Strawberries are easy to find at any time of year in Australia. In winter, they come from Queensland, but as summer arrives, so does the NSW harvest. It's worth seeking them out at growers' markets or picking your own at places like Castlereagh Strawberries in the Hawkesbury. With the warmer weather, it's also the time to start growing your own - strawberries are easily grown in pots and are perfect for small backyards, even balconies.
For better flavour, let strawberries come to room temperature before eating them. If possible, put them out to warm in the sun for 30 minutes to bring out their full taste and aroma. Wash and handle them gently and as little as possible to avoid bruising them. They make a great breakfast smoothie combined with freshly squeezed orange juice. I also love mixing them with rhubarb, as in this rhubarb and strawberry fool recipe. And this shortcake filled with fruit tastes as good as it looks.
325g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
6 tbsp castor sugar
125g unsalted butter, diced small
1 large egg, beaten
125ml single cream
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
3 drops balsamic vinegar (optional)
250ml double cream, whipped (or creme fraiche)
Preheat oven to 200C. Mix flour, salt, baking powder and 3 tablespoons castor sugar in a bowl. Add butter to dry ingredients and use your fingertips to crumble butter into flour. Whisk egg into cream, and pour into flour mixture a little at a time, using a fork to mix. You may not need all the eggy cream to make the dough come together, so add it carefully.
When dough comes together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll gently to a thickness of about 2 centimetres. Dip a 6.5-centimetre round cutter in flour and cut out as many rounds as you can. Work scraps back into a dough, reroll and finish cutting out - you should get 8 rounds.
Place shortcakes about 2.5 centimetres apart on a greased or lined baking sheet, brush tops with egg white and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons castor sugar. You can cover and refrigerate them now for up to 2 hours before baking.
When ready, bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden-brown, and let them cool briefly on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, crush half the strawberries with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, add balsamic vinegar if using, and halve or quarter the remaining strawberries, depending on their size.
The shortcakes should be eaten while still warm, so split each one across the middle, cover with a spoonful of the crushed strawberry mixture, add a few halved or quartered strawberries, then dollop some whipped cream or creme fraiche on top, and put the top back on.
Rhubarb and strawberry fool
300g rhubarb, thinly sliced
150ml dessert wine
400ml thickened cream
75ml maple syrup
300g strawberries, thickly sliced
1 packet almond biscotti
Place the rhubarb in a small pan with the dessert wine. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 5 minutes or until soft, then set aside to cool completely.
In a bowl, whip the cream with maple syrup to form soft peaks. Fold in the rhubarb and sliced strawberries, and divide between six glasses. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour before serving.
Serve with almond biscotti on the side.