Local strawberry fields are forever

Convectional Wisdom

FRUITY—A sample of the writer’s strawberry creme brûlée. The key: make sure the berries are dry before adding them to the ramekins. DARLEEN PRINCIPEAcorn Newspapers

FRUITY—A sample of the writer’s strawberry creme brûlée. The key: make sure the berries are dry before adding them to the ramekins. DARLEEN PRINCIPE Acorn Newspapers

I was passing through Somis on my way home from Camarillo the other day when I finally got the chance to stop at the Underwood Family Farms market.

I’d driven by that market—at 5696 E. Los Angeles Ave., right where the 118 and 34 highways meet—probably a hundred times, almost always in a rush to and from various appointments.

But last week, I finally pulled over and made it inside. And I am so glad I did because I scored about 3 pounds of sweet, juicy Oxnard strawberries (on top of some local honey, oranges and a few other lovely items).

There’s something so different about buying straight from a farm. The market staff is happy to tell you where everything comes from, and they’re excited to share what’s coming soon with the next harvest.

Then when you get your hands on those beautiful ingredients, for which people in your own community work hard to get on the market shelves, you can’t help but want to treat those ingredients with the utmost respect.

 

 

That was exactly my mindset when I came home with those strawberries. Of course, I was ready to eat them straight out of the basket. But I knew I also had to reserve some for a special dessert—something worthy of such quality berries. Almost immediately, I thought of crème brûlée and my mouth began to water.

Before this, I had never actually put chopped fruit into crème brûlée. A few years ago I made it with eggnog for a holiday dinner, which was delicious, but generally I love the classic recipe so much that I never dreamt of messing with it.

In any case, adding strawberries to a tried-and-true classic recipe worked liked a charm. The important thing is to make sure the strawberries are dry before you chop them up because water will mess with the consistency of the custard. Also, make sure the water for your water bath is hot to begin with. I made the mistake of using not-so-hot water, and it took much longer for my custards to bake.

On that note, good luck and bon appetite!

Strawberry Crème Brûlée

Yield: 6 servings

Special equipment: six 4-ounce ramekins and a culinary torch (or broiler)

12 to 15 fresh strawberries

5 large egg yolks

¼ cup sugar

2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

4 to 6 teaspoons sugar for caramel

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Chop up strawberries into quarters and set aside. (Make sure strawberries are dry before you chop them up.)

Using a standing mixer or electric mixer, whip together egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until the mixture turns pale yellow. Set egg mixture aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream over a medium fire until just before boiling. Stir the cream slowly and continuously with a spatula to prevent a skin from forming.

Once small bubbles begin to appear along the edges, remove the cream from heat and add in the vanilla extract.

Temper the egg mixture by adding about ½ cup of the heated cream first and whisking it together. Then, slowly pour in the rest of the heated cream and mix together. (Tempering is necessary to avoid scrambling the eggs!)

Divide the liquid custard evenly among the six ramekins, then sprinkle the chopped strawberries on top. They will sink a little, but that’s OK.

Place the ramekins in a 13-by- 9-inch baking pan. Carefully pour hot water into the pan until it’s about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with foil, gently poke holes across the top and place the pan in the oven. (It may be easier to pour the water into the pan once it’s already in the oven, depending on what you’re comfortable with.)

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until just set (firm around the edge but a little jiggly in the center if you tap the ramekin). Be careful not to overbake.

Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let them cool at room temperature for at least an hour. Then refrigerate for at least six hours to let them set completely before serving.

Just before serving, sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the top of the custard and caramelize with a culinary torch. If you don’t have a torch, place the ramekins a few inches under your oven broiler for 3 to 5 minutes, until the sugar melts and browns. Serve as is or with some extra strawberries on top.

Principe is a home baker, freelance journalist and former Acorn editor who lives in Simi Valley. Reach her via email at dar.principe@gmail.com.