Sunday, July 5, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake

As a child I thought of Strawberry Shortcake as a doll with scented hair, along with her friends Huckleberry Pie and Blueberry Muffin which were part of a 32-character line (all with dessert-themed names) created in the 1980s. The Strawberry Shortcake fad included stickers, clothes, video games, and many other items. Consumer demand waned after several years, but was revived with mild success in 2002 and has another planned relaunch this year with a film and a television series.

It wasn’t until my adulthood that I experienced the dessert that inspired the character. Shortcakes are thus named because they use shortening, and are a European invention that dates to at least the 16th century. Shakespeare makes a reference to shortcake in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The combination of shortcake and strawberries, however, is an American invention. The earliest known recipe is from an 1847 cookbook where it is called Strawberry Cake. The dessert became very popular in the 1850s and 1860s as the first transcontinental railroad made it possible for fresh strawberries to be shipped nationally. Advertisers induced strawberry fever by encouraging demand for the fruit; strawberry shortcake parties became popular as a celebration of the coming summer.

Originally, strawberry shortcake was meant to be made from piecrust in a round or in pieces covered with strawberries. The current dominant version uses a scone or biscuit. Some modern recipes use a sponge cake, especially common in Japan where strawberry shortcake is a favorite Christmas or birthday cake. While strawberry shortcake is the most common version of the dessert, shortcakes can be served with peaches, blueberries or other summer fruit. Some recipes call for flavored shortcakes; coconut is the most common variant. I suggest serving the shortcake with vanilla ice cream for a more substantive finish to a summer meal.

Leftover shortcakes can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for up a month (thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then bring up to room temperature). You can also eat them for breakfast - toasted and spread with butter and berry jam.

Serves 6

1 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into chunks
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream
zest from one orange

Strawberry Topping
1 to 2 pints strawberries, washed, stems removed and quartered
2 tablespoons orange juice or Cointreau
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, to serve

1. To make biscuits, in a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, cornstarch and baking powder.
2. Using a pastry cutter or two knives work in butter until it resembles coarse meal.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add buttermilk, 1/4 cup cream and orange zest.
4. Stir with a fork until a dough just forms.
5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until it just holds together.
6. Place dough back in the large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 375 F.
8. On a floured surface, pat out dough until 1/2 inch thick. Cut out shortcakes using a 3-inch circular cutter.
9. Transfer shortcakes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush lightly with remaining heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar.
10. Bake for 15 to 20 or until golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.
11. To make strawberry topping, gently mix all the ingredients. Stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.
12. To serve, slice shortcake in half horizontally. Place a scoop of ice cream on the bottom, add strawberry topping and top with shortcake top. Serve with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. Alternately, skip ice cream and place whipped cream in shortcake sandwich.

1 comment:

pityenlacocina said...

lovely shortcake! I've just discovered your blog, i love it! come around and visit mine if you have the time (
cheers from a spaniard living in london,