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Published: 6/3/2008

Strawberries: Use fresh seasonal fruit for delicious economical desserts

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

As the California strawberry season peaks and the Ohio strawberry season begins, you just can t get enough strawberries. Deep red, juicy strawberries bring so much flavor to the table whether it s strawberry shortcake or strawberry pie.

This is the year I ve been trying new recipes among them classics with a retro twist as well a contemporary recipe with a new take. All are economical to prepare.

I ve wanted to make the recipe for Strawberry Chiffon Pie from Wayne Brachman s Retro Desserts: Totally Hip, Updated Classics ($30) for several years. I could visualize the dessert and taste it based on childhood food memories.

That heavenly fluff of foamy strawberry that just melted in your mouth was a standard Friday night dessert at a local suburban Detroit restaurant, now long gone.

Trying to recreate my past food experience, I made the dessert and discovered the amount of work and the number of dishes involved in a chiffon pie. Was it worth it? You bet it was.

But I also discovered that a Strawberry Bavarian Pie takes half the time and has just as good flavor.

Here s what I did.

Chiffon is an airy, fluffy mixture that is usually a filling for a pie. The lightness comes from stiffly beaten egg white and gelatin.

Chiffon can be any flavor from strawberry, lemon, lime, orange, or raspberry.

Strawberry Chiffon Pie was a four step process. I had to dissolve the gelatin. Then I used the food processor to puree the strawberries; the mixing bowl to whip the cream, and my whisk and then hand-held mixer to cook and whip the egg whites. Not only did it take time, it also involved a lot of dishes and equipment to clean.

Yes, chiffon pies are a thing of the past, not only because of the extra steps required but also because of concern about using uncooked egg white. Chiffon pies have become a more difficult process ever since the concern of salmonella from contaminated eggs.

The American Egg Board does not recommend using any raw eggs in recipes. Cooking egg whites before use in all recipes is recommended for full safety according to their website www.incredibleegg.org/egg_facts_handling9.html.

Thus, one of the few deviations in a retro recipe is to use cooked eggs (don t overcook) rather than raw whenever possible to eliminate any salmonella from a contaminated egg.

The Strawberry Chiffon Pie recipe used four large egg whites mixed with salt, cream of tartar, and cup sugar in a dry bowl set over a pan of slowly boiling water. I whisked it about 2 minutes until very hot (160 degrees) - use a thermometer. (Don t overcook or the egg whites coagulate.) Then the bowl was removed from the heat and I switched to an electric mixer until the egg whites held soft peaks, about 2 minutes.

According to Elisa Maloberti of the American Egg Board, it is also recommended to use 1 teaspoon of water per egg as you cook the white over the double boiler, which helps to keep the cooked egg white moist when whipped.

The AEB advises placing the egg white(s), sugar (2 tablespoons sugar per each white), cream of tartar (18 teaspoon per white) and water (1 teaspoon per white) in the saucepan or top of a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over water in a saucepan and beating it over low heat until it reaches 160 degrees; then pour the cooked egg white in a large bowl and beat egg whites on high until they stand in soft peaks. Proceed with the recipe.

Note that if you uses pasteurized eggs, separating the white from the egg yolk, you do not have to heat the egg white for the chiffon pie. Egg products (both whole egg and egg whites) which have been pasteurized may not whip up as well as the regular pasteurized egg although some cooks have better luck with this than others.

A newer version of a chiffon pie may be the cream pie, which is much faster and easier than the chiffon pie to make.

Using the Bavarian Berry Cream recipe from 75th anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker, I prepared Strawberry Bavarian Pie. Instead of pureeing the berries, mash them. Whip the heavy cream and chill the gelatin mixed with berries for 30 minutes. I made this pie before I went to work in the morning. Plus, there were a lot fewer dishes to clean.

Flavorwise the Strawberry Chiffon Pie and the Strawberry Bavarian Pie were so similar. Texturewise, the chiffon pie stood higher; the Strawberry Cream Pie was creamier but didn t cut quite as clean. They both had the same amount of cream - 1 cup. The chiffon pie had more gelatin and egg whites; this added to the technique gave a totally different texture.

Both pies were made with a pastry crust but could have been prepared with a prepared graham cracker crust. I would make either pie again. Both held up in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

Best of all these pies are relatively inexpensive to make: strawberries, a half-pint or 1 cup of whipping cream, egg whites for chiffon, sugar, and unflavored gelatin.

Strawberries are versatile enough to use in other recipes both classic and humble.

Creme brulee is a chilled, stirred custard that is sprinkled with brown or granulated sugar and the topping is caramelized under a broiler making the topping brittle in contrast to the creaminess beneath.

Strawberries Brulee is a recipe from the Pacific Northwest in American Regional Cuisine 2nd Edition by the Art Institutes (Wiley, $45) made with strawberries, sugar, and whipped cream. When the Blade tested this recipe, we found it not as rich as a classic creme brulee but very refreshing.

Just as good and easy but more humble is Rhubarb and Strawberry Crisp from Dessert First, Ohio Hospitality Educational Foundation from the Ohio Restaurant Association. Both strawberries and rhubarb are in season now but you can use frozen fruit, if necessary. Serve the dessert warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

When you use your strawberries this week to make a chiffon or cream pie, a brulee or a crisp, you ll be making food memories.

Kathie Smith is The Blade s food editor. Contact her at food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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