Friday, June 16, 2017

Strawberry Shortcake

I'm seven years old and my sister and I are dressed in our Sunday finest. Mom has also donned her best dress and wide-brimmed hat. She's taking us out for strawberry shortcakes, one of the regular rituals I remember from my childhood. It was a day just for the "girls" -- no boys allowed.
She sat behind the wheel of our 1956 black and white Chevy station wagon and drove us to that institution with the orange-colored roof and the 28 flavors of ice cream. Yes, that one -- Howard Johnson's restaurant, the chain whose glory days are long gone.
But those shortcakes were wonderful, evoking such lovely memories of my mother and sister and our special afternoons at Howard Johnson's.
They weren't the traditional shortcakes, but more like a sponge cake, topped with strawberry ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream. 
I've seen strawberry shortcakes made using sponge cake, using pound cake and even angel food cake as the base - not exactly textbook shortcakes, but all acceptable and delicious nonetheless. What's really heretical, however, are those small, yellow industrially made baked disks sold in cellophane packages that pawn themselves off as a base for shortcake.
Real shortcakes are made using biscuits - something any self-respecting Southerner knows. 
Not that I'm a Southerner. But recent trips to the South - New Orleans in April and North and South Carolina this month - found me eating more biscuits than even Paula Deen could count. 
(OK, I exaggerate a bit, but I had to leave room for some grits too.)
Feel free to make your strawberry shortcakes any way you love, but if you want an authentic version, then try this recipe.
After you've mixed the dough, knead it a bit (but not too much or the biscuits will be tough).
Then use a biscuit cutter, or the rim of a glass to cut the dough into rounds.
Place on a buttered cookie sheet and brush with melted butter.

Take them out of the oven before they get too tan (these were a tad too dark, but delicious nonetheless).
You'll find it hard to resist taking a bite of these rich, buttery biscuits when they come out of the oven, but if you want to use them for shortcakes, wait until they're cooled to cut them in half. (Conversely, eat them warm with a pat of butter and a slather of fresh jam and you can't go wrong!)
They should look like this - dense, with a flaky tender crumb.
Pour a little of the strawberry liquid on the bottom half of the biscuit, then load on the berries.
Top with freshly whipped cream and position the other half of the biscuit atop.
Go ahead and dig in and make your own memories while strawberry season is still here.

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Strawberry Shortcakes

(makes 6 shortcakes)


For the strawberries:

1 quart strawberries

1/4 cup sugar

juice from 1/2 lemon


For the shortcakes:

 2 cups flour

pinch of salt

3 Tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking power

1 stick butter (8 tablespoons) at room temperature

3/4 cup heavy cream


For the whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

juice of half a lemon  


Wash the berries and cut in half, or quarters, depending on their size. Mix with the sugar and lemon and let them sit at room temperature for at least a half hour, or longer.


For the shortcakes: whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Using your hands, blend in all but one tablespoon of the butter with the flour mixture. (save the last tablespoon for melting and spreading on the biscuits). Mix the cream into the flour mixture and blend by hand until it sticks together. You may need to add a bit more cream if it seems too dry. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it's completely blended and soft, but don't knead any longer than necessary or the biscuits will be tough.


Roll out to about 1/2"-3/4" thick and cut with either a biscuit cutter or the floured rim of a glass.  I was able to get four with the glass, then hand shaped the remaining dough into two more rounds.


Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and spread over the biscuits, then bake in a preheated 450 degree oven and check after 10 minutes. They may be ready to come out but if you like them a little more colored, leave in for a couple more minutes. Keep a close eye on them so that the bottoms don't burn.


Remove from the oven and cool before splitting. After splitting, drizzle a little strawberry juice on top of the bottom half, then pile on the strawberries and whipped cream. Position the top half a little askew over the strawberries and decorate with a mint leaf, if available.


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