Strawberry Lemonade Jam

If you’re like me, you’ve already been totally seduced by the complex sweet perfume of summer strawberries, lying there all innocent-like in their little baskets and boxes… maybe even twice. Okay three times. Seriously, that smell! I take home pints, pounds, flats. But here’s the embarrassing thing: once those little red gems have enticed me into slapping down dollars to take them home, I eat a few, nibbling around the hull, I cut up a handful and stir them through yogurt, I may even sprinkle on some sugar and dollop on some lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Food blog June 2014-3929But the remaining berries languish. They flirt with me, teasing me with that gorgeous aroma, but once they are safely home and in the fridge (fruit molds FAST in my Southern California kitchen), the affair is half over already. I – how could I ever? – forget about them. And when they are weak and softening and reluctant to be sliced without collapsing, I try frantically to think of ways to use them so I won’t waste their summery tartness.

Well then, let’s jam. Strawberry lemonade jam. It’s an easy prospect. It’s a perfect non-adventure for a lazy day when pajamas are the right wardrobe choice, that novel you’ve been longing to finish finds its way into your hand, and you aren’t ready for breakfast until almost afternoon. And if that breakfast is toast with still-warm jam, well, carry on.

Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3357Strawberries, a few flurries of sugar, a generous squeeze of lemon (freshly squeezed, please), a pinch of salt for its indescribable magic (you won’t taste it, but it will heighten the flavors of the other ingredients), and if you’re feeling sassy, a drizzle of framboise or chambord for extra depth and tingle. I’m nearly always feeling sassy. Then a long, slow simmer, almost an hour, until the fruit breaks down and the bubbles get thick and sluggish. Strawberries don’t have huge quantities of pectin, so this isn’t a tremendously thick jam, but who needs that, in the summer?

Food blog June 2014-3934There’s little else to say, because really, a perfect summer beverage in jam form doesn’t need much advertisement, but I suppose we can linger over serving suggestions for a moment. A languid spoonful oozed over toast, or pancakes, or dribbled into the holes of a waffle, is perfectly acceptable. If the day has, as they say, “gotten away from you” in its summery glory, a soft ladle over vanilla ice cream could never be a bad thing. If you’re more of the cocktail type, a drizzle of jam topped with gin and soda would cool and sweeten a sweltering afternoon.

Food blog June 2014-3944I went as far as using this for the filling in a batch of cupcakes I took to a baby shower last month. A quick slather between layers of cake would do nicely as well. But really, since I’m a bit of a purist, I think my favorite application was slathered across the slightly over-toasted surface of an unapologetically thick slice of homemade sourdough bread.

Let’s do summer. Let’s jam.

Food blog June 2014-3943

Strawberry Lemonade Jam
Makes…. well, it was a summer afternoon… and I forgot to measure… but it certainly made enough to play with for several days.
1 ½ pounds strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
⅔ cups granulated sugar
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (I needed two lemons for this. You may need more or less depending on how juicy yours are)
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons fruity liqueur such as framboise or chambord, optional.
  • Dump all ingredients into a pot. Set your stove to medium heat and stir gently to combine and begin dissolving the sugar. Continue to stir occasionally as things heat up.
  • After ten minutes, the strawberries and sugar will be foaming up bright pink bubbles. Stir and reduce the heat to medium-low. We do want to evaporate some of the liquid the strawberries are exuding, but not burn the sugar.
  • Simmer for another 30-45 minutes for a loose but still spreadable jam. It will still look quite thin when you take it off the heat, but will thicken as it cools. If you are unsure about thickness, put a tablespoon or two on a plate and stick it in the freezer for five or ten minutes to see how thick the finished product will be.
  • Because strawberries don’t have a tremendous amount of pectin, this all-fruit concoction will never be as thick as a commercial jam. If that is what you are looking for, you will have to add thickener.
  • Serve warm or cool, in or on, or even under, your favorite bread product, or see serving suggestions above.

Photo Friday

I’m now feeling secure enough about myself, almost a month later, to share a few shots from my strawberries-and-goat-cheese biscuit disaster… They were pretty, and I love how ethereal the kitchen lighting is, but they were just so. damn. flat. Lesson learned. Jamming a full pint of strawberries into an innocent batch of dough does not fluffy biscuits make.

Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3371 Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3375 Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3424 Food Blog Photo Friday 2014-3429

Strawberry Irish Soda Bread for #TwelveLoaves March

Though I am reasonably certain I have some Irish blood somewhere in my Northern European mongrel veins, the luck of the Irish has never been particularly strong for me. I didn’t end up at the schools I’d crossed my fingers for, my job, while great, wasn’t my initial choice, and my thumbs are, at the best of times, a sickly pea soup color, not truly green. The bare, arid stalks of mandevilla I need to dig out of that pot on my porch speak wonders. I’m not destitute, and I’m far from unfortunate. Yes, things work out, but they mostly work out through just that: work.

Food Blog March 2014-3476This week was no exception. Bound and determined to make something spectacular, I embarked on this month’s Twelve Loaves challenge with plans to produce a tray of flaky, delicate biscuits, tangy with goat cheese and loaded with strawberries, folded and rolled and folded and rolled in the Ruhlman method to produce at least a dozen fluffy, puffy layers. I was going to call them “puff biscuits.” I’d already started writing a post.

Food Blog March 2014-3359But demanding that a full pint of strawberries get jammed into a biscuit dough containing a mere 9 ounces of flour (a scant two cups, if you’re counting) is apparently a recipe for disaster. The berries, juicy and tart, immediately dampened the dough. Every time I chilled, then folded, then rolled the dough, more juice, more moisture, more sticky sodden mess. And when I baked them, even after correcting my mistake of setting the oven temperature too low, they just didn’t rise. I mean, they rose a little, pushing up a half inch or so, but it wasn’t the sky-high triumph I was looking for. No puff. Maybe “button biscuits” would be more appropriate. An investment of over three hours produced a bowl full of terrifically flavored, flat-as-a-pancake discs I deemed, with dough packed under my fingernails and flour streaked in my hair (it was an emotional moment), a complete waste of time.

Food Blog March 2014-3451Except that they were delicious. It took me the rest of the evening, and part of this morning, to decide what had happened, and whether to post about it. In the long run, as I’ve noted, though I want this blog to be about delicious and beautiful food, I also want it to be about learning. In sampling piece after piece (of biscuit after biscuit – honesty is important, people), I was reminded of several puff pastry tarts I’ve made that didn’t cooperate either, and my conclusion is that this is a weight problem. Strawberries, even cut into small pieces, are heavy. Leaking juice and packing the dough, they prevented any kind of substantial rise from taking place, even though, as their flaky surroundings indicated, the baking powder and chunks of butter were doing their work. Additionally, the excessive smears of goat cheese I layered in probably didn’t help matters, overwhelming the dry ingredients with more fat than they could handle. Button-busting biscuits, perhaps.

Food Blog March 2014-3449 Food Blog March 2014-3454 Food Blog March 2014-3456Food Blog March 2014-3460So today, I’m trying my luck in another application that embraces both the strawberry theme and the cultural occasion: Irish soda bread, studded with strawberries, perked up with the added interest of lemon zest and fresh thyme leaves. It’s lousy with springtime.

Food Blog March 2014-3464This soda bread cooks in a pot, rather than on a cookie sheet, a technique I learned a year ago and haven’t gone back on since. Baking in a lidded pot retains the kind of moisture bread likes – the kind that commercial ovens pump in that home cooks have trouble emulating. The final few minutes of baking with the lid off sets a crisp crust, but the dribble of melted butter you brush over the loaf when it emerges from the oven ensures that this crust is tender and flavorful.

Food Blog March 2014-3465When baked like this, strawberries become at once sweeter and tarter (really? tarter? I’d prefer “more tart” but my grammar checker admonished me). Their tartness is enhanced by the lemon zest perfuming this loaf, and the herby note of the thyme makes sure it is not too sweet.

Food Blog March 2014-3467This in-betweennness is, I think, what I like so much about Irish soda bread. It feels eggy and rich, but in fact it has no eggs and only a few tablespoons of butter to it. It feels like a breakfast bread you could spread with jam or honey, but it could just as easily sit beside a thick beef stew (well, maybe minus the strawberries). And you could probably administer a few globs of chocolate hazelnut spread to its tender and willing embrace with no complaints.

Food Blog March 2014-3468In any case, the important thing is that it worked, and it was zingy and springy and delicious. Depending on the juiciness of your strawberries, this loaf may look slightly underdone when you pull it out of the oven. Give it an extra ten minutes, if you must, but once it is between 180-200F it should be fully cooked. The berries may create some doughy-looking pockets here and there, but this is nothing that a quick slick of butter and a toast under a broiler or toaster oven won’t fix.

Food Blog March 2014-3480

Strawberry Irish Soda Bread
Makes one 8-9 inch loaf
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Zest from 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 pint strawberries, roughly chopped
1-2 teaspoons raw sugar, optional


  • Position a rack in the top third of your oven and preheat to 400F.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients, including the sugar, lemon zest, and thyme leaves.
  • Using a pastry blender, a fork, or your fingers, cut in or rub in 2 tablespoons of the butter until it is evenly dispersed in pebbly little bits through the flours.
  • Add the buttermilk and bring the dough together with a fork. It should be damp but a bit crumbly. When there is almost no dry flour remaining, add the strawberries and combine gently.
  • Dump out your dough onto a floured board and knead gently, pressing the dough together into a ball with the heels of your hands. We are looking just to bring this together into a rough, sticky ball, not to knead it firmly. Think of scones, not of yeasted bread dough.
  • Once you are able to form the dough into a ball of about 6 inches in diameter, score the top with a very sharp knife – an x shape is most traditional.
  • Using 2 of the remaining tablespoons of butter, grease the inside of a dutch oven or similar large, oven-safe, lidded pot.
  • Carefully place the loaf in the pot, clamp on the lid, and bake in your preheated 400F oven for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and bake an additional 10 minutes, until the loaf is golden and lightly crisp, and an oven thermometer registers between 180-200F. If it still looks doughy when you peer at the score marks, give it an additional 5-10 minutes in the oven with the lid off. Meanwhile, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter.
  • Immediately upon removing from the oven, brush with the melted butter and, if you wish, sprinkle with the 1-2 teaspoons of raw sugar for a sweet crunch.
  • Let cool in the pot for at least thirty minutes before removing to a wire rack or straight to a bread board for slicing.