Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and our wedding anniversary! The Artist and I were married in a beautiful 1800’s estate, located in a bucolic part of the San Francisco East Bay, surrounded by vineyards and tall trees. It was a beautiful day, full of joy as we exchanged our vows surrounded by the people we loved the most. After a very wet winter, the day dawned bright and sunny with a slight breeze. Everyone had a wonderful time, and all these years later I still am thrilled to be married to my best friend!
After a winter of limited fresh fruits and vegetables, spring arrives and the baskets at the farmer’s market are full of bright green, yellow, and red delights. I walk past the booths, relishing the sights and smells of the tempting produce and the smiles on everyone’s faces. My mind fills with ideas of what I want to make and as usual, I buy too much. I just can’t resist when everything is so fresh.
Our farmer’s market always has the same vendor in the first booth. He sells the biggest, most fragrant strawberries. The air is permeated with their sweet aroma, begging you to take them home. You can’t walk by without buying some. His booth always has the longest line and it doesn’t slow down until he runs out.
My favorite strawberry dessert is shortcake. I wait all year for it. The best I ever had was from a place called the Nut Tree in Fairfield, California. They made it with a crisp sugar cookie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sugared strawberries. Another cookie and some whipped cream finished it off. No matter how big a lunch I had eaten, I always had room for shortcake. I couldn’t get enough!
These days I prefer a more traditional version. Instead of the sponge cakes they sell as shortcake in the grocery stores, I like a biscuit similar to a scone. Tender, with a hint of lemon, it is the perfect accompaniment for fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Even if you are leery of baking, if you follow the directions, these are really easy to make. Even novice bakers will have success!
Sugaring berries is a classic method of extracting the juices and it couldn’t be simpler. Just clean your berries and cut them up if needed. Place them in a bowl, sprinkle the top with 2 to 4 tbsp granulated sugar, toss, and place in the refrigerator. Within about 30 minutes you will have plenty of juicy berries to use over ice cream, with shortcakes, or just to eat.
While strawberries are the most common fruit used with shortcake, you don’t need to limit yourself. Any berry will do. Choose the freshest and sweetest ones you can find. I like to mix several kinds together. Sugar them as I described above and they are ready to use. With the Fourth of July coming up, you can combine strawberries, red raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries for a festive and colorful dessert everyone will love.
I know that buying pre-made whipped cream is what most people do these days, but I have to tell you that once you have whipped your own from scratch, you will never be satisfied with the off-the-shelf varieties again. All you need is cold heavy whipping cream, a little sugar, and a splash of vanilla if you like. You can whip it by hand with a whisk if you want the exercise, or use a mixer. A simple hand mixer works just fine, but if you have a large stand mixer, it will whip up that much faster. I usually have the children in the crowd help me make the whipped cream. They are always fascinated to watch a liquid become thick and creamy. And of course I have them taste it with me to see if we have enough sugar in it. They love that part!
No matter how you choose to serve this traditional dessert, your guests will appreciate the love and care you put into baking it for them. I guarantee that there won’t be any leftovers from this treat!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
There are all kinds of gadgets sold to help you hull strawberries, but the fastest and easiest way to do it is to simply slice off the top. Use a sharp paring knife and if the berries are large, slice them in half or quarters lengthwise. Then if they need any additional trimming, it is easy to clean them up. Always rinse your produce well before eating!
- 2 baskets strawberries
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 12 tbsp (1-1/2 sticks) cold butter cut in small pieces
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
- 1 tsp grated lemon zest
- 1/4 cup melted butter Turbinado sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 to 2 tbsp powdered sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- For the Berries: Remove the stems and cut in half lengthwise (quarter large berries). Place in a medium bowl and sprinkle with the sugars and vanilla. Toss until evenly coated, cover, and place in the refrigerator.
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
- For the Biscuits: Place dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to blend. Add half the butter and pulse to cut it into the dry ingredients. It will look crumbly. Add remaining butter and pulse three times. The butter will still be in fairly big pieces. Combine the egg with lightly whipped cream and lemon zest. Add to food processor and process just until the dough comes together and starts to form a ball or clings to the sides of the bowl. Transfer to a floured board and gently press together. Pat into a rectangle. Cut into squares and then cut each square diagonally into triangles. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
- Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle with a little Turbinado sugar. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
- For the Topping: Whip the cream until slightly thickened. Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Continue whipping until soft peaks form.
- To Serve: Split biscuits in half horizontally. Place bottom halves on serving plates. Cover with some of the strawberries and their juice. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, a few more berries, and then place the top of the biscuit at an angle and serve.