While at school, I happened to have coffee with a professor (on multiple occasions, as she always manages to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step regardless of pre-existing grumbles). As we plowed through a myriad of different conversation topics, we fell upon cooking. In a wonderfully kind and enormously appreciated gesture, this professor [knowingly] enabled my procrastination abilities and handed me a tote bag full of old Cook’s Illustrated magazines, sticky-noted with suggestions and recipes that she uses for her family.
Needless to say, I was in heaven. (Still am, actually…definitely a good example of the imperfect tense in French – not only an emotion, but a state that began in the past and continues to the present. Merci à vous, chère prof extraordinaire !)
Cook’s Illustrated is a fantastic review of recipes published after immense scrutiny. As a result, the recipes that make the cut are polished and often foulproof. Furthermore, the pages include scientific reasons why certain ingredients fail and other succeed – handy to note if ever one needs to do a little ingredient switcheroo.
Bref, upon hitting these “lazy” summer months, I’ve been reading through these Cooks Illustrated like it’s my job…which it isn’t…but that’s alright ! In so doing, I’ve copied multiple recipes including this fabulous strawberry shortcake concoction from the 1997 May/June issue. I’ve made shortcakes before, but they never have quite the proper consistency. This go-around, I was pleased to discover a nice, scone-like shortcake that was so easy to make, the dessert was ready in under an hour (20 minute prep, 20 minute cook/cool). For a family that loves spontaneous sweets morning, noon, and night, a quick fix is a popular one.
June is strawberry time in MA, and we’ve been nibbling on native berries that are small but incredibly sweet. Whip up (or roll out) some shortcakes while this fruit is still in season !
3 pints strawberries (Mash 1 pint, quarter the other two)
6 tbsp sugar (optional ! If those strawberries are really fresh, just add 1-2 tbsp)
Squeeze of lemon if desired.
Wash the berries and pat them dry. The recipe divides them by pints, but I just did it by handful – one handful of mashed berries to two handfuls of intact berries. I don’t have a way to measure a pint in the kitchen, so I rely on my eyeballs. Mash the berries with a fork – they don’t need to be beaten into a pulp, just macerated enough to release some of the juices and make a faux (well, fausse) sauce.
For the “intact” berries, hull and quarter them. Hulling is very easy – pull back the stem, run the knife around the center of the berry, making a cone shape, then pull it out and discard.
Cut the berry into quarters, put in a bowl with the sugar (as little or as much as you prefer – I didn’t need much due to the freshness of the berries).
A little lemon juice is pleasant as well, as is Grand Marnier liqueur. Let this sit while you prepare the shortcakes.
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar; 2 tbsp for sprinkling (5 total)
1 stick butter, frozen
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cups + 1 tbsp half and half
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 425F. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and 3 tbsp sugar. Mix together to evenly distribute the ingredients. Set aside.
Grab that stick of FROZEN butter. Using a large cheese grater, grate the butter onto a plate (or directly into the dry ingredients, if you are strong enough to do so. I am a weakling and cannot grate while holing our [broken] grater). I put a plate or a paper towel on top of the counter and therefore grate straight up and down rather then on an angle. I found it was easier to do it this way, if not simply for the well-being of my whisk-worn wrists. Toss the butter curls into the flour mixture.
If you don’t have a grate, fear not ! Simply cut the butter into small, workable pieces and mix them into the flour mixture.
Using your hands, work the butter into the flour until it forms large clumps and resembles cornmeal…or almond flour. You should be able to squish the dough between your fingers and it will momentarily keep its shape.
Mix the beaten egg with half and half; pour it into the flour mixture. I made a hole in the dry ingredients and emptied the egg combo into the center of the flour, then mixed with a fork. Stir until large clumps form.
Turn mixture our onto a floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together – this shouldn’t take long nor a lot of flour – it’s a sticky, soft, loose dough. Just make sure the countertop is nicely floured and you shouldn’t have any problems.
Pat dough into a 9-by-6” rectangle (well, that’s rather fussy, isn’t it ?) that is 3/4 inches thick. I would just estimate a nice rectangle that is about the thickness of your pinkie nail. The cakes will rise in the oven, but not excessively, so keep that in mind when you are patting out the dough. Cut the dough into 6 rounds (or more, depending on how thick or thin you made your dough). I used a glass as my “cookie cutter” and it worked perfectly. Place over the dough, press, turn, and lift – works like a charm.
Place 1 inch apart on a large baking sheet. Brush the tops with eggs whites and sprinkle with remaining sugar – if you have turbinado sugar, or raw sugar, I think that would be excellent.
Bake until golden brown – probably about 12-15 minutes in a hot oven. Upon removal, let the cakes cool until warm, about 10 minutes.
To serve, split each cake cross-wise and plop a hearty spoonful of vanilla ice cream in the center. Spoon berries over ice cream and maybe a little whipped cream, and serve on a back porch on a warm sumer night !
Bon appétit ! 🙂