(Listening: Zelenka: Trio Sonata No.5 in F Major Heinz Holliger, et all)
Our first locally grown strawberries arrive here around Mother’s Day, weather permitting. It is a time I wait for. Strawberries are the real first fruit of the season: yes, I know that rhubarb appears first, but that is the stem of a plant that we use like a fruit, not a true “fruit”.
Nothing showcases strawberries better than strawberry shortcake. Sliced strawberries tossed with a little sugar so their juices run, spooned on top of a freshly baked shortcake. Add some whipped cream, sour cream, crème fraiche, yogurt, or, nothing at all and you’re there.
Shortcake is nothing more than a lightly sweetened biscuit. (No, it is not that yellow spongy thing you find in the store next to the strawberry display). Southern cooks have access to all types of biscuit flours which was a real surprise to a Yankee like me. But we can get as good of a result if we mimic the best biscuit flour mixes.
I use a combination of all purpose and plain cake flours. The cake flour lightens the texture of the biscuit. I only use baking powder. I’ve found even a little baking soda effects the taste of the biscuit. If you can’t get buttermilk, the old World War 2 trick of souring regular milk with a touch of white vinegar will do the trick. You can use either shortening or butter, but remember, just as when you use butter in a pie crust, the biscuits won’t be as delicate as with shortening. When I learned to make biscuits, the common knowledge at the time was to never over handle the dough, but I discovered something that my mother didn’t know. If you pat the finished dough, then fold it over upon itself, then repeat this two or three times, you create an effect somewhat similar to making puff pastry.
For six servings
1 quart strawberries
3 to 4 Tablespoons sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup plain cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon sugar
¼ cup shortening
1. Wash the strawberries and drain them. Slice the strawberries in quarters or half, depending on their size. Place them into a bowl; add the sugar and mix to distribute the sugar. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour; more time won’t hurt.
2. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Sift all of the dry ingredients into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the shortening and “cut” it into the flour mixture using a fork or pastry blender. Add the milk and mix until a dough forms. Remove the dough from the bowl. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough gently. Fold the dough over on to itself. Repeat patting and folding two or three additional times. Let the dough rest for a minute or two before patting it out to your desired thickness. Using a round cutter, about 2 ½” wide, cut the shortcakes (you can cut them to whatever size you choose). Gather any scraps, gently press them together and reuse to make additional shortcakes.
3. Place the shortcakes onto a lightly greased cookie sheet or baking pan. Lightly brush the tops of the shortcakes with milk and sprinkle the shortcakes with some sugar. Bake for 7 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet and bake for an additional 6 to 7 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
4. To serve, cut the shortcakes in half. Top the bottom of the each shortcake with some strawberries and the juices. Add whipped cream, etc., if using. Arrange the top of the shortcake over the strawberries and serve. Spring is here.
Local strawberry sources: R & J Farm Market
Longview Center for Agriculture
excerpt of Trio Sonata No. 5 in F Major
Jan Dismas Zelenka
ECM New Series1671/72