Archive for May, 2008

Strawberry Shortcakes

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Strawberry shortcakes are a quintessential early summer dessert. When my mother took my brother and I strawberry picking as kids, this was a much-anticipated and ill-deserved reward, since most of the strawberries we picked seemed to end up in our mouths or pelted at one another, rather than in the waxed-cardboard crates we were supposed to be filling. Those strawberries sang with sweetness and tangy flavor, and the sun heated them to a perfect temperature to melt in our mouths. Later that evening, quick batches of biscuit and whipped cream would make perfect companions to our pickings. My mother used to make one large biscuit and present the shortcake like a regular cake. I prefer to bake individual wedges, sprinkled with turbinado sugar for sparkle. Shortcakes will keep overnight in an airtight container. There’s no hiding lousy fruit here. It’s all about the berries. Make sure you get the freshest, farmiest, most juicy and deserving berries you can find, and serve them at room temperature.

For Strawberries:
4 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced. Reserve 6 of the smallest, prettiest strawberries for a garnish. If some have long stems, even better.
4 tbsp maple syrup
For Shortcake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tbsp turbinado sugar
For Cream:
1 cup well-chilled heavy cream
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 425.
Combine sliced berries and maple syrup, and allow to sit at least ½ hour to meld flavors.
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Add butter and blend with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in zest. In a small bowl, mix egg, milk, and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture until a dough forms. Turn out onto a hard surface and knead for a minute or two until dough is smooth. Form into a 6-inch disk, and cut into 6 wedges. Sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Using a standing or handheld mixer, or a whisk and some elbow grease, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla, and whip until hard peaks form.
To assemble shortcakes, split each one in half with a knife, place the bottom half on a dessert plate, and spoon most of the strawberry mixture on top. Top strawberries with most of the whipped cream, and cover with the top halves of the shortcakes. Spoon remaining berries around the sides and top each shortcake with a small spoonful of whipped cream and one of the reserved whole berries.
Serves 6.