Strawberry Shortcakes Forever

Soul-satisfying old-fashioned strawberry shortcake.

My wife just pulled the pregnancy card. To be fair she hasn’t been especially demanding except for the occasional desperate and frantic request for trashy ice cream treats. A couple of days ago Regina told me unequivocally that she wanted, no required strawberry shortcake. And neither that phony, easy-to-make strawberry shortcake on the prepackaged spongecake you see moldering in the produce aisle next to the berries, nor some “shortcut” shortcake utilizing frozen Sara Lee pound cake, but real, honest-to-goodness old-fashioned strawberry shortcake with hand-whipped cream scented with vanilla, great berries, and warm sweet biscuits.

Of course she had to have it, and of course I had to make it. I got my son Bennet into the shortcake-making process and he loved it! He helped make the biscuits and assisted in assembly. As always, I encourage you to get your kids involved in the kitchen. The lessons learned are invaluable; it’s important for kids to garner an understanding of where their food comes from and how it’s made. It helps build self-confidence and the shared experience is critically important in building great family bonds. I could ramble on about this topic for hours, but you get the idea. Let’s make strawberry shortcake!

All the ingredients, assembled.

On Wednesday morning I got some excellent gaviota strawberries from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. The peak season for California strawberries runs from April to June, although you can get good-to-great berries well after June. But right now I’m finding some superb berries — moist, sweet, not too seedy, very berry-full (not really a word, I know).

You’ll need about five cups of hulled, sliced strawberries for this recipe. It’ll make enough for four to six huge desserts.

Now do this. Take four cups of the sliced strawberries and sprinkle with 1/3 cup of sugar. Toss well and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble dessert. Reserve the remaining cup for the strawberry coulis (see below).

Of course strawberries are the star of the show, but they’re not the only component in strawberry shortcake. You also have, in no particular order:

  • The biscuit. I’ll walk you through a simple sweet biscuit recipe.
  • A strawberry sauce, called a coulis (koo-lee).
  • Whipped cream from scratch. Sure, you can use Reddi-Whip in a refrigerated can, but fresh cream is so much better!
  • Vanilla ice cream. This is not a classic ingredient, but I love a little bit layered in with the warm biscuit. I used Vanilla Bean Ice Cream from McConnell’s, a superb ice creamery out of Santa Barbara.

Freshly cut berries for the coulis.

I made the coulis first, to give it plenty of time to cool down before dessert time.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Now do this:
Combine all the ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about five to ten minutes, or until the berries have softened.
Put cooked berries and liquid into a blender and puree until smooth. Strain the sauce through a fine-meshed strainer and viola! Coulis!
Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Simmering the fruit for the coulis.

Next step is to make the Biscuits! This is where I got Bennet involved in the process.

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
  • 3/4 to 1 cup cold whole milk
  • a little heavy cream
  • a little granulated sugar
Now do this:
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
Into a large bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, the salt, and the sugar. Using your hands (or a pastry blender) cut the butter into the flour. Bennet really enjoyed this process — it’s hands-on, it’s messy, it’s fun. With your fingers break up the butter and crumble into the flour. You want the flour mixture to be the consistency of coarse meal, but a few pea-sized chunks of butter in the mixture is good.

Bennet makes biscuits!

With your hands create a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in 3/4 cup of milk. Stir in the milk with a fork and when it starts clumping together gather the dough with your hands and form it into a cohesive mass. If you find that it’s too dry to clump together nicely, add a tablespoon of milk and see if that helps. Repeat with more milk if necessary.

Rolling out the biscuit dough.

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Move the dough mass to a floured cutting board and very gently knead it three or four times by folding it over onto itself. Be careful not to overwork the dough; you just want to form it without beating it up too much. With a rolling pin gently roll the dough until it’s about 3/4 inch thick.

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Using a round cookie cutter cut biscuits from the dough. Alternatively, you can cut squares, which is what I did this time. I cut square biscuits about two and a half inches on a side. You should be able to get six large biscuits from this batch of dough.

Place the biscuits on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush a litlte cream on the tops and then sprinkle a little bit of sugar over the cream.

Bake biscuits on the middle rack for about 15 minutes or until the biscuits have risen and cracked a bit on the top. They should be slightly browned but not dark.

Your biscuits are ready!

Just barely browned finished biscuit.

I've turned my son into a mad scientist!!!

Now, to make the whipped cream.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, preferably organic
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 large stainless steel bowl
  • 1 large balloon whisk
Now do this:
Into the stainless steel bowl pour the whipping cream. Put the bowl into the refrigerator and cool for 30 minutes. It’s also a good idea to refrigerate the whisk as well.
Whisk vigorously until the cream comes to stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla and the sugar. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the dessert.
A few tips:
Heat is death to whipped cream. Warmth will slow down or completely impede the whipping process. That’s why you should chill the bowl, the cream, and the whisk.
It’ll take about five minutes (based on speed of whisking and your own personal strength) to whip the cream. If you find your arm tiring out, whip it in stages. However, each time you take a break be sure to return the bowl, cream, and whisk to the refrigerator.
The process of whipping is about forcing air between the dairy molecules, to give the cream lift and to make it lighter. I find the best method for hand-whipping is a back-and-forth motion with an occasional “lifting” motion. Turn the bowl periodically to make sure you whip different areas of the cream uniformly.
Of course, you can whip the cream with a stand-up mixer, a hand-held mixer, or even a food processor. I think you should avoid the processor method, as it’s very easy to turn the cream to butter without you even noticing it’s happening.
I find the hand-whip method the most satisfying.
Now to Assemble your Strawberry Shortcakes!
  • Split your biscuits horizontally. Smear a little softened butter on the cut sides.
  • Broil the biscuits (about six inches from your heating element) until they are just lightly browned.
  • Place the bottom half of a warm biscuit on a plate.
  • Top biscuit bottom with about a quarter cup of vanilla ice cream
  • Top ice cream with about a quarter cup of strawberries.
  • Top strawberries with about a quarter cup of whipped cream
  • Top cream with the top of the biscuit, flipped cut-side up.
  • Add more berries and more cream.
  • Drizzle dessert with strawberry coulis.
  • Dust the plate with powdered sugar if you like.
Eat your strawberry shortcake! And watch carefully for signs of enjoyment in the eyes of your pregnant wife.

When life gives you strawberries, make shortcake!

One thought on “Strawberry Shortcakes Forever

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