Anatomy of a Classic

Strawberries and Dumplings

Strawberries come early in Louisiana, and New Orleans pastry chef Kelly Fields makes the most of them in her one-skillet dessert

photo: Johnny Autry


“Don’t be scared of pastry,” Kelly Fields advises. Easy for her to say. Fields has been in the game for nearly twenty years, and has gone from preparing elaborate gingerbread houses at the Biltmore in Asheville to, most famously, pastry chef at John Besh’s Restaurant August in New Orleans.

Fields was so good at her job that Besh let her take over all of his restaurants’ dessert operations, and in 2015 gave her and fellow pastry chef Lisa White the keys to Willa Jean in New Orleans’ South Market District. Named after Fields’s grandmother, it was supposed to be a simple bakery. Now six hundred people pack in for brunch on any given Saturday.

Ever since Fields made New Orleans home in 2002, she’s had a thing for the local strawberries, which can come on strong as early as December and hit stride by March. They were once to Louisiana what oranges are to Florida or apples are to New York. In the 1930s, varieties like the Headliner and the Klondyke, whose deep-ruby fruit was so delicate the lightest touch would elicit a wave of scent, filled 23,000 acres of Louisiana soil.

Though the state’s production has waned, strawberries are still big business in Tangipahoa and Livingston Parishes. Fields likes to turn them into a simple and homey pan of strawberries and dumplings: sweet biscuits baked atop a juicy mix of berries, sugar, and a little lemon zest.

Even though Fields is regarded as a precise pastry chef, she recommends home cooks go easy with this dessert. Cut the biscuits into “any old shape you like” and, though she prefers to bake the dessert in a cast-iron skillet, use “whatever dish you damn well please.” Baking, after all, should be fun.

“You can’t be intimidated,” Fields says. “If you mess something up, it’s still most likely going to be delicious.”


Ingredients

  • Filling

    • 2 to 3 pints fresh strawberries (about 6 cups when cleaned)

    • ¼ cup sugar

    • 1 vanilla bean

    • Zest of 1 lemon

    • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, diced

    • 1 tbsp. St-Germain liqueur (optional)

  • Topping

    • 5 tbsp. cold butter, in one whole piece

    • 2 cups cake flour

    • 2 tbsp. baking powder

    • 1 tbsp. sugar, plus more for sprinkling

    • 1 tsp. salt

    • 1 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing

    • White chocolate whipped cream (recipe below)

  • White Chocolate Whipped Cream

    • 1 sheet leaf gelatin

    • 1 vanilla bean

    • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream

    • 6 oz. white chocolate, chopped (such as Valrhona)


Preparation

  1. For the filling:
    Rinse, hull, and cut strawberries in half. Set aside. Place sugar in a large bowl. Split vanilla bean down the length of the pod and scrape out the seeds using the back of your knife. Place seeds and lemon zest in sugar and rub together with your fingers to break up clumps. Add strawberries, butter, and liqueur, if using, to bowl and toss to coat. Set aside for 1 hour.

  2. For the topping:
    Grate the butter using the large holes of a box grater; place in a bowl and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

  3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

  4. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and 1 tbsp. of sugar together to blend. Add the butter and toss with your hands to distribute. Add the cup of buttermilk and mix with your hands until a shaggy dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured tea towel or work surface and, with a light hand, roll into an 8-by-12-inch rectangle. Fold one long edge to the middle and bring the other side over it.

  5. Turn the dough over and roll again, repeating the fold. Flip and roll dough into a 10-inch square. Using a 1½-inch biscuit cutter, cut as many rounds as possible. Gather the scraps and reroll them until you’ve used all the dough.

  6. Pour the strawberries and their juice into a deep-sided 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Place the biscuits on the strawberries and brush with buttermilk. Sprinkle each with sugar. Bake until the tops are golden brown and the juice is bubbling, about 30–40 minutes.

  7. Top each serving with a dollop of white chocolate whipped cream.

  8. For the White Chocolate Whipped Cream:
    Bloom gelatin in 1 cup of cold water until soft (about 10 minutes). Split vanilla bean down the length of the pod and scrape out the seeds using the back of your knife. In a saucepan, combine heavy cream and vanilla, and scald over medium-high. Whisk gelatin into hot cream to dissolve. Place chocolate in a large bowl, then pour in cream and whisk until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Cool to room temper-
    ature, cover, and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, whip until soft peaks form.

Meet the Chef: Kelly Fields

Hometown: Charleston, South Carolina

Recurring nightmare: She hears the restaurant ticket machine in her dreams. “I still worry that I can’t keep up with it.”
Moment she knew her staff had jelled: When her kitchen crew heard Prince had died, they broke out in a heartfelt rendition of “Purple Rain.” “I thought, ‘We are a family.’”


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