This week, a return to a dish I first made back in the very early days of my tenure at The Weavers Shed, back in the mid 1990s.

I came up with the idea of the strawberry club sandwich out of nowhere, and felt very chuffed with myself for inventing a completely new dish, only to be harshly disabused of this notion just weeks later, after reading an in-flight magazine which featured a New Zealand restaurant where the dish had been a staple for many years.

A little deflated, I persisted with the dish, and it was always a great success on my summer menus, in its various forms over the years.

It’s a dish which has evolved along with me over the years, becoming ever more elaborate as I picked up skills and techniques. Starting as a very simple sandwich of brioche, sliced strawberries and Chantilly cream, the dish picked up extra or alternative ingredients along the way.

The cream, a bit too squirty, was replaced with a more substantial vanilla crème patissière, and strawberry jam made an appearance. I invested in a dehydrating machine and this provided thin, crispy slices of strawberry to add texture and tartness. In came lime juice, out went lemon juice. I made compotes and gels, and every time I think I improved on my last efforts.

Now, in the modern era of more natural cooking, I felt it was time to wheel the old girl out again and have a go at modernising the recipe. These days, there’s much less emphasis on super-sweet desserts, with many contemporary chefs using neutral or even savoury elements in their puds, to add wonderful contrast.

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Vegetables are used a lot, too – sweet confit carrots and beetroots giving desserts an exciting new dimension. So, with all these ideas in mind, I set to work. Essentially, the building blocks are the same; a good home-baked brioche loaf, sliced and toasted, with lots of sliced fresh English strawberries, in their peak season. But to this I wanted to add a fresh, summery flavour, so I thought of Pimms, and decided to make a thin layer of jelly to add a textural contrast.

Thinking of Pimms immediately put me in mind of cucumbers, and how well they go with strawberries, so I added a few thin slices for crunch and perfume. Also for perfume, a few small basil leaves – not too much, just a hint of their heady notes.

From basil I made the leap to balsamic vinegar, and knew how good it is with strawberries (just try it drizzled over a bowl of strawbs and vanilla ice-cream – heavenly) so I decided the strawberry ‘ketchup’ would have a hint of balsamic.

Then, I decided to add a little warmth to the crème patissière by adding a little blush of pink peppercorn, another great partner to fresh strawberries.

A person picking strawberries

Finally, I wanted a ‘salad’ element, and decided upon spinach leaves, which work well with desserts – crisp, succulent and with a lovely refreshing flavour.

Please note, you need to start the brioche the day before, if you’re making your own. You could use shop-bought brioche loaves, or even plain Madeira cake at a pinch.

For the brioche:

500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting

Pinch of Maldon salt

140ml full milk, warmed to blood temperature

10g instant yeast granules

50g unrefined golden caster sugar

5 eggs, beaten

250g unsalted butter, diced and softened, plus extra for greasing

For the strawberry ketchup:

250g fresh strawberries

A splash of lemon juice

A splash of Balsamic vinegar

For the pink peppercorn crème patissière:

1 pint milk

75g caster sugar

6 free-range egg yolks

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tsp cornflour

½ tsp pink peppercorns, ground

Pink peppercorns

For the strawberry ‘bacon’:

6 large strawberries

The juice of a lemon

For the Pimms jelly:

150ml Pimms

100ml lemonade

50g sugar

3 leaves gelatine

For the filling:

Approx. 600g fresh strawberries

A handful of baby spinach

½ cucumber, very thinly sliced

A few basil leaves


A loaf tin

Silpat sheet or waxed paper


The day before, or earlier, make the brioche; Sift the flour and salt into the bowl of a mixer and add the dough hook attachment. Put the yeast, sugar and warmed milk into a jug and allow it to froth up for 10 minutes. Set on low speed and pour the yeasty milk into the flour and mix. After a few minutes on slow, add the beaten eggs and raise the speed to medium for 10-15 minutes, or until you have a smooth, elastic dough. It should be quite sticky and glossy.

With the machine still going, add the butter piece by piece, waiting until each one is incorporated. Tip the dough into a clean bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight to rise slowly. The next day, grease a loaf tin with butter. Tip out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for a few seconds to knock out the air.

Fold it in on itself, making a nice smooth shape on top, and drop this into the tin. Cover with oiled clingfilm and allow to rise in a warm place for 3 hours. It should be impressively inflated.

Remove the clingfilm gently, and heat the oven to 190ºC / Gas 5. Bake the brioche for 25-30 minutes, until a skewer plunged into the loaf’s heart comes out clean. It will darken alarmingly, but brioche should be a deep brown on top. Cool until you’re ready to go, and make a start on the crème pat.

Heat the milk in a pan until just simmering. Add the pink peppercorns and take off the heat. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and both flours to a smooth paste, then whisk in the milk and return the mixture to the pan. Bring to the boil, where it will thicken quickly.

Some juicy, ripe strawberries

Simmer for a few minutes to cook out the flouriness, and tip into a bowl. Cover the surface with clingfilm immediately, in order to stop a skin forming. For the strawberry ‘bacon’, slice the large strawberries as thinly as possible. Dip in lemon juice, shake off the excess and lay on the silpat sheet or waxed paper sheet set on a suitable tray. Dry the slices, turning a few times, under hot lights or in a warm, dry place. They will become hard and crispy.

To make the ketchup, Chop the strawberries roughly and whizz in a blender until smooth. Add a splash of lemon juice and just enough balsamic vinegar to add flavour. For the jelly, soak the gelatine in a jug of cold water.

Gently heat the Pimms, the lemonade and sugar until simmering, then remove from the heat. Squeeze the gelatine dry and add to the warm liquid. Swoosh it around until completely dissolved. Line a suitable square tub or tray with clingfilm and carefully pour in the jelly mixture. You’re looking for a thin layer of jelly a few millimetres thick. Refrigerate until set.

To assemble the dessert, toast three slices of brioche per 2 guests. Allow to cool, then start layering up. Spoon or pipe the crème pat ‘mayo’ and drizzle over some sauce, then add a layer of strawberries and some cucumber slices. Pop the next layer of toast on, with a little sauce and ‘mayo’, then a sliver of Pimms jelly, more strawberries, the crispy strawberry ‘bacon’ slices and some spinach leaves.

Top with the remaining brioche, skewer and cut into two or four wedges. Serve immediately. Some vanilla or strawberry ice-cream might make a delightful addition.