I did not do my homework, or I was naïve, or both, thinking that the rabbits would leave my new strawberry patch alone. They are systematically eating their way through the rows. I should have known better – pet rabbits are given strawberry leaves as a treat. Fencing in the strawberry patch is out of the question because to really keep the bunnies out, the fence needs to be galvanized hardwire cloth, buried 6 inches in the ground and at least 3 feet high, like my vegetable garden. Even a stubborn gardener like me must admit that this is not economical for a strawberry patch, and very labor-intensive.
But I wasn’t ready to give up just as yet so as a last attempt (all products I have tried in the past did not work), I bought Plantskydd, an organic rabbit repellent from Sweden that is supposed to do miracles. With one leaf left on a plant, so I learned, the strawberries might survive the onslaught. If in a week or so, the new leaves are not chewed off, the stuff works. Until then, I am not getting my hopes up too high.
Fortunately, our neighbor, a part-time farmer, grows strawberries. He has supplied us with super-ripe strawberries twice this week. This strawberry cake was an impromptu operation so I used what I had on hand. For the lining of the crust, I made a small batch of strawberry jam of the ripest strawberries. Unless it’s top-quality or homemade, I find most strawberry jams nothing but sugary so this was more than a solution borne out of necessity.
Strawberry Cake with Vanilla Custard
3½ ounces shortening
7½ ounces flour
¼ tablespoon salt
Ice water as needed
1¼ to 1½ pounds washed and hulled strawberries
4 teaspoons + ¼ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1. Put the shortening with the flour and the salt in the food processor and process to a crumbly consistency. Add ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. In the meantime mash a few of the ripest, strawberries, and the least pretty ones (about 4 ounces) with a fork. Put them in a small saucepan with 4 teaspoons sugar and cook over low heat to a thick, jam-like consistency, stirring often. Set aside to cool.
3. Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. Put the seeds, the bean and the milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
4. Stir the egg yolks with ¼ cup sugar and the cornstarch in a small bowl until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. When the milk boils, remove the vanilla bean. Take the saucepan off the heat and slowly pour the egg yolk mixture into the milk, whisking constantly. Put the pan back on the stove and cook over low heat until the custard thickens, whisking constantly. Set aside to cool, stirring once in a while to prevent a skin from forming.
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Roll out the dough to fit a 10-inch springform pan plus ½ inch edge. Place the dough into the pan. Even out the edge. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on top and fill with pie weights.
7. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven but to do not turn the oven off. Let stand 3 minutes, then remove the pie weights and carefully remove the foil. Put the pan back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Let the crust cool slightly on a rack, then brush is with the strawberry jam.
8. Spread the cooled vanilla custard on top. Slice the strawberries in slices and arrange them on the custard in a scale-like pattern. Chill until serving.