My granddaughters and I slipped out of the big blue van and peered down from the fifth floor of the parking garage next to the Evanston Farmers’ Market. There they were, swaths of red spilling across long tables: strawberries. We trotted downstairs with baskets in hand, looking for the best berries. They were all delicious, and I finally made my pick from a Michigan farmer and her two sons whose deep ruby berries caught my eye. We tasted the fruit scarlet to the core, dripping with juice. I cradled the boxes and vowed never to look at another store-bought Driscoll. It was time to pay more for the real thing. They wouldn’t be around long; they wouldn’t come in plastic clamshells; they wouldn’t keep all week in the fridge. It was time for Strawberry Shortcake.
Classic American Strawberry Shortcake is a buttery sweet biscuit, split and filled with sugared berries and whipped cream. It’s pure indulgence—not a low-fat concept—something not to be missed, at least once a year. The berries must be soft and juicy; cold storage supermarket berries will never do. The biscuit dough must be “short” or rich with butter—thus shortbread cookies, shortcake, shortening (vegetable fat). I’m sticking with pure butter for my shortcake and gilding the lily with heavy cream for the liquid. These feather-light little cakes are perfect nests for juicy spoonfuls of sliced berries and clouds of whipped cream. If they seem like too much for dessert, try them for breakfast or brunch. The strawberry fields won’t be with us forever.
A note on whipping cream: Look for heavy cream that is not ultra-pasteurized. The long-life version (ultra-pasteurized) is difficult to whip and has a slightly “cooked” flavor. Ultra- pasteurized dairy products are heated 100° higher than regular pasteurized dairy items and have stabilizing additives such as carrageenan. For this once-a-year treat, pure pasteurized heavy cream is your best bet.
Cream Biscuit Shortcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour (5 oz.)
1½ tablespoons powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt (a tiny bit more if using unsalted butter)
2 tablespoons butter (1 oz.)
½ cup + 1 scant tablespoon cream
sugar to sprinkle on tops
Preheat oven to 400°.
Sift flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Slice over the chilled butter and rub in with fingertips. Make a well in center of flour mixture, pour in ½ cup cream and stir together with fingertips. Add extra cream if dough seems dry. Roll dough into a ball. Knead just a few turns on lightly floured counter. Pat or roll into a circle at least ½ inch thick. Stamp out circles with 2-inch cutter and place on baking sheet. Reroll scrapes to cut more circles. Brush tops with water and sprinkle with sugar. Bake about 12 minutes or until golden. Makes 6-8 shortcakes.
Split while warm and fill with sliced, sugared berries and whipped cream; serve with more berries.