Me and strawberries are going through the wringer this week. It started with a large, plank-like shortcake with cream cheese, sour cream and a buttered center. It was a dud, an all-caps level DUD. I should have known better than to try a recipe from a dubious source, and also to mess with a perfect thing. Next came a strawberry-striped tweak on my favorite crumb cake, except it didn’t really stripe and when released from the pan, stood briefly on the counter, sighed then slumped wobbily to the side. Filed under: delicious dud hanging out in the freezer, waiting for the next barbecue invitation. Third came a [we’ll talk about it later] which I was attempting for the [that too] and it is all sorts of magically tasty if you can look back the large crater in the middle, as if strawberry filling had recently erupted from within it. Filed under: another delicious disaster and lordy, my freezer is getting full. Recipe four was tasty, but I’m debating whether it’s worth burdening your time to discuss; I will ponder this over my next serving but recipe five, recipe five is the real reason we’re here today.
It started with an apple brown betty, and my recent realization that I have never tried one. Butter + crumbs + sugar = what is wrong with me? Obvious that. Then I found a link I’d bookmarked eons ago to tiny brown bettys, molded in muffin tins, a web recipe from the late Gourmet Magazine. [Moment of silence.] And where it said “good-quality sandwich bread”, I read “Wonder Bread” because I can get it at the bodega. Where it said, “Gala or Fuji apples”, I read “South Jersey strawberries” because I can’t stop buying them. Where it said, “light brown sugar and cinnamon”, I read “dark and lemon zest” and I took “unsalted butter, melted” to mean “browned butter”. Because that’s what I always do. And I’ve never regretted it.
And so on round five of Something Early Summery That Will Make You More Welcome Anywhere You Go This Weekend, I finally have something to file within the category. If those rhubarb tarts were “rustic”, these are, um, “primitive” — white bread for crusts, bread crumbs for thickener, dark brown sugar for glue and browned nearly to the point of burning oops butter that made us happy with every bite.
Need another reason to make these? The baby, given his very first fingertip taste of whipped cream, proceeded to lunge with a force and ability to crawl forward heretofore unseen, at the plate of dessert. I like to believe that these bettys can have that effect on anyone.
More things with strawberries: In the new, even-more-obsessively organized Recipe Index, replete with the ability to pull up recipes by individual fruit or vegetable. CSA people, I was totally thinking of you!
Strawberry Brown Butter Bettys
Adapted generously from Gourmet
Makes 6 muffin-sized desserts
3/4 stick salted or unsalted butter
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
6 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar**
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
1/8 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs, or make your own, below*)
1 1/2 to 2 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced (I forgot to jot down the weight, but it was less than a half pound of whole berries)
Softly whipped cream, for serving
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
In a small pot, melt butter over medium heat. Once melted, reduce heat to medium-low. The butter will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is less than a minute. Remove from heat.
Lightly butter muffin cups with some of brown butter, then sprinkle with granulated sugar. Roll bread slices with a rolling pin to flatten. Brush both sides with additional brown butter, then gently fit into muffin cups.
Stir together brown sugar, zest, salt and panko, then add strawberries and toss to coat. Stir in remaining brown butter. Heap strawberry mixture into cups, pressing gently.
Cover pan with foil and bake 15 minutes. Uncover and bake until strawberries are very tender, about 10 minutes more. Let stand 5 minutes before removing from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.
* Make your own panko: Sure, it’s not exactly the same thing but I’m convinced that you can make very panko-like crumbs if you do the following — Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear one to two slices of soft, crustless white bread into 1-inch pieces and pulse them in the food processor until coarsely ground. This will make a generous half cup. Transfer crumbs to a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool. Use.
**Sweetness: [Updated 5/28/10] I “tested” this recipe with local, early-season not overly sweet strawberries. However, the ones you have may be sweeter. If you think your strawberries are on the sweeter side, you might want to dial the brown sugar back by one or even two tablespoons (the two tablespoon level, especially, if you like barely-sweet desserts). Hope that helps!