What’s new in the New Year? Not too much really. Life is much as usual and as you get older that’s comforting. I just have to remember that I need to write/ type out 2009 instead of 2008! Still, it doesn’t hurt to bring in the New Year with something sweet. Strawberries are very much in season now so let’s make some Strawberry Shortcakes.
It’s winter here too, and the weather in India ranges from freezing through very cold to pleasant depending on which part of the country one lives in. I’m lucky to be where it is pleasant and this is the time for those fruits and vegetables that are available only in the winter months. And it is time for strawberries too.
In the excitement of seeing them at the market after such a long time, I came back with too many strawberries. We ate some and I made strawberry shortcake with the rest. Strawberry shortcake is a popular summer layered dessert in the United States, made with buttermilk biscuits/ scones filled with strawberries and whipped cream. The juice in the strawberry mixture keeps the biscuits/ scones moist. There are some versions made with sponge cake instead of scones.
Strawberry Shortcakes, as we know them today, came into being in the US some time in the 1850s. The early recipes involved layered cakes or heavy pastry. Earlier shortcakes probably came from England and resembled scones. In the early 15th century, “shorten” was a cooking term implying crumbles easily. My reading tells me that the earliest printed recipe appeared in 1847 in The Lady’s Receipt-Book. In that recipe, the shortcake was covered with icing and not whipped cream.
Do you know that they used to have Strawberry Shortcake parties in the US in the late 1800s to celebrate the arrival of summer? And that the 14th of June is National Strawberry Shortcake Day there? Did you also know that the strawberry is the only fruit with seeds on the outside, and each strawberry has about 200 seeds?
I used the recipe at Joy of Baking for reference to make these as I had never seen or eaten Strawberry Shortcakes before. That recipe uses cream instead of buttermilk. Cream is supposed to result in flakier biscuits/ scones. Since these biscuits/ scones taste best fresh, they’re best made the same day you serve them. This is not difficult as they’re easy to make and don’t take too long either.
For the buttermilk biscuits/ scones:
- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsps baking powder
- 75 gm chilled butter
- 1 egg (I used 1 tbsp powdered flax seed + 3 tbsp warm water)
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the strawberry filling:
- 2 small cartons strawberries (about 2 to 3 cups when chopped)
- 1/2 cup sugar (adjust to sweetness of fruit)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened orange juice
For the cream:
- 200 ml cream chilled (for at least 24 hours) (I used 25% fat)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp sugar
- For the Shortcake : This can be done by hand or in the processor. Put the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into the processor and pulse a couple of times. Otherwise put in a bowl and whisk together.
- Add the cold butter and process only till the butter and flour mixture takes on a appearance of largish crumbs. Otherwise, do this using your fingers to ensure the butter doesn't melt.
- Empty the flour-butter mixture from the processor into a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, vanilla, egg (or flax seed mixture). If substituting the egg with the flax seed mixture, whisk the flax seed powder and warm water and keep aside till slightly thick in consistency).
- Add to the flour butter mixture and mix till it all just comes together as a dough. Do not knead the dough very much as it will result in tough biscuits. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and pat into a circle about 1-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch circles. For a more rustic looking shortcake, lightly shape the dough (floured hands) into 8 circles, like I did.
- Place the biscuits/ scones close together, leaving very little space in between, on a greased tray and bake at 210C (415F) for about 20 minutes till lightly brown. Let them cool slightly on a rack.
- For the filling, start by chopping the strawberries. Put about one third of the chopped strawberries in a blender to just break them down. Do not puree. Now put all of the strawberries, sugar, orange juice and vanilla in a bowl. Mix and refrigerate for about an hour. If they stay in the fridge for too long, the strawberries will become mushy.
- For the cream, whip the cream, vanilla extract and sugar using an electric hand mixer till stiff. Refrigerate till needed. It will stay in the fridge for a few hours.
- Assembling the Strawberry Shortcakes : The biscuits/ scones can be made a few hours ahead and warmed slightly before assembling. Cut each warm biscuit/ scone into half. Place the bottom half on a plate and place some strawberry mixture, along with some syrup, on it. Top whipped cream and place the other biscuit/ scone half over it. Top this with whipped cream and top with some more of the strawberry mixture. Serve immediately.