Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake, Cream on Top

Yesterday I had a food styling job which required me to create a Christmas tree out of strawberries (I'll post a picture of it sometime in December). After completing the project, I had about 4 pounds of fresh strawberries clogging up my fridge, so I thought I'd make one of my favorite comfort desserts, Strawberry Shortcakes. I love the contrast of the tender, crumbly shortcakes with the juicy, flavorful berries and the billowy whipped cream. Ok, so maybe it's not a typical fall dessert, like, say, apple pie, but boy, is it good. Every component can be made ahead (the shortcakes the day before, the berries and cream up to 8 hours before) and assembled just before serving.

Strawberry Shortcakes

Makes 6 servings

Strawberry filling:
3 pints strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise (or quartered if large)
4 to 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream or half-and-half
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Make the strawberry filling:
1. Place 1 cup of the strawberries in a medium bowl and mash them up with a potato masher or fork. Add the remaining berries and toss them with the sugar (if they are sweet, use 4 tablespoons; if they are slightly tart, use 5 tablespoons) and lemon zest. Cover and refrigerate the berries for at least 4 to 6 hours, or until they have released their juices.

Make the whipped cream:
2. In an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment or beaters, beat the cream on medium-low speed for 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and add the sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Beat until the cream forms soft peaks. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the desserts.

Make the shortcakes:
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, stir together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt with a whisk. Scatter the butter evenly over the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut it in until the butter is the size of small peas. Add 3/4 cup of the cream or half-and-half and stir just until the mixture forms a soft dough. Do not overmix. With a lightly floured hand, gather the dough into a shaggy ball and gently knead the dough 5 or 6 times against the sides of the bowl until almost smooth.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough out 1/3 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 3 shortcakes and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Gather up the scraps and pat them into a flat disk. Roll and cut out 2 more shortcakes and place them on the sheet. Repeat to form 1 more shortcake. Brush the shortcakes with the remaining 1 tablespoon heavy cream or half-and-half, and sprinkle them with the turbinado sugar.
5. Bake the shortcakes for 15 to 17 minutes, or until light golden brown. Cool them for a few minutes on the baking sheet.

Assemble the strawberry shortcakes:
6. Using a serrated knife or a fork, split the shortcakes in half horizontally. Spoon some of the strawberry juice over the cut side of each bottom half. Divide the filling among the shortcakes, spooning it over the bottom halves. Top the filling with a large dollop of the whipped cream. Set each shortcake top on the whipped cream, slightly off center. Serve immediately, placing any remaining whipped cream in a bowl alongside the desserts.