Strawberries with real shortcake
Obsessive compulsive disorder – a.k.a. OCD. It’s become one of those “in” conditions people use to describe themselves or others. Like depression, OCD can be a genuine clinical disorder requiring treatment. In popular vernacular, though, it’s merely become a reference about someone caring about getting something right. And most of us have at least one or more “obsessions” like that, not an attitude that permeates our entire interaction with the world.
For me, one of those things is nomenclature, especially anything to do with food and cooking. I’m lax about chasing a few stray pennies to make my checkbook precisely balance. But “wild mushrooms” on a menu should have been foraged in a forest, preferably on a misty dawn morning. Homemade/housemade better not have come from a box.
Then there’s shortcake. Those cellophane-wrapped things with the depression in the middle displayed next to the strawberries in stores? Those are sponge cakes. Strawberries with angel food cake or pound cake? They may be delicious, but they are NOT shortcake. Shortcakes (the “short” refers to the amount of fat) belong in the biscuit family, as do scones.
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Here’s the real deal. I like to use a generous amount of strawberries in proportion to the shortcake, making this a big dessert. So keep the previous part of the meal on the small side. Then again, people eat biscuits and berries in the morning meal. Since shortcakes are part of the biscuit family, why not have strawberry shortcake for breakfast?
For the strawberries:
- Strawberries – as many as you like, at least 1 c. per person
- Honey, optional
For the shortcakes:
- 1¾ c. flour
- 1 T. baking powder, preferably Rumford
- 1 T sugar
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 c. heavy cream
- Melted butter
- Turbinado or Demerara sugar, sometimes labeled Sugar in the Raw
- Whipped cream
- Ice cream
- Whole strawberries
Wash the strawberries and gently dry them by rolling them around on a lint-free towel; then remove the stems with a paring knife.
Set aside one whole berry per person to use as a garnish, if desired. Slice the remaining berries and put half of them into a large bowl. Mash with a potato masher or a fork to a very chunky sauce, then add the remaining sliced berries. Mix and then season to taste with sugar and a little honey, if desired. Be careful: too much honey can interfere with the berries’ flavor. The amount of sugar needed will depend on the berries’ sweetness. Set aside while preparing the shortcakes
Preheat oven to 425°. Mix dry ingredients thoroughly in a medium large bowl. Stir in the cream. If the dough seems dry, add a little additional cream or milk, a tablespoon at a time. After a dough is formed, knead about 30 seconds, then turn it out onto a floured surface. Rub a bit of flour between your palms and pat it into a disc or rectangle about ¾” thick on a floured surface. Cut it into six rounds or squares. Brush the tops and bottoms with melted butter, and place on an ungreased baking sheet. (Line the baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup.)
Sprinkle the tops with the sugar. Bake 15-20 minutes. Makes 6.
To assemble the strawberry shortcakes:
Cut the shortcakes in half horizontally. Place the bottom half on a plate with a deep rim or a shallow soup bowl. Spoon about 2/3 of the sliced and mashed berry mixture evenly over the shortcakes. Let stand for at least 15 minutes and up to half an hour. Place the top halves over them, and top with the remaining strawberry mixture. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and a whole reserved strawberry if desired. Serve immediately.
Strawberry chocolate Napoleons
If you’d like some chocolate with your strawberries, try this recipe, which looks as good as it tastes. Phyllo dough is available in the freezer section of most grocery stores. If you’ve never worked with phyllo dough, don’t let the tissue paper thin sheets intimidate you. Just remember to keep the sheets you’re not working with covered, or they’ll dry out. And don’t worry if they tear: they’re easy to patch and repair. Unless I’m feeding a crowd, I seldom use a whole package at a time. Don’t bother trying to save or refreeze extra dough sheets – they’re inexpensive, and don’t refreeze well.
- 2 c. strawberries, washed and thoroughly drained and dried
- Sugar to taste, plus ¼ c. for the whipped cream, preferably baker’s or bar sugar
- ½ package phyllo dough, unthawed according to package directions
- 1 c. dark chocolate chips, Ghirardelli double chocolate or 60 percent preferred
- ¼ c. unsalted butter
- Turbinado or Demerara sugar, sometimes labeled Sugar in the Raw, for sprinkling
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- mint sprigs for garnish, optional
Preheat the oven to 400º.
Stem the strawberries and slice them, reserving 4 whole berries for garnish. Toss with sugar to taste and let stand for at least ½ hour. The amount of sugar will depend on the tartness of the berries.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it is bubbling, remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Keep warm.
Phyllo dough comes in 1 lb. boxes; lately most are divided into two packages that contain half sheets. If you purchase a box with whole sheets, cut them in half or fold them over.
Lay a (half) sheet of phyllo dough on the parchment lined baking sheet, with the widest side at the bottom (cover the remaining phyllo with a lint-free towel, plastic wrap or parchment to keep from drying out). Brush and dab the sheet with the chocolate/butter mixture. It should be just barely coated, not saturated. Place another sheet on top and repeat for a total of six layers. With a sharp knife cut the pastry into thirds vertically, and in half lengthwise. Then cut each rectangle crosswise into triangles. Lightly sprinkle turbinado sugar over the top.
Place a sheet of parchment paper over the top of the pastry and cover with another baking sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp. Remove the top baking sheet and the parchment paper and let cool. If you will not be serving the Napoleons within a few hours, place the pastries in an airtight container as soon as they are completely cooled; they absorb humidity very quickly.
Have your bowl and whisk cold for whipping the cream. Place the cream in a bowl and add the sugar and vanilla. Whisk until the cream forms soft peaks.
To serve, place a chocolate triangle on a plate. Add a dollop of whipped cream (a generous tablespoon), then spoon over some of the strawberries with the juice/syrup that will have been created by mixing them with the sugar. Repeat for two more layers (a total of three chocolate wafers). When you put the third wafer on top, press very gently, then reverse the order by putting a spoonful of strawberries, then a dollop of the whipped cream, and then finally a whole strawberry on top. Garnish with a mint sprig if desired and serve immediately. Serves 4.