No, that’s not the punchline to a joke, we really have a lot of gooseberries. We planted a single bush in my herb garden a few years ago but it didn’t produce much except fine thorny stems which scratched me when I tried weeding around the bush. When it did have berries we didn’t remember to look for them until they were all on the ground going bad. But this year Curt happened to check the bush when the berries were still on the stems and they were just starting to ripen. Eureka! Hiding under those leaves were clusters of fat, juicy, rosy, lovely berries.
Okay. Now what? We realized we had no idea why we planted this bush because frankly we have no ideas on what to do with gooseberries. We’ve all heard of Gooseberry Fool, but frankly that didn’t seem appealing. The berries are sort of tart/sweet but have a thicker skin like a grape so sprinkling sugar on them doesn’t easily sweeten them up. So Curt did what he usually does when he has an ingredient that stumps him – he goes to the internet. In a little while he knew more about goosebeerries than he ever wanted to know plus he had a few possible recipes. The winner, from a blog in the UK by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel called The British Larder: Inspirational Recipe Diary, was Gooseberry Polenta Slice.
We happen to have a scale that reads in ounces or grams so we followed Ms. Bonvini-Hamel’s recipe as she wrote it, so kids, get out your conversion scales, all the measurements are in grams.
Gooseberry Polenta Slice
50g caster sugar (caster sugar is also known as Bakers Sugar in the U.S. – it is finer than granulated but not as fine as powdered sugar. You can approximate it by running granulated sugar in a dry blender for 1-2 minutes)
5g custard powder (this is not something I’d ever encountered but a search of the internet reveals that you can successfully substitute Vanilla Instant Pudding mix)
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
125g plain flour
50g polenta (I only had coarse polenta – see comments below)
2 medium egg yolks
Cream the butter and the sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, cream well.
Add the custard powder and flour and mix until the pastry comes together. The pastry will be sticky and soft – don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s supposed to be that way. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.
Line a large baking pan (I used a 12″ x 18″ commercial half-sheet) with parchment paper. Separately, roll the pastry out between two sheets of parchment paper until its 1/4″ thick and roughly a 7″ x 17″ rectangle. Remove the top sheet of parchment and transfer the pastry, still on the bottom sheet to the baking pan. Yes, you’ll have two pieces of parchment under the pastry – all the better to catch any errant gooseberry juices when baking. Place the lined pastry pan in the fridge until needed.
12 sugar cubes
40g polenta + 5g for dusting
1 egg white
Preheat oven to 340 degrees. Wash the gooseberries and remove the stems and tails, drain well. Whip the egg white until fluffy and slightly aerated. Break the sugar cubes into pieces, but not too small – you want them to be chunky. Fold the gooseberries into the whipped egg white and fold in the polenta and half of the broken sugar cubes. Retrieve the pastry pan from the fridge ands spoon the gooseberries onto the polenta pastry on the lined tray leaving about 1-1/2″ margin on all sides. Fold the margin of the pastry from each side over the filling and press together to make a smooth edge encasing the gooseberries. Scatter the rest of the sugar lumps over the gooseberry mix and sprinkle 5g polenta over the tart.
Bake the gooseberry slice for 40 minutes, turn the oven up to 355 degrees and bake for 15 more minutes. Let the slice cool on a rack before cutting. Serves 6.
Out of the oven it is a beautiful rustic looking pastry.
The verdict? Well it tasted good. The gooseberries keep their tart sweetness, sort of like rhubarb. Curt thought the cake was dry but I liked it. The juiciness of the berries was a nice contrast to the firmer cake. The downside for me was the crunchy bits of polenta. Cooked polenta is soft and creamy but baked polenta, or at least our baked polenta, still had crunchy bits, sort of like little raspberry seeds, throughout the cake. Did we eat it, yes, all of it. We even served it to a guest who seemed to enjoy it. Using a finer polenta or even a Mexican Masa Harina in whole or part as a substitute for the coarse polenta might work. Likely it would give the cake a more refined and less rustic mouth feel. We found that leftover cake kept for 4 – 5 days in the fridge, reheated in a covered microwave dish with a little water sprinkled on it, helped to softened the polenta bits. Add a drizzle of syrup on the warm cake and it was quite tasty.
Would we make it again? Probably not but we still have a lot of gooseberries.