Thursday, July 9, 2009

Strawberry, Fool!

Probably the dish that epitomizes summer, to me, is a fool. No, I don't mean that kind of fool. Or even that kind. I mean something that just screams "summer", and that's perfect for anyone, anytime, anywhere. It's decadent, sweet, and basically the most wonderful thing ever invented.

Before you ask, I have no idea why it's called a fool. Until very recently, and due mostly to my sub-par, cereal-box/core French (all you Canadians know what I'm talkin' 'bout), I was convinced it was "foule", i.e. "crowd", maybe because of the "crowd" of fruit in it? Well, now that I now the real name, I have more questions than answers, but don't worry, that doesn't detract from my enjoyment of it.


So. Now that you're salivating (I hope), I'm going to make you promise me something before I give you the secret recipe. You must never ever ever under ANY circumstances make this in winter, with those horrible "berries" that cost $6/100g and taste like sawdust. You can ONLY make this when berries are in season in your area, and you have to buy them as local as possible. Ideally from your very own back yard, picked right before you make this. Because really, summer is all about freshness and the beauty of growing things, and fruit that travelled thousands of kilometers to get to your grocery store and doesn't really bear any resemblance to berries fresh off the bush is kind of anathema to that.

Fools can be made with pretty much any kind of soft fruit, like rhubarb, plums, gooseberries, currants, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries... You can also mix and match to suit availability. I prefer fresh berries, either solo or in combination, but I won't say no to fool in any guise. This recipe is for strawberry fool, but it's pretty much the same no matter what kind of fruit you choose. I should quickly note, though, that if you're not using berries or something else really soft and juicy (like extra-ripe peaches or plums), it might be worth it to cut the fruit up bite-size and simmer it with sugar and just a little bit of water. This will soften the fruit and get the juices going, and is especially important with rhubarb. (You should use a lot of sugar with rhubarb.)

I should note, however, that wherever your berries come from, they should be room temperature, to maximize flavour. The cream, on the other hand, should be really cold (not frozen), because it will whip a lot better. SO. The recipe:

Strawberry Fool
Ripe strawberries (it doesn't really matter how many, as long as the amount of cream you whip can contain them), with a few reserved
Whipped cream* (an amount corresponding to how many strawberries you have)
Sugar, to taste
  • In a medium-sized bowl, mash the strawberries with a fork. You want them kind of chunky, but so that you really have whole strawberry pieces. But I guess it's kind of a matter of personal taste...
  • Drain as much of the juice as possible into another dish. You can always add it back in if you want, but it tends to make everything watery and slightly less than perfect.
  • Add the whipped cream to the bowl and GENTLY fold until combined. If you're too rough with it, the cream will either collapse or (if you're really rough) turn to strawberry butter (which is a post for another day).
  • Give it a taste, and if you think it needs more sugar, add it now, then mix it in (gently)
  • Drink the strawberry juice, because it is just too delicious to waste, and if you do it now, then no one will know they didn't get any.
  • Dish it out and put a couple of the reserved strawberries on top of each helping.
  • DON'T EAT IT ALL YOURSELF! Even though you want to. It's soooo much better when you share it with friends.
*Whipped cream. I know some of you think it comes out of a can. Well I would just like to tell you right now that the stuff in the can is "edible oil product", meaning it has no idea what a cow even looks like, much less spent part of its existence in one. Besides, whipping cream is probably one of the easiest, chefiest things you can do. The only hard part is knowing when to stop. So I'm going to tell you how to do it, old school: no edible oil products involved.
Whipping cream (also called double cream, 36% m.f.), really cold
Sugar (optional)
Vanilla extract (optional)
  • Put the cream into a bowl (pre-chilled, if you like)
  • Using a whisk, two forks, an electric mixer (with whisk attachments) or a stand mixer (ditto), whip the cream. It will get frothy, then gradually stiffen until it will stand up in peaks if you take the whisk out (turn the mixer off first!).
  • STOP. Immediately. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. If you whip it too much, it will turn into butter, and this happens very quickly and with very little warning. It's better to have cream that is slightly less stiff than to have butter.
  • It is delicious as is, but if you like you can add a bit of sugar and/or a few drops of vanilla extract. Mix it in with the whisk.
So there you go, two recipes for the price of one. And, for a limited time only, I will throw in a free TIP: if you happen to splash/drop strawberry (or any other fruit juice) on your clothes, immediately remove the affected item and pour hot (preferably boiling) water on to it from a height. This is probably best done in a sink or bathtub (not over your little brother), and be careful not to splash yourself. The stain should come out before your very eyes.