Have you finally retired your scarf and gloves and are itching to get in the kitchen to start whipping up some summery delights? Nothing screams humid, dawdling evenings quite like a scarlet strawberry baked good. Before you head out to pick a pint of these supple delights, though, brush up on some tips and tricks to ensure your first toe-dip into summer is a refreshing experience.
While strawberries are available year round, the prime time for picking and snacking ranges from April until early July, with June as the far-and-away reigning month for strawberries in most areas of the country. Strawberries all fall into one of three major categories—June-bearing, ever-bearing, or day neutral—each of which is best suited for different climate zones.
I was once fascinated for a summer by all the different kinds of bananas in the world (over 1,200!) and tried to learn how to bake with a smattering of non-Chiquita iterations. While there aren't 1,200 different kinds of strawberries to taste test, 600 varieties of the ruby red fruit will never leave cooks at a loss for new ways to experiment. Some of these include:
1. Baron Solemacher: Large, juicy strawberries that bruise easily but are ideal for strawberry shortcake or eaten fresh with homemade ice cream.
2. Earliglow: A solid go-to choice for strawberry cakes and bread with a fairly consistent color and flavor.
3. Blakemore: A tarter berry, it's the ideal candidate for jellies, jams, and pie filling.
4. Sparkle: An heirloom strawberry variety that has proven to be popular with home gardeners in cooler climates—look for them at your local farmer's market.
Whether you're at a friendly neighborhood grocery store or picking berries straight from the patch, the same rules apply to berry selection. The best of this crimson treat have a distinctive shine. The sheen on a strawberry is the prime indicator of its freshness and is the most distinguishing beacon of great flavor. In addition, berries should be dry and firm: pass on any berries or pints of berries with mushy spots or lingering wetness. (This becomes particularly important later on when baking with strawberries.)
It is best to bake or cook with strawberries the day that you get them: the longer they sit, the more likely they will enter into soggy fruit territory. However, if you must store them prior to baking, several steps can keep your fruit firm. Most importantly: do not wash the strawberries until you are ready to cook with them. Unless you dry them very carefully, the excess moisture can increse the rate of spoilage. This goes for hulling strawberries as well—save this step until right before the strawberries are ready for their moment in the sun.
The ideal storage strategy for strawberries is inside your refrigerator in a dry paper towel or dish cloth-lined bowl. Between each layer of berries, place another paper towel lining so that berries aren't sitting in a lumpy stack. (Some folks argue that if the climate is cool enough in your area, strawberries can be left at room temperature, but I'd rather not leave the fate of my fruit to chance.)
Strawberries should always be used within 2-3 days of purchase. If you aren't planning on whipping up your berry treat until later than that, freezing them is the safest best.
Strawberries, like most of their berry counterparts, freeze beautifully. When you're ready for your fruit to hit the cold, wash them in chilled water and gently pat dry. Hull the strawberries with a strawberry huller (if you're into kitchen gadgets) or a paring knife (if you're like me) and spread them out on a paper towel lined baking sheet with a bit of space between each strawberry. Allow the berries to freeze overnight, then transfer them to air-tight storage containers.
When you're ready to bake, transfer just the amount of fruit needed for a particular recipe to the refrigerator to thaw. Fruit cannot be refrozen once it has thawed.
Choosing Strawberries for Baking
While the natural inclination is to select the plumpest, juiciest berries to add to your strawberry bundt cake or tea cake, don't be fooled. Strawberries are roughly 90% water, and the darker, fuller berries mean a higher concentration of water inside the berry. This leads to a sticky situation no one wants to have on their hands: unexpectedly soggy baked goods. The best strawberries for baking are just slightly under ripe, having just passed the stage of development where a white ring appears around the hull.
Strawberry Weights & Measures
1 cup strawberries (sliced): approximately 1/2 pint
2 cups strawberries (sliced): approximately 1 pint
4 cups strawberries (sliced): approximately 1 quart
Ready to get baking? Here are 12 strawberry recipes to make this spring.
About the author: Sarah Baird is a writer, editor, and petit four aficionado living in New Orleans, Louisiana. She likes planning elaborate dinner parties surrounded by her collection of dwarf citrus trees. You can read her latest musings and about her various misadventures on her website: hellosarahbaird.com or follow her on Twitter: @scbaird.