Make Richard Bainbridge’s best ever strawberry fraisier cake
- Credit: Archant
Great British Menu veteren judge and chef patron of Benedicts Restaurant in Norwich, Richard Bainbridge, shares his love of strawberries and a recipe close to his heart.
As we start to go into the summer and we get to this time of year, strawberries are beginning to come through.
English strawberries are coming into the kitchen now and they are so full of flavour – they have that taste of quintessential English summertime.
My best memory of strawberries is sitting with a bowl of sugar and a punnet with my mum in the garden on a hot summer's day. I think that's the purest and simplest, and most beautiful way to eat strawberries.
You can mess about with them, but just give me a bowl of caster sugar!
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The strawberry is so versatile in terms of using it in cream teas, cakes, jams, sorbets, milkshakes…
And it's actually really simple and easy to grow at home – even for a novice like myself. Katja is a great gardener and I'm amazed at what she can grow and produce, but for the average Joe who can't grow anything – strawberries are the ideal plant.
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They look pretty and, if you own a flat with no outside space at all, but have a window box, you can go to any garden centre and they will have different varieties that will work in a pot.
Plant them now, give them a little bit of water and a little bit of love, and they will naturally produce fruit going into July and August. There is nothing more exciting than when my daughter catches that first bright red glimpse of a ripe strawberry and we can go out and pick them together.
The only downside is you have to protect them from the blackbirds and slugs and little insects, so make sure you get a really fine mesh just to give them a little bit of nurturing.
They last about two to three years and the best thing about them really is once your yield has gone, nip of a few dead leaves and you can forget about them until next year.
In my garden in winter my daughter's tractor's driven all over them! But they've now started popping back up. The leaves are getting lush. And they just kind of look after themselves.
After a few years they lose their energy though. You can't save them. They're not like a grape vine that gets better after 100 years.
People have this thing in their heads when growing things that it's going to be quite difficult, but strawberries are literally like a weed that keeps coming and coming!
Did you know?
The first native strawberries came from a hybrid of North American and Chilean wild strawberries, brought over to France in 1750. They were cultivated together and from there they were transported all around the world and there are so many varieties. I will be the first to admit I focus on local and seasonal produce in the restaurant, but when you are known for Nanny Bush's Trifle, you have to rely on other countries for strawberries in the winter months!
My top three PYO farms
If you can't be bothered to grow at home, pick your own farms are a great day out for the whole family. You get your basket, go in, and if they are great they'll have different varieties and fruits you can pick. There's normally wildlife or a face, or a little shop. Going into the summer holidays this is an affordable day out because you get something in return. You pay for the fruit, but at least you've enjoyed a fun activity.
1. Wiveton Hall Farm near Blakeney and Cley is a great great farm with a real variety of fruit and a great view of the marshes. It has an amazing café for breakfast, cakes and lunches.
2. White House Farm near Rackheath on the outskirts of Norwich is run by a young family who've taken over the family farm and invested loads of money into making it pick your own. There's a lovely little café. And it's nice because it's literally just 10 miles outside of Norwich.
3. Alder Carr Farm in Suffolk has a Strawberry Fair on June 17. It's a great celebration of the strawberry and a family-packed day with entertainment for everyone – finishing off with pig racing!
Recipe: Fraisier Cake
For me this is a great, beautiful celebration of the strawberry. It contains everything that we love. There's sweetness from the strawberry – and who doesn't like custard? It's marrying the two together in a beautiful French gateau. When I first saw this I was working at the Waterside Inn in Bray for the Roux brothers and we served it as a birthday cake. It was one of those things that mesmerised me, with the strawberries cut in half all the way around the outside and the diplomat cream. You can fan strawberries over the top, or sometimes we used to lay a bright green icing on top.
It's a real showstopper to any afternoon tea, summer party or dinner party. When you cut into it it's one of the most delicate, beautiful ways to eat strawberries.
For the Genoese sponge: 250g plain flour, 8 medium whole eggs, 250g caster sugar, 60 melted butter
For the diplomat cream: 100g egg yolk, 120g caster sugar, 50g cornflour, 500g milk, 50g salted butter, 1 vanilla pod, 8 gelatine leaves hydrated in water, 200g firm whipped double cream
For the vanilla syrup: 2 vanilla pods, 320g water, 150g caster sugar
For the filling: 1-1.5kg English strawberries, hulled and halved lengthways
For the glaze: 100g apricot jam
Make the sponge first. Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Place eggs and sugar in a free-standing mixer and whisk for 12 minutes until doubled in size, leaving a thick ribbon trail. Lightly shower the flour in and delicately fold with a plastic spatula. Add the melted butter. Pour into a lined 25cm x 30cm baking tray and spread evenly. bake for eight to 10 minutes. When cooked remove and turn out to a cooling rack. Place a cloth on top and allow to cool.
For the diplomat cream place the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a bowl. Whisk until pale. Place the milk and vanilla in a pan on a medium heat and bring slowly to the boil. Pour into the egg mix and whisk continuously. Transfer back to the pan on a low heat, whisking all the time. You are now looking for the custard to start to thicken. Allow the flour to cook out. It is quite hard work at this point to make sure you don't let the cream stick to the bottom. Once cooked out (about five minutes) squeeze in your gelatine leaves. Keep whisking until the gelatine is well incorporated. Place into a bowl and allow to cool. Once cool fold the whipped cream in lightly. Place in a piping bag with a piping nozzle.
For the syrup, place everything in a pan, bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
To build the cake place a 24cm dessert/cake ring on a clean tray lined with baking paper. Cut the sponge out to fill the dessert ring and slice in half horizontally. Place one half on the bottom of the mould, brush well with the syrup then pipe a layer of the diplomat cream all over. Line the outside of the sponge with some of the strawberries, with the cut side against the mould. Continue to fill with the cream until three quarters of the way up the strawberries then add a layer of chopped strawberries. Finish with a final layer of sponge and brush the vanilla syrup on top.
Completely cover the top of the cake with cream and smooth all over.
To finish, arrange the last of the strawberries on top and warm the apricot jam, glazing the fruit all over. Place your beautiful cake in the fridge and allow to set.
When ready to serve, bring out from the fridge and remove the ring. Place onto a lovely cake stand and leave to sit at room temperature for at least one hour before wowing your family or guests.
Richard and his wife Katja own and run Benedicts Restaurant in Norwich.
Follow Benedicts on Twitter and Instagram at restbenedicts.