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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Strawberry Shortcakes

My mother always made strawberry shortcake with Hot Milk Cake and served it at my wedding reception. I have a sentimental attachment to that strawberry dessert. I believe it was Tom who told me about this recipe some years ago and I've found I prefer it. Many of us Americans have become accustomed to sponge cakes for our strawberry shortcake but I believe this biscuit style has been around longer. It may not be a quick and easy dessert, at least compared to a sponge cake picked up in the grocery store, but it is relatively quick as home baked desserts go. One of the reasons I like this better is that it is less sweet. Another reason is the contrast in texture provided by the crisp top of the shortcake. It really is pretty wonderful.


Strawberry Shortcakes

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Magazine
serves 6-8

For the strawberry sauce:

3 pints total fresh strawberries, hulled:  with a potato masher or fork crush 1 pint and quarter the remaining 2 pints 
6 T granulated sugar

For the shortcakes:

2 cups flour, plus more for work surface and biscuit cutter
1/2 teas table salt
1 T baking powder
3 T granulated sugar
2 T granulated sugar for sprinkling
1 stick unsalted butter (8 T), frozen
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c half-and-half
1 egg white, lightly beaten

For the whipped cream (use the real stuff, so much better):

1 c heavy cream, chilled
1 T granulated sugar
1 teas vanilla extract

Mix crushed and quartered berries with sugar in medium bowl; set aside while preparing biscuits (or up to 2 hours).
 Place your oven rack to lower middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and 3 T sugar in medium bowl. Using large holes of box grater, grate butter into dry ingredients. Toss butter with flour to coat. Use pastry cutter to finish cutting butter into flour. Or quickly rub butter into dry ingredients with fingertips until most of butter pieces are size of split peas.

Mix beaten egg with half-and-half; pour into flour mixture. Toss with fork until large clumps form. Turn mixture onto floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together.

Pat dough into 9- by 6-inch rectangle, 3/4 inch thick. Flour 2 3/4-inch biscuit cutter; cut 6 dough rounds. Place 1 inch apart on small baking sheet; brush dough tops with egg white and sprinkle with remaining sugar. (The dough can be covered and refrigerated up to 2 hours before baking.) Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Place baking sheet on wire rack; cool cakes until warm, about 10 minutes. Or you can eat them several hours later.

Chill nonreactive, deep, 1- to 1 1/2-quart bowl and beaters for a handheld mixer in freezer for at least 20 minutes. Add cream, sugar, and vanilla to chilled bowl; beat on low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium; continue beating until beaters leave a trail, about 30 seconds more. Increase speed to high; continue beating until cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 seconds for soft peaks or about 30 seconds for stiff peaks. If necessary, finish beating by hand to adjust consistency. (CI states that cream can be transferred to fine sieve or strainer set over measuring cup and refrigerated up to 8 hours. However, I've never tried this.)

Split each cake crosswise. Spoon a portion of berries and then a dollop of whipped cream over each cake bottom. Cap with shortcake top; serve immediately.

Note from Colette:

If you can't use 8 shortcakes, they freeze well in an airtight container. I recommend storing in the freezer even for a day or so. The sugar will melt and you'll lose the crisp top if you leave on the counter.  Prepare fewer strawberries and less cream if you are serving fewer shortcakes. I rarely measure either berries or cream these days and just use what I come up with. This recipe works well with many fruits, although I have another for a peach shortcake with ginger which I'll publish in time for peach season.

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