Thursday, April 24, 2014
For many the apogee of Maine’s strawberry season is to pile them onto biscuits for the proverbial strawberry shortcake. With the Fourth of July upon us, it’s certainly the time when this very American dessert takes center stage at backyard barbecues and picnics.
Most of the shortcakes that I encounter, though, are too heavy and doughy--bulbous, chewy cakes that are more fitting as a savory biscuit than a dessert base. I much prefer those that are flakey and sweet.
These were perfectly ripe berries, ready for their place on shortcakes; as the season progresses use fruits and berries in season to put on shortcakes--peaches, plums, cherries, raspberries, etc
That’s why I took to a recipe I came across several years ago, which fit my idea of the perfect shortcake biscuit. I found it in The Art of Simple Food by the venerable chef, Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame. She, of course, was the pioneer of the original farm-to-table movement—aka California Cuisine--way back in the 1970s when her restaurant featured largely local ingredients. Her recipes are simple but complex with flavor and texture.
In her shortcake biscuit, her method is to use heavy cream as the liquid base for the dough instead of water or milk. The richness of the cream on top of a relatively high fat content (butter) makes for an extremely delicate biscuit. The rest is all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt and sugar.
Brush any excess flouroff the biscuit rounds, clean the crumbs from the pan and brush the tops lightly with heavy cream before baking
To assemble the dessert she also recommends pureeing some of the berries to mix in with whole berries, creating a very intense strawberry sauce to drape over the biscuits.
The biscuit dough is a snap to prepare. I find it best to cut in the butter with a pastry blender over other methods followed by gentle strokes when mixing the cream into the flour and butter. You want the dough to come out moderately moist; if it’s still crumbly add a few more drops of heavy cream. Knead it gently a few times and roll and cut into biscuits and bake.
Except for the flour, I made my biscuits using locally sourced ingredients. The butter and cream were from Bisson’s and the strawberries came from Fairwinds Farm.
The biscuit recipe yields 6 to 8 biscuits, depending on size, but if you want just four biscuits, use 1 pint berries, hulled and halved, 2 tablespoons sugar and enough heavy cream (about 1/2) to whip for the topping. The leftover biscuits keep well for several days in an air-tight container.
Adapted from “The Art of Simple Food” by Alice Waters)
Servings: 6 to 8
1 quart strawberries hulled and halved
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons, baking powder
6 tablespoons cold butter cut into small cubes
3/4 cup heavy, or more as needed
1 cup heavy cream
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Topping: Put the prepared berries into a medium-sized bowl. Add the sugar and mix. Scoop out about 1/3 cup berries and puree in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Stir into the berries and let sit for at least 15 minutes.
Biscuits: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Once the biscuits are out of the oven, let them cool to room temperature before slcing and filling with the berry mixture
Sift together the dry ingredients into a medium size mixing bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender until they are the size of small peas. Add the heavy cream and stir gently with a fork until all combined; if the dough is not moist enough to hold together, stir in more cream drop by drop. Do not overwork the dough.
Knead the dough gently in the bowl until it comes together or transfer to a very lightly floured board and knead the dough until it holds together. Roll out to 3/4 inch thick and cut into 6 to 8 biscuits using a 1 1/2 to 2 inch biscuit cutter. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment, lightly brush the tops with heavy cream and bake for about 17 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Allow to cool before using.
To assemble the shortcakes, cut each biscuit in half, spoon a layer of berries over the biscuit half, with a dollop of whipped cream; cover the biscuit with the other half, add more berries and another dollop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.
July Fourth Strawberry Shortcakes
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.