Only once you've made it home from the spring farmers' market with bushels of fresh, sweet strawberries in tow might it occur to you to wonder: How am I going to eat all these? Knowing how to freeze them so that you can enjoy peak-season fruit any time of year (or at least the next six months) is a crucial skill for any berry hoarder.
The first step is buying the best berries you can get your hands on—otherwise, what's the point of freezing them? For tips on hunting down ripe strawberries, check out our recent interview with a Michigan berry farmer. Follow his suggestions, head home with more berries than you know what to do with, and then follow the directions below for preserving berries at their peak until the day you're ready to use them.
How to Freeze Strawberries
1. Clean the Strawberries
If you're stashing berries in the refrigerator to eat within a few days' time, hold off on washing them until just before you plan to use them. (Introducing moisture to strawberries and then letting them sit around in the fridge is a recipe for mold.) For freezing berries, go ahead and rinse them as soon as you get home—or as soon as you see them start to shrivel—in cool, running water. Then spread them onto paper towels or a kitchen cloth to gently dry them.
2. Hull the Strawberries
Having put in the work to procure the best berries, you don't want to waste a bit. Instead of simply slicing off the top, hull the berries more carefully by inserting a paring knife at an angle into the stem end. Cut around the green stem in a small circle, then pop off the greenery and discard it.
3. Slice the Strawberries
Most recipes involving fresh strawberries—pie, cobbler or crisp, compote—will likely instruct you to halve or quarter the fruit. Halved berries are easier on your blender, too, in case you're only concerned about smoothies and/or milkshakes. Since it's exponentially harder to slice frozen berries, go ahead and do that now. If you prefer thinly sliced berries in a pie, slice them that way. Otherwise halve or quarter them depending on their size, and then lay them out in a single layer on a sheet tray that will fit in your freezer. If you've got so many berries that they won't all fit in a single layer, use multiple trays, or stack them by placing a piece of parchment paper on top of the first layer, making a second layer of berries on top. Repeat as needed. Just make sure the sliced berries aren't touching each other.
4. Freeze the Strawberries
Place the berries in your freezer for at least an hour and up to four hours. The more layers you have on your tray, the longer they'll take to fully harden.
5. Store the Strawberries
Once the berries are totally frozen through, scoop them into silicone or plastic freezer bags. Squeeze as much air as possible from the bags, seal them tightly, then place them in the back of your freezer. Try to avoid placing them in the freezer door, where the temperature can fluctuate and cause the berries to form ice crystals as they transition, over time, from mildly frozen to totally frozen and back. For optimum flavor, use your frozen berries within six months.
How to Use Frozen Strawberries
Berries that have been frozen then thawed won't easily be mistaken for fresh: They'll turn darker, go limp, and start to lose their moisture. For that reason, you won't be using these berries to make a beautiful garnish, dip in chocolate, or stuff between cake layers. (Admittedly that's no reason not to make this stunning, crowd-feeding, thyme-scented strawberry shortcake this summer.) But they will work wonderfully in any cooked or blended berry preparation.
To use your frozen berries in a cobbler, crumble, pie, compote, or jam, toss them right out of the freezer with whatever sugar and seasonings your recipe requires—no need to wait until they've thawed—and continue with the recipe as instructed. Many recipes will instruct you to allow the berries to macerate for a set time on the counter; the time will be the same for frozen berries.
For cakes and quick breads, you can fold frozen berries right into the batter (or scatter them across the top of a batter, as in this cake recipe) and stick them straight into the oven. Keeping the berries frozen will prevent their juices from bleeding into the loaf. (Pro-level hack: Toss the berries in a tablespoon or so of flour before adding them to the batter; it'll help prevent them from sinking to the bottom.) For something like this strawberry-nut bread, you'll need to thaw the berries so that you can mash them before incorporating.
For use in smoothies, milkshakes, daiquiris, and margaritas, add frozen berries straight to the blender. In some cases you may need a splash more liquid to purée them into a drinkable state.
For berry purées—which can be added to smoothies, enjoyed over yogurt or ice cream, or used to flavor frostings—concentrate the fruit flavor by following this method from Rose Levy Beranbaum: Place the frozen berries in a strainer suspended over a deep bowl and leave them for a few hours at room temperature. As the berries thaw, they'll release a lot of liquid, collected in the bowl underneath. Once the berries have stopped dripping—and after you've pressed on them gently with the back of a spoon to push out every last drop—transfer the released liquid to a small saucepan and boil on the stovetop until it's reduced and syrupy. Then add it back to the strawberries and purée. This trick also works with other frozen, sliced fruits that naturally have a lot of liquid—peaches, for instance.
To make a strawberry cocktail, such as this enchantingly creamy gin drink, you will need to let the berries soften enough to crush them with a muddler before continuing with the recipe.
Related video: What's Actually Cheaper at Whole Foods? [via The Street]
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