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Strawberry shortcake needs freshest ingredients

| Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011

When it comes to desserts, there usually are only two categories I'm interested in: chocolate and dark chocolate. But then, there's strawberry shortcake, which sneaks into my repertoire every summer. Strawberry shortcake delights us with its bejeweled, sparkly appearance on the picnic table. But the key to making this dessert properly is baking a real, honest-to-goodness shortcake, and the recipe that follows gets it right.

The extravagant layers -- fresh cream; juicy, real berries; tender, sugar-encrusted sweet biscuits -- beg to be devoured and are a great party dessert. You can lay out the ingredients and let people assemble to their heart's content.

You're not dealing with many items here, so ingredients have to be of the freshest and highest quality. The cream scone-biscuit base makes the perfect basket for just-macerated sun-ripened strawberries and softly whipped cream.

The shortcake also makes a superb accompaniment to morning coffee, the tender butter cakes soaking up the sharp bitter coffee nicely.

Strawberry Shortcake

For the cream biscuits (shortcake):

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, plus extra for glazing
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

For the strawberry filling:

  • 4 cups strawberries, roughly chopped
  • Sugar to taste

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To prepare the cream biscuits: Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In the bowl of a food processor (or just a regular bowl) pulse (or stir) the flour, baking powder salt, and sugar to combine. Add the butter to processor, and pulse until the butter is cut into the flour, until whole pieces of butter the size of large kidney beans remain (the butter should seem a little bit big to be left like that, but don't worry, you'll process more later).

Add the cream and vanilla, and pulse again until a shaggy, sandy dough is formed. Turn the dough onto a dry, clean work surface and gather the bits into a ball, handling it as little as possible. You want the dough to be barely holding together. The dough will be sticky.

Roll the dough ball to about an inch thick and cut with an old jar, glass, biscuit cutter or cookie cutter. Place on lined baking sheet, brush lightly with cream (adds a nice brown to the finished dough) and sprinkle the turbinado sugar onto each of the creamed, uncooked biscuits.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until just golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

To prepare the strawberry filling: While the biscuits are in the oven, chop the strawberries and season with a little sugar, to taste. The sugar helps the fruit become juicy. You want the juice. Set aside for at least 10 minutes to fully develop the flavor and juices.

To prepare the whipped cream: Whip the whipping cream in a stand mixer, and add the salt, sugar and vanilla. Whip until soft peaks form.

To serve, slice a cooled shortcake in half, pile high with berries and a dollop of whipped cream.

Makes 10 servings.

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