Last weekend I was thrilled to find an abundance of strawberries at local farmers markets. The berries, bright red through and through and oh so tender and sweet/tart, begged to have a special place in homemade strawberry shortcakes.
But how to choose which berries to buy? I decided on two vendors based on taste tests. Armed with enough berries to last a week, I headed to my kitchen. I have a favorite shortcake recipe and it is by James Beard. The cakes are super tender because he includes cooked mashed egg yolk in the dough. I pretty much follow the recipe outlined by Larry Forgione in his seminal cookbook, “An American Place,” (Morrow, 1996), but I add finely grated lemon zest and a tiny bit of freshly grated nutmeg.
I wrestled with the idea of including a modern cooking ingredient, such as lavender, in the shortcake dough, but after googling “lavender strawberry shortcake” and finding oodles of fairly ordinary recipes, I abandoned that idea and stuck to something more traditional.
Beard’s shortcakes, made with butter, heavy cream, sugar, cooked egg yolks, baking powder, and salt, is about as basic as it gets. My additions of lemon zest and nutmeg brighten the flavor considerably.
But local strawberries are the stars, and now is the time to make strawberry shortcake because their summer season is fleeting. We’ve become blasé about strawberries’ availability because the commercial ones are in supermarkets year round. These strawberries are a thing of their own: they have lovely aromas but strange crunchy textures and their centers are often white. They are not what strawberries should be: lusty, juicy, and full of flavor.
Many shortcake recipes say to handle the dough minimally because overworking it can make the shortcakes tough. Not this recipe. You can actually knead the dough thoroughly and you’ll still be rewarded with tender cakes for your strawberries.
Ready, set, bake!
Makes 6 servings
2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
2 mashed hard-cooked large egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 pints fresh local strawberries, washed, patted dry, stems removed, berries sliced or quartered, plus 6 perfect whole berries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Either weigh the flour or spoon lightly into dry measuring cup, fill to overflowing, and sweep off excess with a straight edge. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt thoroughly. Add the butter and cut it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender (or use your fingertips) until it’s the consistency of fine meal. If you have a food processor, use the metal blade for this step. Add the lemon zest and mashed egg yolks and whisk them in vigorously. Or pulse them in with a food processor. If you’ve used a food processor, dump the ingredients into a medium bowl.
3. Add 3/4 cup of the cream and stir with a fork until the dough just holds together. Scrape the dough—and any stray dry particles—onto an unfloured surface and knead the dough for a few seconds until it all comes together into a smooth mass. If the dough is at all sticky, dust lightly with flour.
4. Pat the dough into a roughly 7-inch square about 3/4-inch thick. With a plain floured 3-inch biscuit cutter, stamp out 4 dough rounds. Try not to twist the cutter, which will compress the dough and cause it to rise unevenly. Reshape dough scraps, pat out, and cut 2 more dough rounds.
5. Line a baking sheet with cooking parchment and place shortcakes 3 inches apart on the baking pan. Brush the dough with the remaining heavy cream and sprinkle on the remaining1 tablespoon of granulated sugar.
6. Bake about 15 minutes, until cakes have risen and are golden brown and feel firm to the touch.
7. While shortcakes bake, combine the prepared sliced strawberries and sugar in a medium bowl. Let stand about 30 minutes.
8. In a medium bowl, with chilled beaters, whip the cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, until cream holds a shape. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
9. When shortcakes are done, transfer them to a wire cooling rack. When cool, split them horizontally with a serrated knife.
10. To assemble shortcakes, set bottoms of shortcakes onto dessert plates. Pile on the sugared berries and any juices, dividing them equally among the shortcakes. Spoon a liberal amount of whipped cream onto the berries, and set shortcake tops on the cream. Put a dollop of cream onto each shortcake top and set a whole berry on the cream. Serve immediately with knives and forks or just forks.