strawberry sundays - friands & inspiration from the berry patch

That berry good time of year has arrived in South East Queensland. And although we have a small patch at Weka Weka, we are blessed to be surrounded by strawberry growers galore with terrific crops right across our region. I expect, like many of you, the seasonal adventure of strawberry picking as a young child has left vivid crimson memories. It's the reason why we love taking our own children to pick and frolic in the patch. 

At afternoon tea time friands are a beaut little treat and it’s the strawberry and almond combination that really makes my heart sing. There’s really no better way to use up egg whites. Other friand favourites of mine include; lime and mango, lemon syrup, fresh pitted cherries, nectarine or plum, choc & hazelnut and pistachio varieties. I use this same method for all versions of these lovely almond morsels.

Strawberry & Almond Friands

Ingredients - 185 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled ❤ 1 cup (125grams) almond meal ❤ 6 egg whites, beaten lightly ❤ 1½ cups (240grams) icing sugar, sifted, plus a little extra for dusting ❤ ½ cup (75grams) plain flour, sifted ❤ 100grams fresh strawberries, thinly sliced ❤ a handful of flaked almonds Makes 12 

Method - Grease your non-stick friand mould or tin well with plenty of soft butter. Flour it lightly too. If using cases, place them out ready on a clean baking tray. Preheat oven to moderate 180°C (350°F/Gas Mark 4). 

Melt the butter in a small saucepan or microwave and allow to cool completely. Slice the strawberries thinly along their length. Sift icing sugar and flour into a medium sized bowl. Add almond meal and stir to combine dry ingredients. Beat egg whites lightly, just enough to loosen e.g 20 seconds tops. Stir into dry mix until just combined.  Stir in melted butter.  Divide mixture amongst pans/cases.

Scatter tops with strawberry slices and flaked almonds.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until lightly golden and they spring back when touched. Stand in tin to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool. 

Top Tips: Use the leftover sliced strawberries for dessert this evening or breakfast tomorrow. Warm them briefly in liqueur (Grand Marnier or Cointreau) and fold through a pancake, waffle or crepe. Perhaps sprinkle on some caster sugar and crushed Amaretti biscuits or place them atop your French toast. Fill a sponge or shortcake with some or crush them and place in a pretty glass for Strawberry Cream fool, muffins or a smoothie with honey and yoghurt.  One 250gram punnet of good quality berries can go many ways.

I prefer this 6-egg friand but I often see 8 egg white recipes in cookbooks. Personally abit too eggie for my liking. I always use icing sugar in the mix but if you prefer (or only have caster sugar on hand) that’s fine too. Blanching, toasting and processing whole almonds in your food processor for fresh and finely ground almond meal is a very worthwhile yet time consuming process for busy bees. These days I often buy pre-ground almond meal from my health food or bulk food shop - always in small quantities so it remains fresh.

If I'm not making friands to use up egg whites, I'll also make a quick batch of my caramel sauce for tart shells - just to use up leftover egg yolks. Waste not, want not right.

Most specialty cookware and kitchen stores stock oval and rectangular friand tins and cases. Honestly I’ve never had much success with metal friand tins, they seem to stick no matter how well greased. I much prefer the paper cases and the silicone moulds, they pop out very easily. Muffin pans/cases are suitable too, like my stripey & heart shaped batch I've done today.

To make these friands gluten free, just replace the icing sugar mixture with pure gluten free icing sugar and substitute plain flour for gluten free plain or rice flour or extra almond meal.  Experiment with hazelnut and/or pistachio meal too if keen. If using frozen berries, use them straight from the freezer so their colour doesn’t ‘bleed’ into the mixture.

Seasonal Jotting

The Ekka (for readers further afield, The Royal Queensland Agricultural Show) is an event that boldly announces the arrival of our strawberry season. It’s here that over 13 tonnes of strawbs each year make the iconic sundaes we’ve come to love - crunchy wafer cone, smooth vanilla ice-cream, sweet chopped strawberries, more delicious ice-cream followed by swirls of fresh cream and topped with more fresh Queensland strawberries. Did you get your fix? Wait there’s more; choc fudge dipped strawbs and the Country Women’s Association old school eatery serving scones with jam and dolloped cream. Strawberry eating is a long held tradition at Queensland’s largest annual event 9-18 August. Best value early bird tickets available online. 

For a quick strawberry fix and the simplest of fresh desserts, strawberries need no more attention than a good dusting of icing sugar and some freshly whipped chantilly cream. Wash, hull, halve if their big ones, pat dry and sprinkle with a generous amount of icing sugar. Chantilly cream is just thickened cream whipped with icing sugar and a good teaspoon of vanilla extract added. Mascarpone, double cream or creme faiche is mighty fine too.

Nothing equals homemade strawberry jam for it’s vibrant colour and deep berriness. Is berriness a word? If you haven’t ever made a pot at home you’re in for such a treat. I guarantee you won’t ever buy commercial strawberry jam again. It’s one of the simplest, most delicious crimson conserves you can make. Try to resist any temptation or recipe that add extras (like orange, brandy or pectin). I like to keep it simple and never use fruit marked as ‘seconds’. One bad berry will ferment and destroy your gorgeous work.  It’s a silly myth to use 2nd grade fruit for any jam-making.  Only a small amount of top grade just picked fruit is ever needed for superb conserves. And the juice of freshly picked lemons to help it set.  Strawberries have a low level of pectin so your fresh jam will always be a lighter set than store bought jam, be much more favoursome and never stodgy. Just keep it in the fridge to thicken a little after opening.

At this time of year I have to physically restrain myself from buying oversized punnets everytime I go to our farmers market or green grocer. Otherwise I end up making strawberry jam for weeks on end. If you wish to follow a recipe, Belinda Jeffrey’s method from her superb  Mix & Bake is terrific. It’s probably the cookbook I refer to most often for baking. I always stick to equal quantity of strawberries to white sugar ie. 1kg of berries to 1kg of sugar and the juice of 2 firm lemons. Let the berries soak in the sugar and lemon for a good hour or two before putting them on the stove. It’s a quick and very rewarding process from there.

For morning tea, strawberry and white chocolate muffins are my downfall.  My local, The Deck Cafe does warm strawberry muffins to perfection with a latte.

Regardless of all the fabulous cakes we bake, big and small, there’s nothing quite like a batch of warm light scones with homemade strawberry jam and a thick dollop of cream. The very first recipe I shared with you.

I hope you can make some strawberry conserve (and friands!) soon. Here’s a small list of pick-your-own farms in Queensland f.y.i. Remember to go early on warmer days. Store them in the fridge, unwashed on a plate with paper towel underneath, covered with plastic wrap. Use them up asap (never a problem around here) as strawberries at their best will only ever last a day or two. Avoid berries with white coloration around their tops. Enjoy your strawberry Sunday.  And as always, thanks so much for reading. I hope you'll share a strawberry story of yours with us below.