Whether you can easily buy just-picked strawberries from a farm stand or you pick them yourself in the supermarket, enjoy them this summer in easy and delicious strawberry shortcake. Look for brightly colored unblemished berries with fresh, green hulls (the little bouquet of leaves that tops each berry). If you're going to make your shortcake within a few hours, keep the berries at room temperature.
For next-day preparation, refrigerate the berries as soon as you get them home and keep them refrigerated until a few hours before serving the shortcake -- keeping berries at a warm, humid room temperature instead of or before refrigerating the will encourage them to become moldy.
The name shortcake probably derives from the fact that the butter is worked into the dry ingredients as it would in a pastry or short dough, rather then being beaten with the sugar before the dry ingredients and liquid are added. Though shortcake dough closely resembles one for baking powder biscuits, it is always sweetened, making it more moist and tender and better tasting with the slight acidity of the berries. A shortcake needs to be baked right before it's served -- its flavor and texture are best then.
Instead of the all-strawberry version below, try a mixture of berries, or even peeled, sliced peaches with or without a few berries thrown in -- shortcakes are versatile and take advantage of the best fruit summer has to offer.
OLD-FASHIONED STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES
The amount of dough here will make 8 individual shortcakes. If you want to make a single large one, pat the dough into an 8-inch disk on the pan and bake as below.
• 4 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, drained, hulled and sliced
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
•1 cup heavy whipping cream
•2 tablespoons sugar
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
•3 tablespoons sugar
•1 tablespoon baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold
•2/3 cup buttermilk, light cream or half-and-half
•1 large egg
•One cookie sheet or jellyroll pan covered with parchment or foil
1. Place the sliced strawberries in a bowl and fold in the sugar and lemon juice. Cover and reserve at room temperature until needed.
2. Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until it holds a soft peak. Cover and refrigerate. If it's warm in the room, put the cream into the mixer or other bowl and place it in the freezer for 10 minutes before whipping.
3. When you're ready to bake the shortcakes, set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 450 F.
4. Combine the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times to mix. Cut the butter into 8 pieces and add to the bowl. Pulse repeatedly until the butter is finely incorporated.
5. Add the buttermilk and egg to the bowl and pulse a few times to make a rough-looking wet mixture. Carefully remove the blade and use a large tablespoon to form 8 equal mounds of the dough on the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.
6. Bake the biscuits until they are well risen, golden and firm, about 15 minutes.
7. While the biscuits are baking, re-whip the cream if it has softened and set out the plates for the shortcakes.
8. Slide the paper from the pan to a cooling rack and cool the biscuits for a minute or two. Use a sharp knife to split each biscuit and place the bottom half on each plate. Spoon some of the berries on the biscuit, spooning some of the juices around it on the plate. Top with a spoonful of whipped cream and the second half of the biscuit.
9. Serve immediately.