Saturday, May 23, 2009

Berry Shortcake has Arrived . . . Is it Summer Yet?

Memorial Day weekend always calls for shortcake, with berries of one's choice.

And I'm not talking about those rubbery little yellow cakes, shaped like miniature swimming pools, that you can buy in a cellophane package at the grocery store. No ma'am. Those atrocities always seem to surface this time of year, conveniently stationed near the strawberries in the produce department. They're a pathetic and feeble excuse for a true shortcake. When you see them in the store just keep walking--don't look back. Didn't you have to eat enough of those as a kid? I know I did. (What do you suppose our mothers were thinking? Maybe the Apollo astronauts ate them in space?? I don't know . . . there had to be a reason. I know my mom could bake . . . maybe she was too tired to bake shortcake? Is that possible? Guess we'll never know.) Anyway, I digress, yet again. Forgive me.

I've tried quite a few shortcake recipes over the years, some quite good, some mediocre. This one is perfect if you're craving a shortcake that's not too biscuity, not at all sponge-cakey, but rather delicately sweet with a tender crumb. This is the golden ticket.

It hails from a book called In the Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley. I made these shortcakes today and served them with sliced ripe strawberries and big, juicy blackberries. The fruit had been tossed around, an hour or two earlier, with perhaps three spoonfuls of sugar. Topped it off with a generous, soft dollop of Chantilly cream (just a pretty name for whipped cream sweetened with sugar and vanilla).

The process for making these is almost identical to the process for making scones, and it's all easily done by hand. I doubled the recipe in the version you see below, and omitted the author's particular instructions for the fruit, as I think you should use any fresh fruit you like and prepare it as you prefer. I simplified and shortened her compilation instructions too, without deleting any critical steps or meaningful info.

Rich Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcakes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet (or two smaller sheets) with parchment.

4 cups AP flour (I used bleached)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder (yep, that does say two tablespoons)
1 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into small chunks
2 eggs, large, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole milk
10 Tbsp. heavy cream

About 1 (or more) additional Tbsp. heavy cream, and 1 additional Tbsp. sugar, for brushing and sprinkling on the shortcakes before baking.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients with a whisk.

Cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or use the two-knife method) until the pieces look no larger than, say, cranberries.

In a smaller bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then mix in the milk and the cream.

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients all at once and combine until the moisture seems more or less evenly distributed. (You can mix it with your hands if you prefer; it'll be real messy but it's kind of fun. Like making paper mache with your kids when they were little.)

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (a chilled marble board works great).

Using your hands, gently press the dough into a big rectangle, perhaps 14 by 7 inches, with a thickness of about 3/4 inch.

Using the cutter of your choice (round, square, any fairly basic shape that's not too small) dipped in flour, cut the dough into as many pieces as it will yield. Scraps can be gathered together, pressed out again with your hands, and cut with the cutter.

Place the pieces on the parchment on your cookie sheet(s). Brush the tops lightly with heavy cream and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake them on your oven's upper rack for approximately 12 minutes; check them and, if needed, put them back in for a minute or two more until golden and not too soft. Don't overbake if you can help it.

Cool the shortcakes on a wire rack. Serve them warm or cold, with your favorite fruit, cut up and sweetened.

Yummy with whipped cream on top, plain or sweetened.

Delicious any way you decide to try it!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yummmmmm.... I'm going to try these too.