Strawberry Shortcake Seduction
Brooke Parkhurst and Jamie Briscione
Thursday, Apr 29,2010
Strawberry shortcake--that spring indulgence of little cakes smothered in bright, sweet strawberries and thick, whipped cream-- can come simple, gussied up, homemade or right from the grocery store produce section.
While it’s not a dessert for all seasons (strawberries just don’t taste the same in November; see box) it’s definitely a sweet for all occasions. If there were ever a pastry that could come across as easy-going and down-to-earth on the plate--kind of how Brooke would describe Jamie--it would be strawberry shortcake. (Jamie might not like this comparison, but he appreciates the sentiment…)
We took an informal poll of family and friends and we couldn’t find one person who didn’t smile when we uttered the dessert’s name. But we did run into one big problem--the shortcake.
What exactly *is* shortcake? Is it a biscuit? Sponge cake? Pound cake?
Brooke, while being somewhat of a baking snob, insists that the ready-made sponge cake cups of her childhood are the best. She’d steer her mother to the produce section of the grocery store and then slip a tray of suspiciously bright yellow sponge cakes into the cart. A pint of strawberries and a spray can of whipped cream would follow. By the time Brooke’s mom was standing in the check-out line, pulling out the dessert fixins’ from her cart, it was too late to say ‘no.’ Brooke--and the super-sweet, packaged cakes--had won.
But Jamie, and his formative cooking years at Highlands Bar & Grill, swears by the virtues of the lightly sweetened biscuit that benefits from enough butter to make the dough tender and “crumbly.”
In fact, “shortcake” gets its name from the addition of shortening or butter to a dough. This type of fat makes the dough tender and the bread’s fibers “shorter.”
Finally, we did a side-by-side taste test. Brooke’s room-temp, ready-made sponge cakes vs Jamie’s warm, fluffy, golden biscuits. Each got a heaping of strawberries and a generous heaping of homemade whipped cream.
Though Brooke tried to plead her case through sentimental memories alone, she couldn’t even convince herself of a victory (this time). Jamie’s shortcakes, with their sugary, crisp tops and tender crumb interior were beyond comparison.
So like that high school sweetheart, who’s lost a lot of hair and gained 50 pounds, Brooke conceded that some things are better left as memories. And with a delicious shortcake like this for dessert, she’s not looking back.
South Florida is famous for growing some of the best strawberries in the country. Down there, they can be ripe and delicious as early as late February. But strawberry season hits its peak across the south starting in April and stays strong through July.
How To Select Strawberries
Bigger does not mean better! Some of the sweetest, juiciest strawberries are going to be on the smaller side and have a deep, red color. When hunting for strawberries, look first for color. Then check to see that none of the berries have soft or mushy spots. Don’t forget to look at the bottom of the strawberry container too! If there’s a pool of juice at the bottom of the container is a good sign that some of the berries have gone bad, and just like apples or high school kids, one bad one can spoil the bunch. Once you get your perfect strawberries, they are best stored in the refrigerator in the plastic container they came in.
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1½ tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ sticks butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1½ cups heavy cream, cold
1 egg, beaten
sugar for sprinkling
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon mint, chopped
zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons orange juice
fresh strawberries, as needed, about 1 quart for 6 people
lightly sweetened whipped cream, as needed
preheat oven to 375?
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the chilled butter and puree in bursts until the butter is in pieces smaller than a green pea.
Transfer the flour/butter mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the chilled heavy cream and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls into ball. Turn the dough put onto a floured countertop. Lightly flour your hands and press the dough into an even thickness, approximately ¾-1 inch thick. Cut the dough into rounds with a biscuit cutter or into squares with a knife.
Place the shortcakes on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Brush the top of the cakes with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake until risen and well-browned on top, approximately 15-20 minutes. Cool slightly before cutting.
While the cakes are baking, slice the strawberries and toss with the sugar, mint, orange juice and zest. Set aside to marinate until ready to serve.
Split the cakes in half and remove the top. Place a generous spoonful of strawberries and whipped cream on each base, before replacing the top to serve.
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