I have put off sharing this until strawberries were more widely available, as Louisiana is no standard for seasonality of produce. Lucky us, local strawberries are ready as early as late February, which is decidedly not the norm. I picked up a half-flat of ruby-red strawberries from the farmers’ market in mid-March, and they found their way into shortbread, among other goodies.
I was a little apprehensive about baking the strawberries, as they have a penchant for becoming watery in the oven. It’s also so tempting just to leave the berries whole and fresh and eat them as is, but I wanted to do something different. I reworked this peach shortbread to feature strawberries and added some complementary flavors: almond, in the form of flour, and bright lemon zest. The browned butter in the original recipe is an ingenious touch–browned, frozen to re-solidify, and rubbed into the shortbread crumbs, which double as a base and topping. I then somehow managed to forget half an egg (since I halved this large recipe), so the bars were more crumbly than they should have been. But due to the small quantity, all was well.
The result? The strawberries became jammy, sweet, and deeply concentrated in the oven, melding with a nutty, buttery crust (hello brown butter and almond flour!) with the hint of bright lemon zest to balance it all out in a thin, crumbly slice of spring that left me excited for the rest of the season.
generously adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s peach shortbread
Makes about 12 2 x 2 1/2-inch squares
A long list of adaptions: I halved the recipe to bake in an 8 x 8-inch pan, swapped strawberries for peaches, substituted some of the all-purpose flour for almond flour, added lemon zest, omitted the spices (cinnamon and nutmeg), and forgot to add (half) an egg.
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces or 100 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (4.25 ounces or 120 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1.75 ounces or 50 grams) almond flour*
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 egg (beat egg in a measuring cup and use half), or omit, but bars will be very crumbly
about 1 pint strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. It will melt, bubble and foam, turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom to prevent them from burning. Watch the butter closely– it goes from brown to burned very quickly. Transfer to a small bowl and freeze until solid (about 30 minutes).
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter (or nonstick spray) a 8 x 8-inch pan and line with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, rub together the sugar and lemon zest until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the baking powder, flours, and salt and whisk to combine. Using a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips (my preferred method, but work quickly), rub the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture. It will be very crumbly. Pat about 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly to make a solid base. Layer strawberry slices over crumb base in a single layer, overlapping slightly. Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over strawberries. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until top and edges are gently golden brown. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares or diamonds.
Storing and Keeping: These are best kept in the fridge, where they are good up to a week. Deb supposes freezing between layers of waxed paper, with the container sealed in plastic wrap, would work well.
*Although the texture from store-bought almond flour is best, you can make your own by processing blanched almonds (skins removed) in a food processor until fine.