We're starting to get into prime strawberry season, one of summer's principal delights. I refer of course to British strawberries, not these ghastly forced things, consistency of wood, which arrive bearing hundreds if not thousands of air miles.
But be warned. In the early part of the growing season on this sceptred isle, you will find as many polytunnels as you do further afield, and our producers too can be guilty of forcing the fruit. The little white band at the top of the berry is the giveaway. For that reason, in the cooler weeks at the beginning of the season I tend to look to the south of England. Yesterday, however, I bought my first Scottish pack, from Tayside, and very lovely they were too.
Many of you will suggest that strawbs need little more than to be served plain, with cream (if you must), yoghurt or crème fraîche. I like mine with vanilla ice cream and a dribble of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (that's the expensive stuff, not the vinegar) or sprinkled with a few drops of orange liqueur. But if you fancy branching out, here are a couple of ideas. I much prefer a baked cheesecake to an unbaked one, although it is more work. This is Sarah Mellersh's recipe. The strawberries are just to make it look and taste good.
Making a fruit coulis is the easiest thing imaginable provided you have a small blender. The only issue is in getting the sweetness right. No recipe can be entirely accurate, or reflect your personal preferences. Taste as you go is always good advice: here it's vital.
Baked Strawberry Cheesecake
For the base
At least 60g digestive biscuits (about 4) and at least 60g ginger nuts (about 6); 60g butter (Sarah's recipe calls for 50 - I find a little more is needed); pinch of salt.
For the cheesecake
600g full fat cream cheese; 200g sour cream; 4tbsp cornflour; 150g caster sugar; zest of half a lemon; 1tsp vanilla extract; 4 large eggs plus 1 egg white.
For the garnish
As many strawberries and other soft fruit as you fancy - see illustration.
You will need a 20cm springform cake tin.
Make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature. As I'm sure you wouldn't be so foolish as to store your eggs in the fridge I don't need to tell you that the same should apply to them.
Preheat your oven to 180˚C/Mark 4 and put a baking sheet on the middle shelf. Coarsely crush the biscuits. I prefer to do this by putting them in a bag and bashing with a rolling pin. You could use a food processor, but do it carefully on pulse. You don't want biscuit dust.
Melt the butter in a small pan, add the crumbs and the salt and stir well. Spread the crumb mixture evenly over the base of your tin. it needs to be well compressed. The base of a glass or small flat bottle are ideal - just make sure that whatever you use is robust enough. Put the tin on the heated baking sheet in the hot oven for 20 minutes while you make the topping.
Put the cream cheese into a large bowl and whisk to soften it and get rid of any lumps. Mix in the soured cream. cornflour, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract, and combine well Add the whole eggs (NOT the egg white) a little at a time and beat until your mixture is smooth.
Take the tin out of the oven, leave the door open and reduce the temperature to 110˚C/Mark ¼ and lightly brush the surface of the base with egg white. Leave to one side until the oven temperature drops. Pour the mixture in the tin. There will be some surface bubbles which you can get rid of by running your finger over them. (If you lick the finger, use a clean one when resuming.)
Return to the oven and bake for about 90 minutes. The cake should be set but still be slightly wobbly in the middle. Run a thin spatula around the outside to separate the edge from the tin. Then switch off the oven, leaving the cheesecake inside until completely cool. Remove from the oven and refrigerate.
Decorate with strawberries and soft fruit on top. You will often see photos of cheesecakes with strawberries neatly up the sides. Bear in mind that these are of the unbaked variety where the strawberries are arranged in the tin before the mixture is added.
Read the disclaimer above.
400g strawberries, stalks and hulls removed; 100g caster or icing sugar; juice of 1 small lemon; tiny splash of water.
Put all the ingredients in a pan and heat everything slowly until the fruit collapses. Taste, and adjust the sweetness accordingly. Bearing in mind that you will be serving this with something sweet, such as today's cheesecake, or ice cream, I would recommend going for a slightly tart finish. If adding more sugar, continue on the heat until the sugar dissolves. Never be in a hurry to dissolve sugar, as crystals may form. Allow to cool slightly
Blitz with a hand blender and sieve it. Refrigerate until needed, but take out of the fridge about 15 minutes before using.
The image is of a birthday cake which my eldest daughter made for my grandson. It is reproduced with neither knowledge nor consent, but with thanks.