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Strawberries Spring Eternal
It probably is due to the two years of pandemicdom, but it seems as if everyone is dreaming of strawberries right now. Lots of blog posts, revamped dishes in online food magazines and Instagram photos, all touting both old and new stawberry makeovers. And so here we all are, buying up strawberries from farmers’ markets, grocery stores, Costco, organic food shops – and they are all better than the Dread Driscoll. These early local versions, however, while beefy in size, are somewhat overblown in what strawberries should be in flavor. I am a victim of this myself and have dropped woody pears as part of my morning fruit salad and substituted muscle-bound strawberries instead.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Strawberries for me will always be one of my adolescent touchstones, married to chocolate chip cookies. But not just any chocolate chip cookie. I used to buy a dozen of the YWCA chocolate chip cookies at the venerable branch on the corner of 17th & K Streets, when as an unemployable teenage girl, I was sternly advised to take stenography and typing courses at said YWCA. When that institution was moved to new digs in 1981, while the run on the chocolate chip cookies was phenomenal, even my ardent consumption couldn’t sustain the bakery. The famous chocolate chip cookie that I remember down to the tiniest mouthful was never successfully recreated. Wilhelmina Hebron, one of the last four bakers of this cookie, was quoted in a New York Times article:
It’s a funny cookie, if you miss one little thing, it’s all messed up,’ There’s a secret ingredient that makes it come out different from any other cookie…I don’t see anything so famous about it – it’s just a cookie. I stopped eating them in 1979, and I lost 61 pounds.
Believe me, I have looked and tried three or four of the recipes pulled up by our trusty friend Google, and none of them is even close.
I remember well the interminable afternoons in a second-floor unairconditioned room where I would struggle to make squiggles that I barely could transmit correctly into typewritten form. [That would be “shorthand” for those of you too junior to recollect.] This was way before typewriter keyboards were revolutionized by IBM with the introduction of the Selectric model. Half your time was spent trying to strike the key correctly so that it would not cross with another key. The white bag of YWCA chocolate chip cookies kept me from being completely demoralized. After that, I would then take another bus to Reeves for strawberry pie. It was one of those places, not unlike Lord & Taylor’s Birdcage tea rooms, where surly teenage girls like myself could bond with their mothers, or young married women played nice with their daunting mothers in law.
Reeves opened in 1895 as a grocery store, and the owners later put out a few tables to serve customers modest sandwiches (Cream cheese on date-nut bread!) cakes and pies from their newly opened bakery. It lasted as a definitely women workers lunch habitat during World War II. My mother-in-law, who was a typist for the Defense Department, was one of many Reeves fans. It withstood decades of social changes and finally closed in 2007. I felt very grown up when I used to take the bus or trolley to Woodward & Lothrop to shop for clothes (my very generous parents gave me a clothing allowance because I was unable to earn “real money” as my brothers did from their paper routes). I would come home from either my independent shopping excursions or the dreaded classes in stenography and typing at the Y, always with a few chocolate chip cookies and having polished off a piece of Reeves’ strawberry pie.
Strawberry Brown Sugar Galette
On Instagram, a KD follower (and you know who you are) loved this book by a Cuban American chef who until recently was the chef at a top restaurant in Sydney, Australia. So, of course I bought Always Add Lemon. There on the back pages (I always look at the dessert section first in a cookbook) she had created a pie using a cookie dough filling for her strawberries. Danielle Alvarez has lots of interesting riffs on all sorts of dishes, and I continue to explore them. While I still think that the Sunset Magazine version of an American Strawberry Pie is hard to beat, this one is just a great take on two of my favorite memories. Since our strawberries still lack flavor, do use a couple of drops of the Wild Strawberry Essence from Grasse to get them past the Driscoll test. I am wedded to the all butter crust from Cathy Barrow, so have not reprinted here the short crust from Danielle Alvarez.
Think of this base as kind of an Americanized version of frangipane. Vertically slicing the berries creates just the right way to use them for this topping. Crowd them in when you are making concentric circles as they will separate when the “cookie dough” puffs up. I found that after I mixed the Light Muscovado sugar into the melted butter, it was best to use a hand mixer to beat in the egg, flour, flavorings, salt and baking soda. Your really do need to keep a bare edge of 1 1/2 inches to create the galette pleated crust.
- Flaky Pie Crust dough for one pie
- 500gr (1lb 2oz or 3 1/2 cups) strawberries
- 2 tablespoons demerara sugar
- 300ml (10 fl oz) sweetened whipped cream mixed with 150ml (5 fl oz) creme fraiche - alternatively, a good vanilla ice cream is also excellent.
- 60gr (2 fl oz 1/4 cup) melted butter (I use unsalted)
- 110gr (4 oz) light brown sugar (I use India Tree Light Muscovado)
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon French Vanilla Essence
- 100gr (3 1/2oz or 2/3 cup) white all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Egg wash made with one beaten egg and 1 tablespoon water, whisked together.
- Roll out your pastry dough on a Silpat or baking parchment - you want at least a 10 inc (26cm) diameter.
- Cover it with parchment or cling film and place in refrigerator while you make the filling.
- Preheat oven to 430F (220C)
- For the cookie dough base, combine the melted butter and sugar and beat by hand using a wooden spoon - you are not creaming the sugar into the butter.
- Add the vanilla, flour, baking soda and sea salt and mix together, just to combine.
- Spread this mixture across the cold pastry disk, leaving a 3-4cm (11/2 inch) bare edge.
- Prepare your egg wash and whipped cream if serving the galette soon.
- Slice the strawberries thinly and vertically.
- Place the strawberry slices in concentric circles on top of the cookie base, starting from the outside and working in.
- Fold the edge over of the circle, making pleats in the crust.
- Brush the crust edge with the egg wash and sprinkle with half of the demerara sugar.
- Sprinkle the other half of sugar over the strawberries.
- I make this tarte on a silpat on a baking sheet, but you can simply lift the tart on its parchment and lay it on your baking sheet..
- She puts it on a baking stone, but I have two carbon steel sheets preheating in the oven and I lay the half sheet on those - this simply facilitates browning on the underside of the crust.
- Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, turning the galette occasionally.
- When you pull it out of the oven, slide the paper with the baked galette onto a cooling rack.
- When it is just still warm, you slide it off the Silpat or parchment and serve.
- I use India Tree Demerara Sugar and Light Muscovado Sugar for this recipe.
- I refrigerate this galette and then reheat it slightly if there are left over slices.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.