Celebrating Strawberries!

strawberriesThough they’re available year-round, there’s nothing as delightful as seasonal strawberries. The kind that have had plenty of sunlight and time to grow, and certainly not the imported, golf ball-sized, pale ones you see in plastic boxes at the supermarket in the dead of winter! From the middle of May until approximately the end of July, the beautifully sweet aroma of seasonal Dutch strawberries perfumes many farmers’ markets in the country, enticing all those who walk by to purchase at least a few baskets one to eat while walking around the stalls, and the rest to take home. It’s best to use them as soon as possible after purchase though; strawberries do not like to sit around for long, especially in a cold refrigerator which will completely ruin their delicate taste and scent.
Almost two-thirds of the strawberries in The Netherlands are grown in the sandy grounds of the southern province of Brabant, and there are quite a few different varieties with interesting names such as Lambada, Corona, Elsanata and Mara des Bois. Each variety has its own special flavor, texture and aroma and can be used in many different ways.
I love my strawberries just as they are, in all of their pure beauty, but sometimes also enjoy them with whipped cream. Of course, there are many other delicious ways to use strawberries, so I’ll be featuring some great recipe suggestions in the following days. From savory to sweet, and even a bright red fruit syrup you can use in an endless number of ways. Enjoy!

Strawberry vlaai (Limburg fruit and custard pie)
Serves 8

Originally from Limburg, the province known for its hilly landscape and good food, the vlaai is a tart that is popular at all special occasions. Some varieties are filled with rice pudding (rijstevlaai), others are crowned with a crumb topping (kruimelvlaai), and this one is filled with custard and ripe strawberries.

For the pastry shell:

  • ¼ cup lukewarm whole milk
  • 1 ¼ tsp instant dried yeast
  • ¾ cup + 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 small egg, whisked
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Seeds of 1 vanilla pod
  • 5 tbsps sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ½ tbsps flour
  • Fresh strawberries
  • Approx. 2 ½ cups strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 4 tbsps strawberry jam

Combine the milk with the yeast. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Put the flour, milk and yeast mixture, sugar, whisked egg, salt and melted butter in the bowl of a mixer. Knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes. Should the dough be too wet, add in more flour a teaspoon at a time while the machine continues to run. If you don’t have a mixer, put the flour on a clean surface, make a well in the middle, add the rest of the ingredients and mix from the outside in. Once mixed, knead the dough for 10 minutes. The dough should be elastic. Place the dough in a floured bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for 1 hour. In the meantime, make your custard filling. Heat the milk, taking care not to let it boil. It should not bubble over! Whisk the egg yolks, vanilla seeds, sugar and salt until creamy. Do this by hand as you don’t want volume in the mixture. Whisk in the flour. Add the milk in small quantities while whisking. Transfer the mixture to a pan. Cook while stirring continuously with a wooden spoon and stirring more vigorously when the mixture starts to thicken. Continue stirring for 4-6 minutes, or until the custard is thick. Allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 392ºF. Grease and flour a 9-inch pie pan.Take the dough out of the bowl, place on a well-floured surface and roll out to a large circle, a little bigger than the circumference of the pan. Place it into the pan, trimming off any excess. Prick the surface with a fork. Pour the custard into the pan. Bake the vlaai for 20 minutes until set. If the crust is browning too much half way through, cover with aluminum foil. Allow to cool and top with the strawberries. Melt the strawberry jam in a pan. Brush over the berries for a nice sheen. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

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