In spite of the poor weather in Ireland, it is summer, and there are strawberries. Maybe not as many as in previous years, but at last, when you walk into a vegetable shop, the aroma of strawberries assails your nostrils as you pass by the punnets of red berries piled high. Gone are the rock hard, irradiated, odourless berries that pass as strawberries for the rest of the year. Now is the time to make the most of locally grown, tender, tasty berries. And my favourite way to do this is with a fraisier. Many of you may not have heard of a fraisier. I certainly hadn’t before I stumbled across one in Paris, during strawberry season (‘fraise’ is French for strawberry). It is not by any means to be confused with the strawberry flan: a sponge base filled with whipped cream and topped with strawberries. The fraisier is definitely a French confection. Yes, there is a sponge base, but it is made with ground almonds and soaked in a kirsch scented syrup. Yes, there is a cream filling, but it is not mere whipped cream; it is mousseline cream made with butter and eggs and whipped to a fluffy light texture. And yes, there are strawberries, but precisely arranged in regimented rows so that every slice of the fraisier looks perfect.
I have tried several recipes for fraisiers, and what follows is my favourite combination. They are very flexible, and the topping is a matter of taste. Sometimes they are finished with a thinly rolled sheet of marzipan, but my preference is for redcurrant jelly, either directly brushed onto the sponge, or poured over a thin layer of the mousseline cream on top of the sponge.
- 1 egg
- 4 egg yolks
- 4 oz + 1 oz (100 g + 25 g) caster sugar
- 4 egg whites
- 2 oz (50 g) all purpose flour
- 2 0z (50 g) ground almonds
- 1/2 oz (10 g) melted butter
- 250 ml milk
- 5 oz (125 g) caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 oz (25 g) cornflour
- 2 oz + 3 oz (60 g + 65 g) butter
- 20 ml kirsch
- 4 oz (100 g) granulated sugar
- 100 ml water
- 2 tblsp kirsch
- 1 1/2 lb (600 g) fresh strawberries, as uniformly sized as possible
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F) for a fan oven, 20° hotter for a convection oven. Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment.
- Whisk together the whole egg, the yolks, and 4 oz (100 g) of sugar until the mixture is pale and thick.
- Beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar until stiff, but not dry.
- Combine the yolk mixture with the whites.
- Add the sifted flour and ground almonds, folding them in with a metal spoon or whisk.
- Finally, add the melted butter, folding it in gently.
- Pour the cake batter into the tin, making sure it fills the corners. Bake in the preheated oven until golden: 10-15 minutes.
- When the cake is done, turn it out onto a damp tea-towel, peel off the parchment, and cover with another damp tea-towel. This will keep it nice and moist. Leave to cool.
- Bring the sugar and water to the boil, stirring constantly.
- Remove from the heat and add the kirsch.
- Leave the syrup to cool.
- Prepare a pastry cream as follows:
- Heat the milk to about 70°C (158°F).
- While the milk is warming, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and cornflour.
- Pour the warm milk over the egg mixture, stirring constantly, and return the mixture to the pan.
- Heat gently, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Don’t worry if the mixture becomes lumpy, just keep stirring it and it will become smooth again.
- Whisk 2 oz (60 g) butter into the pastry cream, and leave it to cool.
- Whisk the remaining butter into the cream and flavour with kirsch.
- Cut the sponge in half so you have two approximately square pieces of sponge.
- Place one piece of sponge on the serving plate, and brush the sponge with half of the syrup.
- Spread a thin layer of mousseline cream over the sponge, to hold the strawberries in place during assembly.
- Line the edges of the sponge with half strawberries, with the cut edge facing out. Fill in the inside with the remaining strawberries, as evenly as possible (it will look better when it is cut).
- Fill in the gaps with the remaining mousseline cream, keeping enough to cover the top sponge if you like. A piping bag is useful for applying the cream without dislodging the strawberries.
- Brush the second piece of sponge with the remaining syrup and place it on top of the cake, syrup side down.
- Decorate the sponge by brushing it with warm redcurrant jelly, or by spreading a thin layer of mousseline on it, or by covering it with a thin layer of marzipan.