It’s been years since I’ve been strawberry picking, mainly because of my location, lack of a car, and student life-stage. When I was younger, my mother would take us every year as soon as school was out for the summer in June. It was always prime berry season, and so we’d come home with buckets full of strawberries, ready to make jam, pies, and just eat straight-up. My mom also froze many of the strawberries, so we’d have yummy strawberries during the winter, too.
This year I was finally able to make it happen, but it wasn’t the same as my childhood experiences. Maybe it was the nostalgia of the past, but this year’s experience wasn’t as fulfilling as I had hoped. The berries were rather small and the layout of the fields wasn’t quite the same as where I went when I was younger, so it was a totally different experience. Nonetheless, I came home with a batch of pretty, small-but-juicy strawberries. I recognize, appreciate, and am grateful that my mother was able to take us on such adventures, offer us a great experience of picking our own berries, and enabled us to appreciate nature. I was equally disappointed not to find any rhubarb during this trip, but I think it just means I’ll have to go again!
Once I got home, I decided to bake up a pound cake to top with my pickings. While browsing a restaurant menu (I can’t recall which one) earlier in the week, I noticed a ricotta pound cake on the dessert side, and decided I would try my hand at making it. There doesn’t seem to be an abundance of ricotta pound cake recipes online, so I just used the first one listed (this recipe, by Giada de Laurentis) as my basis. I made a few modifications; for instance, I only had part-skim ricotta on hand, so I used that rather than the whole milk the recipe called for. While the recipe calls for 1 and 1/2 sticks of butter, I used 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon. I also used less sugar, 3/4 of a cup rather than the 1 and 1/2 cups called for, since despite my love of sweets, I know that sugar is not good for me, so I tend to decrease the amount that most recipes call for. I find that most recipes are fine with less sugar (about 1/4-1/2 cups less than called for), and you can also substitute honey for some (or all) of the sugar if you’d like, although it may change the consistency/outcome of the baked good.
I also used regular, all-purpose (AP) flour rather than the cake flour the recipe called for. I know that cake flour has less gluten in it, which results in a lighter/more tender product, and while some people might be able to discern a difference in the end product, I still thought the pound cake made with all-purpose flour came out well and light. However, after doing a bit more research on the differences between cake and AP flour, I would like to give this recipe another try using the cake flour, to study the difference.
Given the modifications I made, this recipe took 58 minutes to bake, instead of the 50 minutes listed. I set my timer for 50 minutes, but when it wasn’t fully cooked through, I added 4 minutes of baking time at a time (so as to keep cooking, but to prevent overdoing it).
Lastly, I played around with flavorings for my strawberry compote topping. This was a fun little experiment for me. As I was perusing strawberry compote recipes, I was inspired to try a few different flavor compositions. I started with balsamic vinegar, then I tried a gin and lime juice combo, and my last experiment was to try gin and balsamic vinegar together. I cut up a handful of strawberries into 3 small bowls and sprinkled 1-2 teaspoons of sugar on top of the strawberries to bring out the juices. I let those still for about 5-10 minutes. For my balsamic vinegar flavor, I added about a tablespoon of the balsamic to the strawberries and let it sit for another 5-10 minutes. For the gin and lime juice combo, I added a tablespoon of gin and ~2 teaspoons of lime juice, and for my gin and balsamic vinegar combo, I did equal parts gin and balsamic (1 tablespoon each). I let all those sit for 5-10 minutes so the flavors could develop and the juices of the strawberries could meld with the flavorings. After their rest period, I cut up slices of the pounds cake and topped 3 different slices with each of the 3 compote flavorings. My favorite was the plain balsamic, while L. Smith preferred the gin and lime juice combo. We both agreed that the gin and balsamic flavor was not to our liking, but I’m sure if you tweak amounts and/or add other flavors, you could make a winner out of it (perhaps add more sugar, and not equal ratios?).