I’ve toured enough strawberry fields and interviewed enough growers in my lifetime to realize this: sometimes strawberries blow your mind and sometimes strawberries leave you with that “meh” feeling. And the difference isn’t something you spot visually – sometimes even the most anemic-looking berries can pack a flavor punch while large beautiful red ones can leave you wanting more.
While it’s true that strawberries can grow year round here in California it doesn’t always mean they taste great. For the record I’m not a snob and will buy berries all year long if needed but it doesn’t always make me happy. But you know what makes me happy? When things are in season, when berries taste like berries and not flavored lipstick, and just a simple preparation is enough to seal the deal.
Strawberry Shortcake is one of my favorite desserts. It’s perfect really. A small cake or biscuit, strawberries, some syrup and whipped cream. What is not to love? But like most desserts the quality of the ingredients is paramount. No amount of perfect strawberries can save a hockey puck and why go through the trouble of creating a perfect biscuit if you only top it with substandard berries? It’s just not worth it.
My friend Elise wrote about this recipe a few years ago and we only recently tried it. One dessert became two. Two became three. Three became four and over this past weekend I was appalled that my diet consisted of a few pounds of strawberries from the farmers’ market and these biscuits with slightly-sweetened whipped cream. I couldn’t help myself, really. Perfect biscuits, slightly sweetened with a scone-like density, did me in. Or was it the strawberries, perfectly sweet with the right about of tart zing? Wait, it could have been the whipped cream, something I’m a sucker for on just about anything. Whatever it was, this dessert is now officially my most.favorite.thing.ever because it’s not too sweet and it’s just right.
Kindly reprinted from Simply Recipes (and adapted from Fine Cooking) because I begged Elise if I could once I tried it. Make this and you’ll understand why.
For the strawberries and the whipping cream
3 baskets of fresh strawberries. Make sure they are the best you can use!
1/2 cup sugar
Remove the stems from the strawberries. Slice into thin (1/4″ to 1/8″) slices. Put into a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sugar (depending on how sweet the strawberries are to begin with) and mix into the strawberries. Set aside at room temperature to macerate. After 20 minutes, gently mash the strawberries with a potato masher. Go easy, you only want to bring out the juices and not crush the berries.
Whip the cream, adding a drop or two of vanilla and a teaspoon of sugar.
To serve, break one biscuit into big pieces and ladle strawberries on top. Add a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of the strawberry liquid if desired.
For the biscuits
3 cups all purpose flour
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Toss with a fork to combine. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or a fork until the largest pieces of butter are the size of peas. (Or pulse several times in a food processor.) Combine the cream and vanilla in a liquid measure. Make a well in the center of the flour and and pour the cream mixture into the well. Mix with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened and just combined; it should look shaggy and still feel a little dry. Gently knead by hand five or six times to create a loose ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into an 8-inch square, 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat, cover with plastic and chill for 20 minutes in the refrigerator. Heat the oven to 425ºF. Remove the dough from refrigerator. Cut the dough into 9 even squares and spread them about 2 inches apart from each other on the baking sheet. Bake until the biscuits are medium golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes.
Makes 9 biscuits. (Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, July 2003)