Strawberry Shortcake

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Strawberry shortcake is one of those desserts that has withstood the test of time.  With mentions in cookbooks dating back to the 1500’s and Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, this combination of fruit, cream and cake has won the hearts and sweet tooths of generations.

As a child, I devoured bowls of sweet biscuit topped with unsweetened strawberries drizzled in cream. While that version still holds a place in my heart, this updated recipe comes as close to shortcake perfection as I dare claim. Lightly sugared berries sandwiched with pillowy cream between layers of sweet biscuit topped with crunchy sugar are the epitome of an early summer dessert.

If you’ve been ladeling your berries over angel food cake all of these years, I invite you to return to traditional shortcake, a dough made with a high-fat content (both butter and heavy cream), which is baked quickly in a hot oven.  The resulting texture is sublime: light and tender, almost as if it were designed to be decorated with berries bursting with the scent and flavor of summer.

Strawberry Shortcake

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
dash freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons raw (turbinado) sugar (optional, but very yummy)

Preheat oven to 425° F and mist an 8×8” square baking pan with spray oil.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in food processor or medium-sized bowl.  Pulse or whisk to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly. Butter chunks should be about the size of peas if you are mixing in the food processor. If mixed by hand (with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers), cut the butter until the pieces almost disappear into the flour.

Add cream and either pulse or stir gently to combine.  If you need to, add a tablespoon or two more cream to bring the last crumbs together.  With wet fingertips, press evenly into baking pan. Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake until the top turns golden brown (about 12 minutes).  

Assembly:
1 quart strawberries
2 tsp white sugar or strawberry freezer jam
1 pint whipping cream
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste or 2 tsp vanilla

Wash and core strawberries.  Slice to desired size and toss with a few tablespoons strawberry freezer jam or white sugar.  Try to only prepare as many strawberries as will be eaten, as they will not keep well once sugared.

Whip cream with powdered sugar and vanilla paste until stiff.

Cut shortcake into squares and split each square in half as you would a hamburger bun.  

Layer: bottom of shortcake, scoop whipped cream, spoonful of strawberries, top of shortcake.  You can add more strawberries and cream to the top, if desired.

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