M: Lasting just four to six weeks, strawberry season in North Carolina is anxiously anticipated each year by more than just farmers. No state has more strawberry sales directly to consumers by the growers. While farmers markets and roadside stands account for some of that, it’s mostly about the “pick your own” patches. Families flock, school field trips are scheduled and church groups head out in droves to the many farms in the state offering the opportunity to bring home boxes, baskets and buckets of truly fresh strawberries. That’s if they aren’t all eaten in the car on the drive home.
K: Perhaps it’s because it’s the first fruit that greets us at the end of winter, or perhaps it’s just because it actually is the best of all the fruits, but there is nothing that says ‘Summer’ to us more than the strawberry, and there’s not much we won’t do to save ourselves a piece of that in our freezers and on our pantry shelves. We can never have too much strawberry jam/syrup/liquor/fruit leather/butter/preserves/pickles, and it’s always the first flavor of any of these items that disappears during the long winters. Just kidding about the pickles, though. Just making sure you’re paying attention.
Despite all the ways we love to put up our strawberries, there’s nothing we like better than just….eating them, and there’s not much that beats fresh berries smothered in just enough sugar to coax out their juices, then slathered on a buttery biscuit to soak up those juices, and topped with fresh, barely sweetened cream. Speaking of buttery biscuit bases, not only did we did not make any special fancy-pants base for our strawberry shortcakes in my family, I never met anyone that did until I moved away from home. We just used the biscuits that were (always) already made, and I grew up thinking (and still do) that the whole point was the contrast of the salty, buttery biscuit with the magically sweet-tart strawberries. So to say that I was skeptical of this sweetened biscuit-like heresy (sugar! in my biscuit!? ) would be an understatement. I will even confess that, despite our joint belief that sticking as close to these recipes as is reasonably possible is the entire point of what we are doing here…despite that, I almost blew this off and just made my standard biscuit recipe. How did that turn out for me, you’re wondering? It turned out GREAT. I was…well, not wrong, per se, but….yeah. These are awesome. I’m unlikely to forgo my traditional biscuits on a regular basis, but for ‘company’? These will be the way I go from now on.
M: Being from Ohio, my “shortcake” experience had been almost completely based on those round, store bought sponge cakes, indented in the middle to hold the strawberries. Too sweet, too sticky. Not for me. I am not a fan of the overly sweet. I’m usually that weirdo who passes on the chocolate cake and settles in with a cup of coffee when dessert is served. I want sugar to enhance the flavor, not dominate it. My rule of thumb is to cut the sugar by a quarter or third in most recipes I look at. So when strawberry shortcake came up, if figured I was about to have some delicious strawberries ruined by a sugar soggy piece of cake. I could not have been more wrong. Imagine my delight when I discovered I had been duped. Turns out strawberry shortcake is supposed to taste like strawberries. And boy does it. This biscuit knows its place. Add some texture, sop up the juice and get out of the way. Consider me converted.
Recipe: Strawberry Shortcake
Summary: Shortcake is not spongecake, no matter what your grocery store might tell you. Authentic strawberry shortcake has a foundation much closer to a classic biscuit than a twinkie. If you can bend it, you are probably on the wrong track. The shortcake should serve as a texture rich partner to its flavorful contents. It should be sweet, but not *too* sweet. Moist, but not *too* moist. When done right, the sum of a strawberry shortcake exceeds its parts. This recipe, superbly enhanced by orange zest, more than fits the bill. Fresh strawberries and whipped cream are nestled within a sweet biscuit in this seasonal Southern dessert. Adapted from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.
- 1 q Strawberries, hulled and quartered
- Juice of 1 Orange
- 1 T Sugar (give or take)
- 3 1/2 c Flour (435 grams)
- 1/3 c Sugar (75 grams)
- 4 tsp Baking Powder (18 grams)
- 1 tsp Salt (7 grams)
- Zest of 1 Orange (K: I used both zest, and 1 T of Grand Marnier. Go big or go home, says me.)
- 3/4 c Butter, chilled and cut into small pieces (1 1/2 sticks)
- 1 c Heavy Cream
- 1/2 c Milk
- Demerara Sugar (K: I used a coarse orange flavored sugar)
- Whipped Cream
- Combine strawberries, juice and tablespoon of sugar for topping in a bowl and set aside.
- Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and mix at low speed.
- Add butter and zest and continue to mix until it feels a bit like coarse meal.
- Add cream and milk and increase mixing speed to medium speed just until dough comes together.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, very gently fold it over itself a few times, and form 3/4″ thick circle.
- Using a sharp cutter, flouring between each, cut into 3″ discs and place on parchment paper on a baking sheet. ( K: This is the time to pull out that silicone baking sheet dohicky that you got from Aunt Susie and never get around to using. It makes a huge difference in the bottom crust of a baked goods at these temperatures. )
- Brush cakes with with cream and sprinkle with decorative sugar.
- Bake 20 minute or until lightly browned in a 400 degree oven then cool on wire rack.
- Cut cakes horizontally.
- On bottom half, layer whipped cream (K: or not, I find that this first cream layer impedes juice absorption, which I am firmly against.), strawberries and another layer of whipped cream.
- Cover with top half of cake and serve.