A Vineyard chef turns a favorite summer berry into a dessert anyone can make
Strawberries, Sweet & Simple
by Michael Brisson
I can still taste my first strawberry memory like it was yesterday. I remember my mother putting out a bowl of big, red (really red) berries on the dinner table with a bowl of sugar. The strawberries were still slightly warm from the trip home from the farm stand. When I picked one up and dipped it into the sugar bowl, the perfect dusting of sugar clung to the moist berry. Next, I bit into the juicy berry’s flesh and sensed that intoxicating aroma traveling up the back of my nose. Not only did I take notice, but I was hooked.
Fast forward many years to my next strawberry epiphany, which happened in the kitchen of L’Espalier restaurant in Boston. I was the pastry chef, and one afternoon a flat of wild French strawberries called fraises des bois fell into my hands. These little berries were a third the size of our domestic strawberries, and slightly over-ripe with a heady, sweet perfume. Their flavor was indescribable—floral and aromatic—and the berries melted in your mouth.
That night I created a dessert on the fly which turned out to be a handy recipe in years to come. I didn’t have much time, so I knew I had to do something quick and simple. But of course it had to be fabulous enough to make it onto the dessert menu. Since the French berries were very soft, unlike our native strawberries, I needed to do something delicate. I sprinkled them lightly with sugar and mixed the bruised ones into a sweet mascarpone whipped cream with some vanilla bean seeds. I put this pink mousse-like cream inside of a pre-baked, chocolate-coated puff pastry shell, sprinkled it with toasted pistachios, dusted it with confectioners’ sugar, and drizzled chocolate sauce over it. It was a hit!
Though I never worked with the berries again, I discovered that the dessert is delicious with our native berries, too. I like to use local berries whenever I can, so I hope you’ll visit local farms and the Farmers’ Market for just-picked strawberries. But you can certainly make this dessert with any strawberry, and you could mix in blueberries or raspberries as well. The tart may look fancy, but it’s actually very straightforward to prepare, as you can purchase frozen puff pastry at the grocery store and make the shells a day ahead. The flaky crunch of the puff pastry really adds a nice contrast to the berries and cream, but you could also make a simple version of this dessert without the puff pastry. Arrange the berries and cream in individual glass bowls, sprinkle with nuts, and you have a superfast and delicious way to turn strawberries into a special dessert for friends. In fact, the easy mascarpone whipped cream (which holds well in the fridge) is so versatile that you could use it as a crepe filling or a waffle topping, too.