06/04/2012 02:39 EDT | Updated 08/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Fresh local strawberries star in shortcake, french toast, asparagus salad

Plump sweet local strawberries are coming onto the market in many locations and the following recipes feature the juicy red fruit.

Nothing says strawberry season like a luscious shortcake and Quebec celebrity chef Chuck Hughes offers a wonderful version with homemade sponge cake. Cookbook authors Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat, who love french toast, have used strawberries in a version that can be prepared the night before and baked in the morning for brunch. Strawberries can also be used in savoury dishes — pair them with tender asparagus in a salad.

Strawberry Shortcake

This is a fantastic showcase for fresh local strawberries. The recipe is from "Garde Manger" by Quebec chef Chuck Hughes.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Macerating time: 1 hour

Génoise (Sponge Cake)

6 eggs

125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla

250 ml (1 cup) flour

125 ml (1/2 cup) butter, melted

Mashed Strawberries

500 ml (2 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half

50 ml (1/4 cup) sugar

1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise

Sweet Cream Cheese

500 g (1 lb) cream cheese, softened

125 ml (1/2 cup) icing sugar

30 ml (2 tbsp) 35 per cent cream


Fresh strawberries, cut in half

Génoise: Heat oven to 180 C (350 F). Butter sides of a 43-by-28-cm (17-by-11-inch) baking sheet and line it with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on each side.

In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until mixture is very pale and 3 times original volume, about 8 minutes.

Sift flour onto egg mixture little by little, gently folding in each addition. Fold in butter a little at a time.

Spread batter on baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Strawberries: Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir strawberries with sugar to coat. Scrape vanilla seeds over strawberries and stir well. Set aside for at least 1 hour.

Working over a bowl to catch juices, press strawberries in a sieve to extract maximum amount of juice. Mash strawberries in a mortar and pestle until reduced to a lumpy mixture.

Cream cheese: In a large bowl, whip softened cream cheese, icing sugar and cream into soft mounds.

Using a 10-cm (4-inch) cookie cutter, cut out 8 rounds of génoise.

Place a round of génoise on each serving plate. Cover with some of the mashed strawberries, and top with some of the sweet cream cheese. Place another round of génoise on top of each serving, and cover with more mashed strawberries and more sweet cream cheese. Spread sweet cream cheese all around the sides of the cakes, using a spatula to keep it smooth. Garnish with fresh strawberries and drizzle strawberry juice all around the cake.

Makes 4 servings.

Tip: Dip spatula in hot water before using it to spread the cream cheese. It makes the job easier.

Source: "Garde Manger" by Chuck Hughes (HarperCollins, 2012).


Berry-Stuffed-and-Sauced French Toast Souffle

All you have to do with this gorgeous dish is sleep on it, say Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat, sisters and co-authors of "Bite Me." This overnight french toast does the work for you as the sweet egg bread, mounded with cream cheese and strawberry jam, is left to soak up a buttery mixture. After you wake and bake, you'll have an elegant, effortless brunch.

2 egg breads (challahs), crusts removed and cut into 1-cm (1/2-inch) thick slices

250 ml (1 cup) cream cheese

250 ml (1 cup) strawberry jam

3 large eggs

4 large egg whites

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) milk

30 ml (2 tbsp) melted butter

30 ml (2 tbsp) sugar

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract

2 ml (1/2 tsp) kosher salt

Berry Sauce

250 ml (1 cup) sugar

15 ml (1 tbsp) cornstarch

50 ml (1/4 cup) orange juice

750 ml (3 cups) frozen unsweetened berries (blueberries or raspberries or mixed)

750 ml (3 cups) fresh strawberries, quartered

Souffle: Coat a 33-by-23-cm (13-by-9-inch) baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Lay a single layer of bread slices along bottom of dish. Spread cream cheese on each piece. Spread strawberry jam on remaining slices and lay to face cream cheese, creating sandwiches in baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, egg whites, milk, melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. Pour over sandwiches and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or, for best results, overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Heat oven to 180 C (350 F). Bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes.

Sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in orange juice until smooth. Add frozen mixed berries and heat to a boil over medium heat stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in fresh strawberries. Let cool and serve berry sauce spooned over individual portions.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Source: "Bite Me" by Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat (Pinky Swear Press Inc., 2009).


Asparagus Salad With Strawberries, Radish and Goat Cheese

Bright, colourful and bursting with flavour, this salad shows off simply prepared fresh local ingredients that come together in a matter of minutes. Serve on the patio with a bottle of chilled rose for an al fresco treat.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 2 minutes

500 g (1 lb) fresh asparagus

125 ml (1/2 cup) sliced fresh strawberries

125 ml (1/2 cup) thinly sliced radishes

15 ml (1 tbsp) each snipped chives, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

15 ml (1 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

60 g (2 oz) fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Trim ends of asparagus and wash well. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add salt. Have a bowl of ice water handy to chill asparagus after cooking. Drop asparagus in and boil for 2 minutes until just tender, then drain and plunge into ice water to chill. Remove after it cools completely, drain and chill until ready to assemble salad.

Arrange asparagus on a platter and top with sliced strawberries, radishes and chives. Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil, if desired. Sprinkle with goat cheese.

Makes 2 servings.

Source: Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits Ltd.