Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Strawberry Shortcake – The Taste of Early Summer

One of the great things about the beginning of summer is all the wonderful berries. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, shnozberries … Okay, maybe not those. Still, berry season will soon be over so, it's time to do something extra special with them. I'm thinking strawberry shortcake.

Strawberry shortcake is a beautiful summer dessert. It's pretty simple: a tender biscuit, a sweet and chunky strawberry sauce, and whipped cream. Pretty sexy, if you ask me. There is a little work involved, but it's worth it. Good ingredients are important, though. Make sure you have ripe strawberries, but not overripe. No amount of manipulation can save bad fruit.

Equipment needed
cutting board
paring knife
measuring spoons and cups
mixing bowls
potato masher
rubber spatula
biscuit cutters (optional, you can just use a large glass or empty can)
parchment paper
rimmed baking sheet
cooling rack

1 quarts strawberries
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
11 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided (1/2 cup, plus 3 tablespoons)
2 cups all purpose flour, plus a little extra for the counter
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup half-and-half
2 cups whipped cream

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes, place on a small plate in the refrigerator until needed.

Remove the stem and white core from the strawberries with a paring knife. In a large bowl, crush 3 cups of the strawberries with a potato masher. Slice the remaining 5 cups of strawberries and stir into the crushed ones, along with 6 tablespoons of sugar. Let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes until the sugar dissolves and berries give off their juices.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 °F, with an oven rack in the middle position.

Now it's time to start on the biscuits. In another large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of flour, 3 tablespoons of sugar, the baking powder and salt. Scatter the butter on top of the flour mixture and mix together, using clean hands, until it looks like coarse corn meal.

Note: A food processor will make short work of this, but hands have been around for a lot longer and will do fine.

In a separate bowl, gently whisk together the egg (not the egg white) and half-and-half. Add to the flour mixture and gently stir together with a rubber spatula just until clumps start forming.

Lightly flour a clean counter top and turn out the mixture. Gently kneed the dough just until it comes together. Overworking the dough will result in tough biscuits. Using your fingertips, pat the dough into a 9-by-6-inch rectangle, about 1-inch thick. Cut six rounds out of the dough with a 3-inch biscuit cutter or glass. You'll have to gather the dough back up at least once, and you'll probably end up with an extra biscuit, maybe two. That's okay, though. This is cooking, not dental surgery.

Note: I don't use biscuit cutters. Instead, I cut the tops and bottoms off a couple of cans of water chestnuts. Why pay for something if you can recycle something else for free?

Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the dough round on the sheet, 1-inch apart. Gently beat the egg white with 1 teaspoons of water and brush the tops of the dough rounds. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Bake the shortcakes until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for ten minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

By now, the strawberries should be ready. Now would be a good time to whip the cream, before assembly.

Split each biscuit in half. Lay the bottoms on individual serving plates. Divide the strawberry mixture evenly over each bottom, and then top with a dollop of whipped cream. Cap with the biscuit tops, and enjoy.

Make 6 servings.

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