Late spring in the Pacific Northwest has been unusually warm and sunny this year. In the last weeks of May, early strawberries start appearing at farmers markets, and by June, on sunny Saturdays, I find it near impossible to resist the siren call of U-Pick strawberries. For two Saturdays running now, I’ve driven to Carnation, where my favorite U-Pick farms grow strawberries and raspberries. A paradisical verdant valley fringed by jagged snow-tipped green-black mountains, Carnation feels almost ridiculously pastoral, an urban dweller’s fantasy of country living just 40 minutes outside of Seattle. I would have gone strawberry picking simply because Carnation is so darned pretty, but it turns out that Harvold Berry Farm grows the serious strawberry aficionado’s strawberry, Shuksan strawberries.
Shuksan strawberries are deep red to their core, intensely perfumed with a concentrated satisfying strawberry flavor, almost like wild berries, and so highly perishable that they’re not suitable for sale for ordinary consumption. They are glorious. I was so blown away by these berries that even as I panicked over coming up with a LOT of ways to use a LOT of strawberries very quickly (Shuksans spoil in just a couple of days), I was already planning my next trip to pick more.
Last week I tried to bake with them. The experiment was not a success. Strawberries are wet and juicy – wonderful attributes when you’re mashing them up with whipped cream or custard, but problematic in cakes. This week, I thought to myself, “why not try roasting them?” It turns out that I’m not the first person to have come up with this idea. But, the thing is, roasted strawberries are WONDERFUL. As strawberries roast they release moisture and juice and become soft, yet they hold their shape. The sugars within get all syrupy, and the flavor becomes concentrated and slightly jammy. Suddenly, they are perfect for baking.
I folded roasted strawberries into a buttermilk batter, scooped the batter into muffin tins, and topped the muffins with a dollop of cream cheese that had been whipped with egg yolks, lemon juice, and icing sugar. The muffins are almost too decadent for breakfast, but at the moment I can’t think of a way I’d rather start my day. The amounts reflected below are the amounts I actually used, but if I were to bake these again I’d increase the baking powder by ½ teaspoon to get that perfect domed muffin top.
You will need:
A baking tray
A standing mixer or a hand-held mixer, or a lot of elbow grease
A rubber spatula
A pastry bag and fluted tip (optional)
** The measurements below are in metric and US cups/ounces.
For the muffin batter
A generous pound (500 g) of trimmed strawberries
1.5 cups (300 g) sugar
1 stick butter (1/4 pound or 115 grams) softened to room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cups sifted all-purpose (plain) flour (340 grams)
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3.4 fluid ounces (100 ml) buttermilk
For the cheesecake topping
4 ounces (115 grams) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1.2 ounces (35 grams) powdered (icing) sugar
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius). Line a baking tray with parchment paper and spread the strawberries on the paper in a single layer. Roast for one hour. When they’re finished, you can transfer them to a bowl.
While the strawberries are roasting, you can get started on your muffins. Line your muffin tins with the muffin cups, greasing the surfaces of the tins if necessary.
To make the muffins, begin with the cheesecake topping. Cream together the cream cheese, egg yolk, lemon juice, and icing sugar until thoroughly blended. Put in your fridge to chill.
Now make the batter. In a large bowl, combine the lemon zest, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla paste until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Once the strawberries are done, increase the oven heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
Now you can combine the wet and dry ingredients. Fold the egg/butter/sugar mixture into the flour mixture. When the mixture starts to become stiff, add the buttermilk and continue to fold, using a scraping motion, until combined. It will be slightly stiffer than a cake batter. Now fold in your strawberries using the same motion.
Fill muffin tins to ¾ full with batter. If you are using a pastry bag, insert the tip just below the surface of the middle of each muffin and squeeze out a dollop of cheesecake filling. You can also use a teaspoon to do this.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the muffins are golden and springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove from tins.