Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

Last Friday morning I made a spur of the moment decision to go pick strawberries.  Since to say I'm not a spur of the moment kind of person is a bit of an understatement, this was a pretty unusual thing for me to do.  But I had seen a picture of a friend's berry picking experience on Facebook...and the thought of getting away (not to mention the thought of returning with a load of ripe, juicy berries) exerted a pull that was difficult to resist.  So I went.  I was so glad I did.

The weather on Friday was ideal for picking.  It was cool...but not cold...and the light from the slightly overcast sky was bright without being glaring.  As I approached the field, a gentle breeze greeted me with the fragrance of the ripening berries and then kept me comfortable as I worked.  It was a perfect morning...and a perfect way to begin my holiday weekend and my summer.

The strawberry field at Gieringer's Orchard

Not only did I come home refreshed and relaxed, my morning of "work" yielded a huge flat of perfectly ripe strawberries.  

Just having the berries for breakfast has been a delight...but I have also made a couple batches of jam 

and on Sunday night I made strawberry shortcake for an impromptu dessert.

My strawberry shortcake is decidedly simple and old fashioned.  It is almost identical to the one my mother made when I was growing up.  The cake portion of her shortcake was made from a loose, drop-type biscuit batter that she baked in a cake pan (instead of making individual drop biscuits).  

This finished biscuit-cake was cut into wedges that were split and then filled and topped with strawberries.  She prepared the strawberries by macerating them in a little bit of sugar.  To make the juices more sauce-like, just before serving, she smashed a few of the berries with a potato masher.

If you have beautiful, ripe berries, the shortcake doesn't really need anything else...but a little whipped cream...or ice cream...isn't a bad thing.  I remember my father pouring milk over his.  This must be a very old-time practice—my mother tells me this was how her grandparents served theirs.  I may have tried it this way once...but I have to admit that this doesn't appeal to me too much since it produces cold, soggy cake.

The biscuit I make is an adaptation of a recipe from Shirley Corriher's Cookwise.  Towards the end of my time at The American Restaurant Ms. Corriher came to teach a cooking class there.  One of the things she prepared was her grandmother’s recipe for “real Georgia biscuits” (Ms. Corriher calls them "Touch of Grace Biscuits”).  One woman in the class who had spent several years living in the South pronounced them to be the best biscuits that she had ever eaten.  Because the dough for these biscuits is very soft and batter-like—and bakes up into a very light and moist biscuit—it occurred to me that this recipe would be perfect for my mother's style of strawberry shortcake...and it was. 

If you have never had a shortcake made this way, I hope you will give it a try.  And, if you happen to have a "u-pick" strawberry patch somewhere near your home—and are in need of a bit of a pick-me-up yourself—you should definitely carve out some time to get away and pick berries.  But don't wait too long, the season for strawberries will be over all too soon. 

Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

For the Berries:

Clean and hull 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of fresh strawberries.  Halve or quarter them, depending on the size of the berries.  Toss them with a quarter cup of sugar.  Taste and add more sugar (a tablespoon at a time) if they need it—but ripe, in-season, local berries shouldn't need much more.   Let the berries macerate while the shortcake bakes, stirring them occasionally.  If you like, just before serving, mash about a quarter to a third of the berries with a fork or a potato masher. 

For the Shortcake Biscuit:

1 1/2  cups all purpose flour (6 oz.)
1/4 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. sugar
4 T. cold butter
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 T. sugar

Preheat the oven to 450°.  Grease and flour an 8” round cake pan.  Combine the dry ingredients.  Rub the butter into the dry ingredients, just until there are no large lumps remaining.

Combine the cream and buttermilk and add.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the liquid using a few, deft strokes.  The dough will be quite wet–almost more of a thick batter.  It will look quite lumpy and not at all uniform.  Do not over mix.

Dollop the dough into the prepared pan, spreading minimally—the dough should be of a roughly even depth and the bottom of the pan should not be visible—a rough lumpy surface is perfect.   

Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over the top.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  The finished biscuit should be a beautiful golden brown and springy to the touch.  Do not under bake.  Cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack..and let the cake rest at least 10 to 15 minutes before cutting. 

The shortcake is best served warm.  If not serving right away, warm briefly in a 350° oven.  Cut the cake into 8 wedges and split each wedge horizontally.  Place a bottom half on each plate, top with a generous spoonful of berries (and some of the delicious juices).  Place the top half of the biscuit over the berries.  Serve with a blob of sweetened whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. 

(Biscuit recipe loosely adapted from Cookwise, by Shirley Corriher)


Heather said...

This shortcake definitely reminds me out the ones my grandma made after we picked berries. Scheduling a trip to pick some next week!

I was in your Picnic in Paris class and you had mentioned a book: Four Seasons Cooking. I neglected to write the author, and that is a title for several books. Could you confirm the author?

Thanks for being such a wonderful inspiration.

Paige said...

Hi Heather, I got the title of the book totally wrong! It's "Cooking with the Seasons" by Monique Jamet Hooker. I'm not sure if it is still in print...but should be available used.

Thanks for letting me know my classes inspire you! And I hope you have a wonderful time picking berries.

Joan said...

I am a cream on shortcake person. I don't see the difference between pouring on some cream and letting ice cream melt on the plate. Either way you get the rich taste of the cream, but with plain cream, you don't have the added calories of the ice cream.

I guess it is a case of whatever floats your boat.

Paige said...

Hi Joan, I think pouring cream over is a great idea. In fact, I wonder if perhaps the milk my great grandparents poured over theirs wasn't more like half and half...or perhaps even the cream from the top of the milk. They were farmers so the milk they had access too was quite possibly richer than the milk we call whole milk today. But I'm pretty sure the stuff my Dad poured on his was just plain old homogenized whole milk...not nearly as nice as cream :)

Amanda and Jason said...

Interested to try this version of shortcake. My mom's version was similar to pie crust, rolled flat and pricked with a fork. It was hard/crunchy, but softened nicely with the addition of strawberries and whipped topping!

Paige said...

I'm always so interested to learn about the variations in traditional home-style desserts. I posted a recipe for peach and raspberry cobbler two or three years ago and talked about the wide variation in what people think of when they think of "cobbler". For both cobbler and shortcake, I bet the differences are regional...but they probably also have a lot to do with a family's culture of origin.

I hope you like my family's version of shortcake!