Strawberries are a really versatile fruit–I mean how many amazing desserts come to mind when you think of strawberries? And out of all of those, I bet the first one that entered your mind was an American classic: strawberry shortcakes.
And so it only seems appropriate that this be my first strawberry post (oh there are many more coming! Crepes, while delicious, don’t count as the first! ). I was excited about strawberry season and all of the desserts I could see myself making, but my wife wasn’t too thrilled about it. This was the recipe that got her on board the strawberry train. Macerated, sweet, juicy strawberries are a delightful treat unto themselves, but with a flaky, crisp shortbread scone sandwiching it and sopping up those juices, you have an unstoppable combination. Throw a little home-made whipped cream, er, crème chantilly, in there, and these are just a sensation and my absolute favorite way to enjoy strawberries. Flaky, airy, light, summery, sweet, syrupy, creamy, fruity–just a lot of great, contrasting elements. I’m more speechless and bumbling than usual–that’s how good these are!
I adapted this recipe from a version included in The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert, but more importantly, this is my first entry in Strawberry Seduction, a food event focused on strawberries. Its not too late for you to join in, so check it out!
- 1 lb strawberries
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1.66 cups flour
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chopped small pieces
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Egg Wash: (this was a bad idea–burnt the bottoms!)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 Tbsp cream
- Crème Chantilly
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
The first thing you should do is prepare the strawberries for battle. Rinse, hull, and make long, thin slices from top to bottom. Set these slivers aside in a bowl and toss with the 1/4 cup of sugar, coating all of the pieces somewhat. Cover this bowl and set it aside in the fridge so that the berries can macerate. That little bit of sugar will coax the berries into releasing their sweet juices and will make that bowl of strawberries at least three times more awesome (feel free to measure this).
Now for another easy step to get out of the way right up front: making the Crème Chantilly. In a large bowl, simply mix the cream, sugar, and vanilla and beat it on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes or so until fluffed up in that billowy whipped cream texture we all know and love. Set this aside in a bowl or better yet, a bag (I put it into a plastic bag and cut off a corner–the poor man’s pastry bag!), and put this in the fridge to keep cool. No fancy can to spray it from, but a simple fancy taste.
So these cakes are 2/3 of the way done, but we haven’t actually done the “shortcake” part yet, so now seems like a good time to get to it. Preheat the oven to 400°F and get a baking sheet out. Then, in a bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients together along with the zest. Then, with a blender or a food processor, cut in the butter. The result will be a crumbly dough with pea-sized crumbs. This distributes the butter in such a way that it will allow for a delicate, flaky end result as the irregularly dispersed butter will expand irregularly throughout the batter during cooking (which is good).
Now, with a rubber spatula, gently mix the buttermilk and vanilla into the flour mixture, mixing as little as necessary to moisten the mix and completely integrate everything. The dough should look a little unwieldy at this point. This is also, as Martha Stewart would call it, a good thing™.
On a lightly floured surface, glob the dough together to form a thick block of dough, roughly 6 x 4 inches, cutting this into 6 squares. I thought the W&S book used a peculiar word to describe the dough, but really, it was perfect: “shaggy.” The dough is just kind of awkward–sort of tacky, rough, and it makes you worry that you did something wrong. Just dust it with flour if its sticking to you and keep on going ahead–all will be right with the world. Another tip: the rectangle/square shape, while seemingly awkward, is to prevent you from having excess dough (which you would if you formed circular pieces) as the more you handle this dough, the tougher the end result will be, so putting all of the extra pieces back together would yield a tough biscuit. You can always round out the rectangles a little after the fact if it really bothers you.
Place each of your six biscuits-to-be on the baking pan with adequate space in between each, but just before putting these in the oven, whisk the egg wash in a bowl. Lightly brush a little bit of this over the tops of the biscuits so as to help them color nicely, taking care not to pile on too much egg wash (or it will drip and pool underneath, causing burnt bottoms). Put this in the oven for about 15 minutes, removing these and cooling on a wire rack briefly.
I’m of the strawberry shortcakes should be served warm persuasion, so luckily, you can dive right into this dessert at this point. To put it together, simply grab a biscuit, slice it in half horizontally, pile some of the macerated strawberries on the bottom half (pour in a little juice, too), plop on some of the chantilly, and seal the deal with the top half of the biscuit. Dig in and enjoy!