Thursday, June 05, 2003

It's recipe time:

Strawberry Orgasms with Maple Whipped Cream
1 quart strawberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
20 ml (1 tsp. plus 1 tbsp.) Balsamic vinegar
1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream
Vanilla sugar
Maple Syrup (if you don't know the difference between real and fake, stop now, and seek professional help)

Let's start with the strawberries. Get good ones. This is a very forgiving recipe, and can make even the worst California Strawberry™ taste great, but the better a berry you start with, the better this recipe will turn out. Once you've picked them out and brought them home, fill a bowl (or your sink) with cold water and dump them in. Dunk 'em, roll em, run more water in, and just generally do what you can to clean the strawberries of sand, debris, and other unmentionables. Quick now, while you're thinking about it, stick a good-sized bowl (about 3 quarts) in the fridge for the whipped cream.

Pick out a nice bowl that will fit in your fridge. I like glass myself because the strawberries take on a rich, dark red as they sit, and beauty is not to be wasted. Put the brown sugar in the bowl, and pour the Balsamic over it. (a note on Balsamic vinegar: I personally can't taste the difference between a $25 dollar bottle and a $250 bottle, but even a $10 bottle will taste wonderful and be a nice indulgence.) whisk it until it's nicely mixed. Rinse off your whisk and set it aside to dry; you'll need it in a bit.

Slice the now-clean strawberries into the bowl with the Balsamic mixture. You can slice 'em big or small, artsy or rustic, or you can just cut off the caps (the part with the leaves) and remove as much of that tasteless white junk as you can. Vinegar is an acid, and it will break down the fruit somewhat, so if you slice them too small, you'll just end up with mush. Similarly, if you just cap them, they'll have to marinate for half a day to really absorb the flavor of the syrup. The last time I made these, I sliced them about half an inch thick (roughly three pieces for an average sized strawberry) and let them sit for about three hours before eating.

Gently mix, coating as many of the strawberries as possible. Cover and refrigerate.

The cream. By now, that empty bowl in the fridge should be nice and cold. If not, you can chill a stainless steel bowl very quickly with ice water. A chilled bowl isn't a necessity, but it helps, trust me. Now, get out your jar of vanilla sugar.

What? You don't have vanilla sugar? Okay, well, we can work around it. But keep your eye out for a nice glass jar that closes airtight. Clean it thoroughly, let it dry, and then fill it with sugar, half brown and half white. Chunk up a couple of vanilla beans and add them to the mix. Stick it up on your shelf and let it sit for a couple of months. When the sugar starts to run low, just add more; the beans will hold onto their flavor for years.

So, if you've got vanilla sugar, throw a tablespoon or so into the bowl. If not, use a mixture of white and brown sugar, and add a half teaspoon of good vanilla. What? No good vanilla? I really can't help you, then. It's not about price, either. I've got a huge bottle of Mexican vanilla that I paid $5 for at Hen House. So no whining!

Drizzle about a teaspoon of real maple syrup over the sugar and mix it up a bit with the whisk, taking time to break up any chunks that may have formed in the vanilla sugar in its time in the jar. (I realize my measurements are not particularly exact, but whipping cream is an art, not a science. But it is an art informed by science. Anyway.)

Start whipping. With the whisk. I recognize the temptation to use an electric mixer, but whisking is just as fast, and gives you better control. Worried about technique? Don't. Just imagine you're reeling in a fish. Now do that motion with a whisk in your hand. See how quickly you can whip that bulb around? If you keep your bowl tilted about about a 45 degree angle in the crook of your left arm, you'll have a nice steady base, good contact of liquid to whisk bulb, and you'll be better equipped to stop whipping while you're still dealing with whipped cream, not whipped butter.

When the cream has about doubled in volume, check the flavor. If you're like me, it won't be quite sweet enough, so drizzle another teaspoon of maple syrup over the top, then start whipping again until it forms a soft peak. This means just what it sounds like. Ridges that form in the cream tend to stay, but everything is still malleable, rounded, and, yes, soft. Conventional wisdom is that whipped cream needs to be used right after it's made, and that's generally true. However, it will stay palatable for quite some time if you stick it in a strainer, then put the strainer over a bowl. And you'll want to cover it so that it doesn't pick up nasty flavors from the other stuff in your fridge.

Serving suggestion: Fill a wine glass to the 2/3 point with strawberries, making sure that the liquid comes at least to the halfway point. Top with a generous dollop of cream.

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