There is something about dessert that makes or breaks a meal for me. I used to love those sticky, gooey, chocolately creations like fudge cake or warm brownies but I'm moving towards a lighter end to the meal in my old age. For my parents (let's call them Mr and Mrs Spud) Thirtieth Wedding Anniversary I decided to adapt this recipe from Neven Maguire 'Home Chef' and was really pleased with the end result. They look really pretty stacked and dusted with icing sugar and make the best of summer strawberries while they are still in season. There really is nothing to dislike about crumbly shortbread, smooth creme patissiere and sweet strawberries! The only tricky part of this recipe is making the creme patissiere as the eggs can scramble if you don't keep beating rigorously when you put the mixture back on the heat, but with patience and a hand-held electric beater you won't go wrong. If in doubt, keep beating!!
The shortbread will keep in an airtight tin for up to 24 hours and the creme pattisiere can be kept in the fridge for up to a week so this is the perfect dessert to make in advance.
For the Shortbread
150g butter, diced at room temp
75g icing sugar, plus extra to decorate
150g plain flour
pink of salt
For the creme patissiere
seeds scraped from half vanilla pod
2 egg yolks
25g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
For the balsamic syrup (optional)
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
seeds scraped from half vanilla pod
275g strawberries (or raspberries)
1. To make the shortbread discs, place the butter in a bowl and sift over the flour, cornflour and icing sugar on top. Add the pinch of salt and about 2 tbsp of cold water. Using a hand held electric beater beat the ingredients together until a soft dough is formed. An extra tbsp of cold water may be required but only if the mixture is still very crumbly and won't form a ball. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave the shortbread to rest for at least an hour in the fridge.
2. After such time roll the shortbread out on a HEAVILY floured work surface. Go gently as the dough is fairly soft and will break if treated too harshly. Cut out discs using a 7.5cm round cutter. Ideally you should leave the discs to rest for about a half hour to stop them shrinking when they are put in the oven.
3. When rested, cook the shortbread in a 180c oven for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool completely.
4. For the creme patissiere place the egg yolks, caster sugar and flour in a bowl and beat with the electric beater for about 3-4 mins or until the mixture holds the trail of the beaters loosely and is a lighter yellow colour. Heat the milk in a pan with the vanilla seeds. Gently bring to the boil. When bubbles form on the bottom of the pan take the milk off the heat and pour onto the egg mixture, beating with the electric whisk all the time. Transfer to a clean saucepan and cook over a low heat, beating continuously with the electric beaters. Don't stop beating until the mixture is as thick as heavy custard (like Bird's Custard out of the carton for example) and keep the heat low. This should take about five minutes but be patient and don't be tempted to crank the heat up or you'll be eating scrambled eggs!!
5. Once the mixture is thick take off the heat and straight away place in a clean bowl and leave to cool in the fridge. I think I may have been too cautious when cooking my creme patissiere and should have left it on the heat a little longer to thicken.
6. The balsamic syrup is a fancy extra and can be left out. Place the syrup in a saucepan with 2 tbsp of water and bring to the boil. Quickly reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes until you have achieved a rich caramel colour or the sugar has hardened. Carefully add the balsamic vinegar (the pan will splutter), 100ml of cold water and vanilla seeds. Simmer for 2-3 minutes and then take off the heat to cool. Once cooled the mixture will become syrupy.
7. To assemble, chop the strawberries evenly. Place a disc of shortbread on the plate/bowl, top with a tbsp of creme pattisiere and a handful of chopped strawberries. Place another disc of shortbread over this and again top with a tbsp of creme pattisiere and a handful of chopped strawberries. Finish with a final shortbread disc so you have a three tiered shortbread tower. Drizzle over the balsamic syrup.