)
When that’s the case – then there is only one way to go – cooking them. Sounds completely counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Hannah and I made some strawberry preserve the other day – turning the $12 dollars worth of watery, unripe, tasteless berries into a delicious topping for cereal or ice-cream. But I didn’t fancy doing that with these babies. They looked the part but didn’t quite deliver in the taste department. So what to do? Well a couple of weeks ago I had dinner at my favourite McGregor restaurant, in celebration of Rob’s 70th birthday, and Karoux‘s Ryan had made Strawberry Crumble. And it was the kind of heaven you expect from a strawbug.
Nigella Lawson agreed, and the recipe below is hers. As she promises – this is the crumble of dreams. It is easy, easy, easy to prepare. The strawberries get focused and deliver, the almond, buttery crunchiness on the top provides them with a frame and the two together become an English summer on a plate. Serve with lashings of cream or ice-cream. And – a sip of honeyed liqueur or a flute of bubbles. And, voila – whatever the season you find yourself in, summer is here.
For the filling
500g/1lb 2oz strawberries, hulled
50g/2oz caster sugar
25g/1oz ground almonds
4 tsp vanilla extract
For the Fancy Crumble
110g/4oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g/3oz cold butter, diced
100g/3½oz flaked almonds (which I didn’t have so I substituted a mix of ground almonds and coconut)
75g/3oz demerara sugar (the tight packed brown one)
For an Old Fashioned Crumble
150g plain flour
85g demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F
2. Put the hulled strawberries into your pie dish (I use a round one) and sprinkle over the sugar, almonds and
vanilla extract. Give the dish a good shake or two to mix the ingredients.
Now for the crumble topping:
3. Put the flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl and rub in the cold, diced butter between thumb and fingers
(or in a freestanding mixer or food processor). When you’ve finished, it should resemble rough, pale oatmeal.
4. Stir in the flaked almonds and demerara sugar with a fork. Leave out the almonds if you are making the old fashioned.
5. Tip the topping over the strawberry filling, covering the strawberries in an even layer and pressing the
topping in a little at the edges of the dish.
7. Set the dish on a baking sheet (use something that cleans easy as the sauce will bubble over) and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, by which time the crumble topping will have darkened to a pale gold and some pink-red juices will be seeping and bubbling out at the edges. This timing is for a fan assisted oven … if yours isn’t – you may need a little longer. But you can easily judge by the colour of the crumble. Too blonde – not ready, too dark – get it out now.
8. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to collect around the strawberries and not ooze out when you try and serve. I learned this to my cost. Because I am impatient. Because it smelt so good.
My coconut/almond mix meant I didn’t get as much of a pastry-crumble as I would have liked – more of a crunchy granola vibe. But delicious nonetheless. Next time I am going to make a proper old fashioned version – just flour, sugar and butter. Oh, and by the way – like most great desserts, it was perfect for breakfast this morning with a cup of coffee.