Strawberry shortcake is a curious thing. When I think of it, I see Fourth of July picnics, clambakes and gingham tablecloths. I envision pitchers of lemonade, potato salad and cole slaw; corn on the cob, hot dogs and kosher pickle spears. Strawberry shortcake is a bona fide summer meal – the kind that comes with 90 degree weather and fireworks. Of all dessert out there, it’s the one that says to me, summer is here, get your picnic blanket out and put on some Joe Cocker. I’m not sure why, but Joe Cocker makes me think of summer and lazy afternoons and tall, tumblers of lemon ice tea covered with tiny beads of moisture.
But strawberry shortcake to me doesn’t just say summer – it says a summer gathering, a party, a congregation of friends and family.
So why, if this is such a thing of summer, did I make strawberry shortcake in the middle of April and for an Easter dinner of all occasions? You’re probably also wondering what on earth I was doing making an Easter dinner to begin with, but bear with me for a moment. There’s a perfectly logical and valid explanation for all this and as usual, my life always offers a bit of a comedy of errors element. You see, over a particular IM chat, I offered to make dinner for a friend the weekend after Easter, but what he heard was “the weekend of Easter holiday”. Better yet, I became aware of this broken telephone mishap while talking to his brother who thanked me for providing his sibling with an Easter feast. By the time I put the pieces together in my head, I figured, why not. And an Easter dinner was on.
For those of you who’ve never made your own shortcake, I implore you – please do. Shortcake is incredibly easy to make, I can’t think of a single way where it might go awry for you, so if you’re a beginner this is a particularly great recipe to start on. I promise you this much – once you have a made-from-scratch strawberry shortcake, you will never go back to the semi-homemade version again. It’s just one of those perfect meals, the kind that makes you involuntarily close your eyes in bliss the second the food touches your tongue. Personally, strawberry shortcake makes me weak in the knees, the same way say, Robert Plant’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” makes me weak in the knees – a little smiley, woozy, intoxicated, dizzy.
It’s an added bonus that almost no one I know dislikes strawberry shortcake. Besides with the temperatures fluctuating from mid-forties to mid-nineties, when does winter end and summer begin? I figured at this rate I might as well make the strawberry shortcake and just maybe this would help to usher warmer weather in. It’s been wishful thinking thus far, but I’m hopeful.
Strawberry Shortcake with Mint and Whipped Cream
Bon Appétit, July 2001
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chilled whipping cream
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
For berries and cream
3 1-pint baskets strawberries, hulled, sliced
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 cup chilled whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Blend flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter. Using on/off turns, process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 cup cream and orange peel. Process just until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball; gently knead 5 turns. Roll out dough on floured surface to 3/4-inch-thick round. Using 3-inch-diameter biscuit cutter, cut out 3 rounds. Gather dough and re-roll as needed to make 3 more 3-inch rounds. Arrange rounds on prepared sheet. Brush with 2 tablespoons cream; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake biscuits until pale golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. (Can be made 2 hours ahead.)
Make berries and cream:
Combine berries, 1/2 cup sugar, mint, and orange peel in medium bowl; gently stir to blend as not to bruise the berries too much. Let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Combine chilled cream, vanilla, and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in large bowl (it is helpful if you chill the bowl beforehand). Whisk by hand or with a hand mixer until soft peaks form.
Cut biscuits horizontally in half. Place 1 biscuit bottom in each of 6 bowls. Top each with berries, then sweetened whipped cream and biscuit top.
Yield: Makes 6 servings