Archive for June, 2007

Farmers Market Finale #2; black and blue compote

Monday, June 25th, 2007

I was leery last week, as I began a my farmers market finales. I worried that my upcoming travels would make a false start of the new series. However, as quickly as I gathered worries, they were dismissed by the prospect of creating market desserts from east coast markets. My first stop on this trip was a short stay with my Aunt and Uncle in New Jersey, who assured me there was a near by farmers market. It didn’t take much arm twisting to get a ride down, just a promise of dessert. The timing couldn’t have been better, as we were expected at my cousins house for a family barbecue that evening.

We arrived at the Trenton Farmers Market early, just as the vendors were settling in for the day. A year round affair housed in a permanent structure, we found over a third of the stalls vacant, waiting for times of greater abundance. I was told in New Jersey, abundance means corn and tomatoes, of which we saw none yet.

We did find something for dessert quickly, at a table covered in stacked pints of blueberries. I started to collect a few pints to purchase, when my Uncle and I began to wonder why the blueberries we had were costlier than the same boxes on the opposite side of the table. We were told that while they looked the same, they were very different berries. Upon tasting we were quite surprised to find such a difference in flavor between the two. The berries I had initially reached for were of the “Duke” variety, large and sweet but light in flavor, and the pricier of the two. The second variety was smaller, but packed quite a punch of flavor with much more acidity and blueberry notes. “Weymouth” they were called, and we settled on them as we were going to do more than eat the berries out of hand.

We strolled back through the market, making our way to Halo Farms, the dairy next door. We made it to the end of the market before I was detoured by baskets of black raspberries. A deep, musky variety of raspberry, I had my first taste of black raspberries last year in a pie made by Amy McCray, a native to Ohio, a state she describes as over grown by “real” raspberries. It was love at first bite, and I snatch the berries every chance I have, which is rarely in Seattle.

The plan was now forming in my head, and by the time my hands reached for the door to the dairy, it was settled. I would make a compote using a method from Claudia Flemming’s book The Last Course. The black raspberries and half the blueberries would be cooked with sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. When they bubbled thick and glossy, they would be pureed and strained of the black raspberries overwhelming amount of seeds, and folded with the remaining fresh blueberries. Alas, a compote featuring the dual flavor of blueberries, cooked and fresh, and deepened with the musky flavor of black raspberries. This compote can be made with just the blueberries and will be equally delicious. I added the black raspberries last minute, letting the “in the moment” quality of the market guide my decisions.

To serve the berries we needed a little more than spoons. For my Aunt Joanne, we purchased a container of Halo Farms vanilla ice cream, a simple foil for the compote that takes no extra preparation on the part of the cook. But just for fun, and to use another ingredient you might find at your own local farmers market, I make a Yogurt Mousse.

The mousse is sweetened with white chocolate rather than sugar. This addition adds a depth to the mousse sugar wouldn’t, along with a subtle richness to counter fresh yogurts tang. When serving this mousse at Eva, I never added white chocolate in the title of the dish, as the cloyingly sweet confection often takes a bad rap. Many white chocolate desserts are so sweet, people eschew them upon any mention of the ingredients addition.   The white chocolate is tamed by the yogurt in such a pleasant manner that it will often go undetected if left unmentioned, and its role in the dessert is as a sweetener, not a costar. If your local farmers market sells fresh yogurt, this recipe is a beautiful way to use it, even if it’s made from goats milk!

You’ll see in the slide show my sous chef for the day, my little cousin Devon. She helped me stir, taste, and did a knock out job separating the blueberries into two piles. One for the dessert, and one for her to eat!

BLACK AND BLUE COMPOTE

4 pints blueberries

2 pints black raspberries

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Wash the berries, reserving half the blueberries for later. Place the remaining berries in a medium sized sauce pan with the sugar and cinnamon, and stir to distribute the sugar.

2. Cook the berries over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the berries begin to release their juices and you have a runny consistency, 5 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for about 10 minutes more, until the juice bubbles thick and becomes glossy. Remove the compote from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. When the mixture has cooled, transfer it in the cup of a blender. Process the compote for 1 minute, and strain through a fine mesh strainer.

4. Add to the pureed compote the berries withheld in the first step and stir to coat.

5. Serve over ice cream, or the recipe for yogurt mousse that follows.

YOGURT MOUSSE

2 tsp gelatin

2 tbsp water

8 oz white chocolate

2 cups yogurt, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups cream

1. Bloom the gelatin. Place the cold water in a small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin over the water evenly. Set this aside while preparing the next steps.

2. Prepare the cream for whipping later. Place the cream inside the bowl you are planning on whipping it in, and place that bowl and the whisk you plan to use inside the refrigerator. Making sure the cream, and the equipment used to whip it are super cold makes a denser whip cream that can add more structure to your final mousse.

3. Melt the white chocolate over a double boiler. This step is done by chopping the white chocolate into small pieces, and placing them in a large stainless steel or glass bowl. The bowl should fit over the top of a wide mouthed pot, which you will fill with 2 inches of water and bring to a low simmer. The steam from the simmering water will slowly melt the white chocolate in the bowl set over the top of the pot. It is always important when melting chocolate over a double boiler that the water does not boil, but it is partularly important with white chocolate. White chocolate is very high in cocoa butter, which will burn quickly even from the steam of boiling water. If the water boils, remove the bowl and let the water cool down a bit, then return it over a low simmer and continue melting.

5. Soften the yogurt. Transfer the yogurt from their containers to a bowl and soften the yogurt with a spatula, smoothing out any lumps. When the white chocolate has melted, stir the yogurt into the white chocolate until combined smoothly and evenly. Set this bowl aside.

6. Melt the gelatin. By this time, the gelatin granules should have absorbed all the water you added them to. They will look translucent and, well, gelatinous. To melt the gelatin, transfer it to a small saucepan, and place it over very low heat. The gelatin should begin to melt very quickly. Attend to it until it is melted, stirring to encourage the process. Gelatin will burn very easily, so watch this step carefully. It won’t take long, so your watchful eye will be gratified quickly. When the gelatin is melted, add it to the white chocolate yogurt mixture and stir it to combine evenly.

7. Cool the the yogurt mixture in an ice bath. This step brings the temperature of your white chocolate yogurt mixture down, allowing the gelatin to begin to set, and the white chocolate to thicken. Take two nesting bowls, filling the larger with ice and water, and the smaller with the yogurt mixture. Place the yogurt filled bowl into the ice water, making sure the water level is not so high it comes over the sides of the yogurt filled bowl. Stir the mixture unitl it resembles the texture of softly whipped cream. This is done because you want it to be of a similar texture to the whipped cream you are about to fold in. Set this mixture aside.

8. Whip the cream to soft peaks. Remove your whipped cream from the refrigerator and whip slowly to soft peaks. This can be done by hand or with an electrical mixer. If done by hand, the naturally slow incorporation of air gives the cream a thicker, denser texture that is desirable. If the cream is whipped with a machine, don’t turn the speed up past a medium setting. You want to add the air bubbles slowly so your cream has more structure to add to the mousse.

9. Fold the cream into the thickened yogurt mixture in 3 batches. Begin by folding 1/3 of the cream into the yogurt mixture carefully, with a large flat spatula. Repeat this step with the remaining whipped cream in 2 more additions.

10. Transfer the mousse. Spoon the mousse into individual serving dishes and chill for at least 3 hours.

Big Clean

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

 

From time to time, I am asked for advice. Mostly about food, sometimes about cookbooks, and quite often for restaurant recommendations, but every once in a while, I get this reoccurring line of questioning; “My son/daughter wants to go to culinary school! What kind of advice can you give us?”

Along with information about various schools and stuff like how to gain experience before getting there, I offer this piece of advice. Have them clean the kitchen at night for a month strait. No days off, no watching TV before, or taking a phone call. Have them clean the dishes, wash the counters, sweep the floor, take the towels to the laundry.

Make them this deal. If they can commit to one month of cleaning your kitchen, then you’ll consider helping to pay the steep tuition at one of the nations many expensive private culinary schools. Be it the fault of the Food Network, or the rise of celebrity chefs, teens are choosing culinary school more and more. Culinary school is an expensive choice, and to ensure your child is aware, put them to work cleaning.

I say this in particular, because cleaning is something young cooks must get used to doing. Every kitchen needs to be cleaned down every night. Not just a once over with a rag, but the kind of clean I do in my house every couple of months. The stove is scrubbed, burners removed and cleaned thoroughly. The grill and flat top cooking surfaces need to be scoured. The fridges are cleaned out, washed down, and everything being kept for the next day is changed into a new container and wrapped, labeled, and dated. The floors are swept, scrubbed and mopped.

You don’t leave until this is done. Every single night. No matter how long it takes you to get home, how early you get there, or how much cleaning you did the night before, you stay until the kitchen is clean.

On a slower night, you’ll take on bigger cleaning projects, the kind saved for rainy days. Cleaning hard to reach places like shelves, detailing small appliances, and getting behind the larger appliances. At the Fat Duck, a crew of 4 would come in early each Sunday and gut the walk in. Every thing was transferred out, the shelves were carried outside to be hosed down and scrubbed, and the walk in refrigerator itself was scrubbed until it shined.

At The Rainier Club, we are in the midst of the ultimate clean smack down. Everything, and I mean every thing is going to be cleaned, inside and out. The pressure washer has been manned by a rotating team of cooks, covered like California Raisins in heavy duty garbage sacks. They are tackling everything from cleaning the entire second floor full of walk-in refrigerators and freezers, to washing the racks, shelves, and bins that we store everything on.

In the pastry department, we have entirely deconstructed the space. Everything was taken off the shelves, and the shelves were taken from the walls to be scrubbed. The bare walls were then scoured with soap and water, and a lot of elbow grease until they shined. Inventory was reorganized and reassessed before being placed back on the squeaky clean shelves. The refrigerators were removed and cleaned back to front, inside to outside, the freezer defrosted. Every appliance was detailed with tiny brushes and toothpicks.

The entire kitchen has been taking on similar cleaning projects in preparation for our summer closure. Like most European restaurants, The Rainier Club kitchen is closed twice a year for two week intervals. This time without diners is used to clean every last inch of space. This practice is common in culinary school, where each kitchen is gutted and cleaned at the end of each term. Your future top chef will find immediately that cooking and cleaning don’t exist separately. If you want to be a cook you have to clean hard and constantly. Thus my advice. Have your child commit to cleaning your tiny kitchen before you commit to cleaning out your savings on the high priced tuition most schools charge.

Now that we have cleaned the kitchen top to bottom, inside and out, the staff is free to do what they will with two weeks. Some stick around and help with maintenance projects, others take vacations. I am using this time to stage. According to Luisa at Moveable Feast, a stage is a professional courtesy. An internship meant for cooks well into their professional career, they take what ever time they can and trade their skilled labor for the chance to see an amazing chef’s style. It’s a way to grow in your career, expand your level of exposure, and keep current with what others who may be leading the industry are doing. I filled an extensive stage two and a half years ago at a restaurant in Bray, England called The Fat Duck, working 16 hours a day, for two months.

This time around, I am traveling to Manhattan, to fill a two week stage with Alex Stupack, the pastry chef at WD-50. A restaurant that is setting the bar for creativity, I am thrilled to expose myself to all that this amazing restaurant has to offer. Provided the restaurant doesn’t mind, and I have reasonable Internet access, I’ll keep you posted. My own blogging began with my last stage, as a way to share my experience with my family and friends. Before I knew it the London Guardian was publishing parts of it, and my cover was blown. Not that I was hiding anything, I just didn’t know anyone but my then boyfriend (now husband) and mom were reading it! It was a bit of a surprise when I had to tell that I had been splashing an insiders view of his restaurant across the Internet and they were publishing it in London’s largest newspaper the next day. Heston reacted simply by walking up to me with a smirk and saying, “I read your diary!” If you are interested in reading a bit of the Fat Duck writings, begin on this page in the archives of my old blog Phatduck, and scroll down.

Lavender Shortcakes with Strawberries and Honey Cream

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

This is the first installation in my Farmers Market Finales, a series meant to capture the impromptu nature of the farmers market. This dessert features strawberries, and partners it with musky lavender and sweet blackberry honey.

While I did see a few different stone fruits at the market, our local strawberries have just started to arrive. Because their season will end long before cherries and apricots, I chose a basket of tiny ultra sweet strawberries from a nameless booth. It could have been children picking out of their back yard, who knows, but these berries were so sweet I’d buy them off the side of the road.

Strawberry shortcake seems a bit cliche, I know. But by adding lavendar and honey to the dish, we are making it a bit more elegant and using two more wonderful offering from the market. Fresh lavender was stripped form the stem and folded into the shortcake. By using honey rather than the usual granulated sugar in both the shortcake and the whipped cream we add a depth of sweetness to this dish.

When choosing a market honey, I look for the darkest honey possible. The darker honey was gathered from plants that take more mineral from the soil, not only making them more beneficial to our bodies, but much deeper in flavor. My favorite Seattle honey is from the Tahuya River Apiaries, an area on the Olympic Peninsula. Their honey has a deep wild quality that I have found unmatched in this area.

The scone recipe I chose is super simple, using a healty dose of cream mixed with our honey to sweeten. The “dump and mix” method used to mix this dough is as easy as it sounds. The dry ingredients are placed in a mixing bowl and whisked together to thoroughly distribute the ingredients. The cream, honey, and a little vanilla are mixed in a second vessel, then poured into a well in the center of the dry ingredients. To mix, you need to use your hand. When I teach this method in classes, I have the entire class make their bear claws, and growl. It works better if you growl, I think.

The bear claw is pushed into the liquid and dry ingredients until your fingers touch the bottom of the bowl. Then with strong circular motions, mix the wet and dry ingredients together in 10 strokes or less. To avoid over working this dough, you want to mix as quickly as possible. Once the batter has formed a sticky mass, you are ready to bake.

To make things even simpler, to shape the shortcakes I pinched off the dough into round lumps, dividing the dough into 12 pieces. This dough is a bit too sticky to roll and stamp, but just right to use your fingers to portion the cakes. If you want your cakes to look a bit more uniform (I know you are out there) try using a round portion scoop, sometimes labled cookie scoops or ice cream scoops with the ejection button. Fianally, the cakes are brushed with a little melted butter before being baked for added richness.

The strawberries were split in half and tossed with a little granulated sugar. A hint of sugar brings out strawberries flavor and makes them glossy and pretty, but feel free to leave them as they come if you like.

The honey cream is simply whipped cream sweetened with honey rather than sugar. I recommend mixing the honey and cream, then chilling it, if you have the time. You will have a denser whipped cream if this is done. Using a light honey is fine for this, but the flavor of a darker honey will really come through nicely. The light honey I used was faint, and a little hard to detect. Although, my eaters had no problems cleaning their bowls. If anything, using a light honey will still taste like sweet whipped cream!

The start to finish time was under an hour, and a minimal amount of equipment is needed, making this ellegant twist on the classic strawberry shortcake appropriate for almost every kitchen.

Lavender Shortcakes

Serves 6

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
The buds stripped from 8 lavender stems
1 1/4 cups cream, cold
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

approximately 2 tbsp melted butter

1. In a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients, place the flour, baking powder, salt, and lavender buds. Using a whisk, mix the dry ingredients until they are thoroughly combined. Using your hand, create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and set aside.

2. In a seperate vessel, place the cream, honey, and vanilla extract. Using a fork or small whisk, mix the wet ingredients until the honey has completely mixed in with the cream.

3. Pour the wet ingredients into the well in the center of the dry ingredients. With your hand formed like a bear claw, push it into the mixture all the way to the bottom. Your fingers should be touching the bowl. Using strong, confident strokes, mix until a sticky dough forms. Scrape the dough from your hand and add it back to the dough in the bowl.

4. Using your fingers, pinch off pieces of dough just a bit bigger than a golf ball. Place them on a sheet pan, preferable lined with parchment. Brush the tops with the melted butter, and bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. When done, the tops of the shortcakes will be golden, and the center will be set. To check, give the shortcakes a little squeeze. If they give as though the center is unbaked, then return them to the oven. If you are still uncertain, do as I sometimes do and break one open.

Honey Cream

1 cup cream, cold
1/4 cup honey

1. In a bowl, whisk the honey and cream until peaks form.

To assemble the shortcakes

Place 2 shortcakes in a medium sized dish. Cover with sliced strawberries, and add a dollop of honey cream. Enjoy the assembled dessert right away, or store the components separately for a day.

Introducing Farmers Market Finales

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Working at The Rainier Club has it’s perks for sure, but there are a lot of things I miss about Eva. I miss my daily chats with Amy, a chef who felt more like a friend than a boss, walking the 6 blocks to work every day, and my menu. Amy not only hired me as Eva’s pastry chef, but she turned over the entire dessert menu to me, no questions asked. I was not only free to make what ever I wanted, but encouraged to fully express myself. Not often does a chef/owner submit full control of a part of the restaurant to another, and I was lucky to have that kind of creative freedom.

What I especially miss about Eva is the Market Menu. Every weekend, Amy (and sometimes myself) would visit the University District Farmers Market and select various products. Upon return to the restaurant we would put together a 3 course menu featuring the markets highlights, my contribution being dessert of course. The dishes had a very rustic, of the moment feel, as they were created on the spot gathering inspiration from what we found.

I miss this part of Eva so much, I have decided to resurrect it in a way. I am bringing to you a series of instalments called “Farmers Market Finales.” I will visit the University market in the morning on Saturdays, gather what I can find, and present to you a sweet creation. The focus will be on recipes simple and humble enough to be taken from market to table within just a few hours. They will reflect the easy nature of the weekend farmers market, and hopefully give you inspiration and reason to patronize your own farmers markets. And if you are already a Farmers Market regular, perhaps it will give you an excuse to pick up a few new things, or justify that flat of strawberries you just couldn’t resist!

Instalments will begin shortly, as I have just returned from my trip to the market. Now I need to get on the phone and find some eaters!

A Short Rant on Kitchen Ethics

Monday, June 11th, 2007

The differences between the restaurant industry and most 9 to 5 jobs people hold are obvious.  Begin with the simple fact that we work when most people play, nights, weekends, and holidays.  Add to that the type of person attracted to working opposite the rest of society, in harsh physical conditions where the stress and urgency of a deadline hangs over your head every 5 minutes.  To describe the restaurant industry with the phrase “counter culture” would not be a stretch.

Working in restaurants all my adult life, I am accustomed to industry standards I know go against everything you are taught about jobs.  For example, padding your resume with wordy descriptions of previous positions may push your resume to the top of the pile from 9 to 5, but it is a sure way to loose your chance at a restaurant interview.  There is no way to make a “pantry” position (the entry level position into a kitchen where one plates cold food like salads, and often desserts) more than it is.  Fluffing that up to sound like more than the entry level position it is, and the chef will see through it, knowing exactly what your position truly was, and reject you for not being strait-forward.  Worse, say your deceptive words do land you a job you are not quite qualified for.  Just one day in the new position will show exactly where your skills stop, and you will look like a fool.

I have let friends who hold office jobs look over my resume, and they always make the same comments and changes, using words to glamorize what it was that I did.  One friend, upon knowing I produced and plated the desserts at Lampreia, insisted I use the title “pastry manager.”  I can only imagine laughter when the chef I (hypothetically) handed that resume to a chef I was hoping to work for.

In our industry, you call it like it is, because the true interview is physical and you are given the job providing you can back everything you claimed to be with performance.   Overstating your experience will leave you hanging in the kitchen, and most likely without a job.  Admitting less experience but performing to everything you promise shows honesty, integrity, and the ability to grow in a kitchen.

Say you are interviewing for the meat/grill station at a new restaurant, and while you have cooked on the saute line for 2 years, you have only had a few days experience on the meat/grill station.  If you claim to have worked the line on the meat station, you will be placed on the meat station with every cook watching you, gauging your performance, measuring you by every mistake.  These mistakes will quickly add up and your lack of experience will be taken for lack of skill and talent.  If you claim to have had a few days working on the meat station, but are looking to learn that station next, then your first day will most likely be viewed differently, often with a few tips shared from other cooks who have held the position before, and a more forgiving judgement will be placed on you.

A local Seattle Pastry Chef’s bio often includes a story about lying her way into a kitchen job at a French ski resort to extend her vacation.  It makes good press, and sounds romantic, but the second part of the story the press often excludes is the first day, when it was clear she didn’t possess the skills she had claimed, the chef confronted her quickly about it.  Luckily, rather than loosing a job altogether, she was demoted to the dish pit.  I emphasize luckily, because most chef’s wouldn’t offer second chances like that.

No matter how much experience you have, if you are working for another chef you need to posses the capability to learn their cuisine and grow in their kitchen.  If you can’t own up to the amount of growth you need in your resume, then how can they trust you to grow and assume their style of cuisine?  It sounds selfish and egotistical, but in the end you are in the kitchen for one main reason, to help said chef make their statement, their way.  In trade you earn a paycheck, expose yourself to a different style of cooking, and earn skills that you want and need to continue your career.  Eventually it will be your turn to set the kitchens terms, decide the details, and call in the karma of your own years submitting to another chef’s will.

One of the first lessons on kitchen ethics I learned was never be afraid of what you don’t know, and never hide it.  Chef Carsberg told me that if you hide from what you don’t know, then you will never get the opportunity to truly learn it.

Being in the restaurant industry, you will have the chance to repeat the interview process many times.  Unlike other industries, high turnover is the norm.  Two years in one place is a long term commitment by a cook.  It is in every cooks best interest to bounce around while they are young, flexible, healthy, and poor, and expose themselves to as many different styles of cooking as possible.  When it comes time for you to be the manager and creator, the broader a base of experience you have to draw from the stronger you will be.

Once you begin to seek management positions, you are looking at long term commitments.  Until then cooks, go sow your wild oats, bounce around, take unpaid internships in far off places sleeping on couches and living off staff dinners, and be honest with yourself about how much more you need (and get) to grow.

Street Food, New York, New York

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

My love of street food is no secret. I sometimes feel that many chefs who run entire restaurants should spend time manning a street food cart so they can understand freshness, flavor, and most of all focus. Of course, for most people, living in the United States means (to borrow a phrase) no street food for you. In Seattle there’s a hot dog/polish sausage cart near one of the movie theaters downtown. And that’s pretty much it. (As with many food-related quests) when it comes to street food in the United States, Manhattan is pretty much your only real choice.

The choices have gotten more and more ethnic over the years. But given the melting pot nature of the United States everything ultimately originates from somewhere else. The basics are well represented – pretzels, soft ice cream, etc. And luckily so is grilled meat on a stick. Frankly I don’t think a city is a real place unless you are always five minutes from grilled meat on a stick. And in general the meat you’re eating is juicy, seasoned nicely, and has just enough charring so that you get that nice grilled essence as you tear off a hunk of flesh with your teeth. Mmmmmmm, carnivorous.

The street fairs on weekends are also excellent sources of street food. baklavah, enormous sausages, griddle cakes, arepas, and falafel to name a few. The challenge is really not to eat too much so you can try everything. Or you could just move to New York City and not worry about only having access to this cornucopia a couple of times a year.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive survey, you can’t talk about street food in New York without mentioning pizza. Now it’s true that pizza is not offered in the actual street. But I still consider it “street food”. Here’s why: 1) it’s available on almost every street corner, 2) it’s available from many many multiples of vendors, 3) there’s an agreed upon format for the offering. And of course, the pizza on your average New York street corner is better than the best pizza in most other American (and non US) cities combined. It’s cheap, it’s good, it’s available everywhere from everyone. That’s street food to me.

Note to mayors of cities other than New York in the United States. It’s time to invest in a real street food culture in your city. And I don’t mean the clean manufactured “street food” in your waterfront tourist trap. I mean carts and stalls that locals eat from. It makes a city a place you want to live.

Strawberry Buttermilk Pie

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

I spent a bit of time in the bay area in the middle of April, and was treated to strawberries. Not the kind of California berries we think of up here in Seattle. Not those hard puckery strawberries white in the middle from being shipped half ripe. No, these were the beginning of the local soft varietal that ripens in the sun and is too soft to ship. Two weeks ago I was visiting Russell’s family on the east side of the Willamette valley in Oregon, and was again treated to the first of the season local berries. Being just 5 hours north, Seattle will be expecting the first of the ripe local strawberries, slowly crawling their way north, within the next two weeks.

To welcome the berries this far north, I have been working on a recipe for a Strawberry Buttermilk Pie. I tested it on the Oregon berries two weeks ago, the results so delicious it is making the weeks until our own berries ripen seem like months.

You’ll need a baked pie crust to fill. I’d give you a recipe, but to be quite honest, it’s not the recipe that makes a pie crust, rather your handling of it. Any crust you are comfortable making will do. If pie crust isn’t your thing, then simply fill pretty little dishes and serve it sans crust, perhaps with a little shortbread cookie on the side.

The recipe calls for gelatin, which is simple enough. The only crucial part to making the texture of this pie light is the temperature at which you fold the cream into the strawberry buttermilk base. The gelatin must be close to setting which makes the strawberry base thicker, or the whipped cream will loose volume when folded in, seeming to melt. To help I keep the strawberry and buttermilk in the refrigerator, well chilled, while I am preparing the rest of the recipe. When it comes time to add the gelatin, the cold temperature of the strawberries and buttermilk begin to set the gelatin with in just a few minutes. It seems tedious, but other than this critical step, this recipe is easy as, well, pie!

Strawberry Buttermilk Pie

1 prebaked pie shell, able to hold 5 cups of filling

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup strawberry puree, strained of seeds

1/2 cup cream

zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp gelatin

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 cups cream, whipped to soft peaks

1. Whisk together the strawberry puree and buttermilk and keep cold in the refrigerator.

2. Place the water in a small saucepan (I use my stainless steel 1 cup measuring cup) and sprinkle the gelatin over. Let the gelatin sit to absorb the water, or “bloom”.

3. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, lemon zest, and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to distribute the sugar, then remove from heat. Over low heat, carefully melt the bloomed gelatin until it is completely liquid. Add the melted gelatin to the lemon cream, and strain. Let the mixture cool to room temperature on the counter for about an hour.

4. When the lemon cream has come down in temperature, whisk it into the strawberry buttermilk. Let the mixture sit for a minute or two, stirring to check the density of the buttermilk base. When it starts to thicken, much like a custard would, then it is time to fold in your whipped cream. If it is not thickening, place it in the refrigerator until you see it starting to thicken.

5. Take one third of your soft peak whipped cream, and fold it into the strawberry buttermilk, your main concern being to incorporate the two. Working in two more additions, carefully this time, fold in the whipped cream preserving volume and texture.

6. When the whipped cream is incorporated, transfer the strawberry buttermilk filling to the prebake pie shell or desired dishes. Let this set for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

I suggest serving this with sliced fresh strawberries and whipped creme fraiche.