LIKE CLOCKWORK, every year in early May, I start to hear a voice in my head. No matter where I am or what I am doing, it stops me in my tracks. A deep, faint, mildly pleasant whisper. “Strawberries,” it gently says, like a game-show host leading a yoga class in The Twilight Zone. “Strawberries,” it tells me, more frequently as days pass.
This voice is telling me that Oregon strawberry season is looming, and I had better be ready. The haunting refrain “Strawberries …” is warning that there might not be enough time to fully capture the fleeting ripeness of these sweet little Northwest gems. “Strawberries …” underscoring that no time machine would allow me to live in Oregon strawberry season for eternity. If I don’t heed the call, I might not have enough time to enjoy the Totem, Hood, Tillamook, Firecracker, Puget Reliance, Puget Summer and varieties of Oregon.
Two years ago, I was visiting Denmark in May. After baking rye bread for most of the day, my hosts, Dennis and Per, suggested we take a dip in the nearby Gudenå River. The Speedo-clad Danes were making fun of my “American swimsuit” when I heard the voice again: “Strawberries!” I yelled it aloud as I plunged into the refreshingly cold waters. I explained to my Danish friends that Oregon has the best strawberries in the world—surely they must already know this.
They looked at each other, smiled, and said, “No, Denmark has the best strawberries in the world, you crazy man.” After our swim and much argument over strawberries, we went back to the kitchen at Dennis’s thatched-roof house, where he showed me how to prepare a Danish specialty, Jordbærtærte, or strawberry tart. It was delicious. The entire time that I was eating the buttery, creamy tart with a hint of marzipan and vanilla and topped with delicious berries, the voice repeated in my head: “This would be much better with Oregon strawberries.” Follow your inner voice.
FOR THE PASTRY
4 ounces butter, cold
2 ounces white sugar
5 ounces all-purpose flour
1 small egg
3 ounces dark
brushing on the base
FOR MARZIPAN MIX
7 ounces marzipan
4 ounces sugar
4 ounces butter
2 ounces all-purpose flour
FOR VANILLA CREAM
½ vanilla bean
1¼ cups whole milk
1½ tablespoons sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound Oregon
cleaned and halved
Powdered sugar, sifted
Fresh mint leaves
DIRECTIONS: Cut butter into cubes and rub together with icing sugar and flour. Add the egg, and knead the dough quickly.
Do not overwork the dough or it will get sticky. Wrap and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the marzipan, butter and sugar together. Stir the eggs in one at a time, beating well in between. Sift in the flour and mix to combine.
Roll out the short crust pastry ⅛-inch thick on a floured surface. Gently place the dough in a greased 9-inch tart pan, then press firmly into all the grooves. Spread the marzipan mixture over the base of the tart. Bake tart for 15-20 minutes until the mixture is firm to the touch. Cool completely.
Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie and brush the base of the tart with the chocolate. This step prevents a soggy bottom.
For the vanilla cream, beat the egg and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add the vanilla bean, milk and sugar, bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute while stirring. Remove the cream from the heat when it has thickened. Remove the vanilla bean. Set aside to cool. Whip the cream to soft peaks, and fold into the cooled
Gently spread the cream mixture over the tart and top with strawberries, starting from the outer edge and overlapping the layers as you go.
Before serving, garnish with powdered sugar and mint.