The origins of today's dish are a bit murky. Many years ago, I was watching a cooking show, probably on PBS, where a chef/restaurateur came on and showed some of the dishes that she served at her restaurant. I remember that she had some sort of pork cutlet dish because I enjoyed watching her pound the piece of pork with a tenderizing hammer and reforming the cutlet by folding the pounded bits back onto themselves.
I have no idea who this woman was, but she gave the impression of being the sort of person from whom you'd learn much if you were lucky enough to work in her kitchen. I do remember the dessert she made. She took raspberries mixed with some sugar, bread, and butter, and made it into a dessert by layering buttered bread with the raspberries. Then when the pan she was making it in was piled high, she wrapped it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated it.
Today's recipe also owes something to Alton Brown's layered strawberry recipe. His uses potato bread and smaller tin cans, but the idea is very similar. I believe that only his bottom layer has butter, in an attempt to slow seepage.
Seepage is, indeed, a difficult problem with this sort of dessert, especially if you're going to use a springform pan. I took a larger springform pan and lined it with plastic wrap and then put the smaller springform pan inside it, but I still ended up with strawberry juice all over the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. It would be wiser to put the whole thing in a non-springform pan, of course. Also, one might try putting a layer of butter around the seal in the springform pan. I think you just have to live with some seepage.
Mess or not, this was a wonderful dessert. It is, of course, hard to go wrong with good fresh strawberries, but I think this is one of the best ways I've seen to showcase them. It was a huge hit when I served it at brunch on Sunday. Everyone wanted to know what it was called, and then I was at a loss because I'd thought a great deal more about developing the recipe than developing the name. I have no idea what it should be called. I'm not really even sure what a fool is, culinarily. You could certainly call this a Charlotte, I suppose. For that matter, call it anything you like.
[Update: commenters have noted that this dish is properly called a summer pudding, and they are correct.]
The orange butter was my own idea, and I think it works extremely well here. You will probably have more than you need, but you can spread the leftover orange butter on the bread crusts and leftover bread, and you'll be very happy to eat those, as well.
I used Pepperidge Farm white bread for this recipe. Look for the package that says "bread with substance." It was just right. I used all of the crusts and other scraps to make a strata, which I also served at brunch. You need to start both the fool and the strata the night before since they both require time to soak up juices.
2 quarts fresh strawberries
2/3 c. granulated sugar
2.3 c. red wine
Grated zest of one orange
1/4 c. granulated sugar
4 ounces butter at room temperature
Remove the hulls from the strawberries and slice thickly. Put the strawberries in a bowl, add the 2.3 c. sugar, and stir well. Add the wine, stir again, cover, and refrigerate.
Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
Put the orange zest and the 1/4 c. of sugar in a food processor and process until the orange zest and sugar are very fine. Add the butter and process until creamy and well mixed.
Trim the crusts from the white bread and reserve them for another use. Spread a light layer of the orange butter on one side of the bread. Fit the pieces of bread around the perimeter of the springform pan, with the buttered pieces facing inward. You may have to cut the last piece to fit.
Spread more trimmed pieces of bread with the orange butter and fit them into the bottom of the pan with the buttered sides facing up. This will be a lot like putting a puzzle together, so try to enjoy it. When you have a complete layer on the bottom, add a layer of strawberries, with their juices. The strawberries should come not quite halfway up the springform pan.
Add a second layer of buttered bread slices on top of the strawberries. Then add another layer of strawberries and juice and top with a final layer of buttered bread, with the butter facing down.
Cover the springform pan as tightly as possible with plastic wrap, then put a pie plate and a five-pound weight on top of it. Put the springform pan in something that will catch the juices that will inevitably seep out, and refrigerate the whole deal overnight.
Remove the weight, pie plate, and plastic wrap, and invert the fool onto a platter. Release the sides of the springform pan and carefully remove it from the fool.
Slice the fool into pieces and serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Hopefully, you will be better at controlling seepage than I was, and your bread will be uniformly purple (it's the wine). Mine was in no way dry, however.
I am dying to try the same preparation with fresh blackberries when they're ripe later this summer. It would obviously also be very good with raspberries, and you can probably even you frozen raspberries. I'm not sure you'd need the wine in that case, though.