Possibly the Best Strawberry Shortcake You’ll Ever Have

June 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

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Strawberries… they are in season you know. And while they are, I feel like I have to make the most of them, for they are one of the things that I believe should be eaten strictly when they are ripe in the garden (unless made into a jam or frozen). I want the best, the truest, the freshest of flavors, and I don’t mind waiting all year for the three weeks in June that they grace my garden.

One of the first things I like to do with the first berries of the year is strawberry shortcake, and, false modesty aside, my shortcake is the thing of a legend, with the feedback ranging from “The best shortcake I ever had” to “Why is this so good?” Well, I’ll tell you why. Show you, even.

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There it is. Possibly the best shortcake you’ll ever have. I am modest like that.

Now I like to keep things in my world simple, and this recipe, originally from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, is just that. All you need to do is throw a few ingredients together – you don’t need to roll or fuss over anything. Unless, of course, you want to. In that case, please do.

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Whatcha gotta do is start with some (what else?) butter, add it to a mixture of flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar, and cut the butter into the flour like for pie crust, using either a pastry cutter or your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (my preferred method). You can also do this in a food processor.

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Not too fine – larger individual chunks of butter are good!

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Next, mix a beaten egg with some half-n-half or a mixture of milk and heavy cream.

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Add it to the flour-and-butter mixture and mix it in on low until just combined.

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Next, spread the batter into a buttered round cake pan (I don’t use non-stick spray. Ever. Ever.) and pat it in to spread. You are really gonna have to use your hands here, because the batter is far from runny, which, I guess, makes it something other than batter. But anyway.

Did I forget to mention this? The oven must be preheated to 450 degrees F. Yep, that high.

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Now just pop it in the oven and bake for 10-18 min, depending on the accuracy of your individual oven. Don’t overbake it though! I hold a firm belief that cakes, strawberry shortcake in particular, should be very, very moist, which is also the reason I never, ever sift the flour – this creates more air in the batter, causing it to dry out faster. I think I’m gonna give my flour sifter to my son to play with – I don’t know why I even have it, and he already thinks it’s the greatest toy on Earth.

The cake is done when the toothpick (or, in my case, an instant-read-thermometer probe) plunged into it comes out not clean but with quite a few moist crumbs attached. The cake should be firm-ish at the top but yielding, and it should not have browned beyond a few attractive golden spots here and there. Like mine.

Now the important thing about it is that strawberry shortcake waits for no man, and should be eaten warm and fresh, and not at all cold and dry the way it usually is by the time you bring it to a potluck. I don’t know why people bring it to potlucks at all – they must be so focused on the seasonal aspect of it that they completely overlook the simple fact that by the time they get it there, it’s, quite frankly, no good. Usually. At best, you have about an hour between the shortcake’s coming of the oven and its decline. Take my advice, don’t bring it to a potluck. Bring this amazing fudge instead. That’s what I always bring.

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Now it wouldn’t be strawberry shortcake without strawberries. I plucked these babies from my patch this afternoon, just before I made the shortcake. I could taste the freshness. Oh yes. My kids could too, even though they scattered some on the floor (which my oldest later had to clean up).

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Now I’ve been a witness to many a potentially splendid shortcake downgraded by the crushing of the strawberries into a shapeless, runny mush. Don’t crush your berries! Do not, I beseech you. Take a couple minutes out of your life and slice them properly – it will make all the difference. A bit of a texture is what we want.

Let me repeat this again: Slice. Them. Berries. Slice’em. There are a lot of rules when it comes to strawberry shortcake.

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Now sprinkle them generously with sugar – and I mean generously. Some people like them tart, but, to me, life’s to short to skimp on sugar, which, I believe, is also one of the things that makes this particular shortcake stand out so.

Here I used as many as 7 tablespoons of sugar for this entire amount of berries (not all of it is shown), mixing it in gradually and gently, one tablespoon at a time, without mashing the berries and violating the wholeness of the slices. And I am not afraid to add a drizzle of lemon juice, either – it’s amazing how a little lemon boosts both the color and the flavor – makes it really pop. Remember this next time you make jam, jelly, or syrup, all of which must be made with some lemon juice. I used lemon from a squirt bottle, though mine was organic from the local food cooperative.

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Thus mixed with the sugar and allowed to sit briefly, the berries have now been macerated (I love this violent-sounding word). Let them sit in the fridge for a bit and release even more juice.

Finally, we’re gonna make some whipped cream.

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Take some cream. What did you think I was gonna say? “Take some butter?”

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Add a dash of — WHOA, DID YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THIS BOTTLE? — vanilla extract, along with not-here-shown sugar to taste (I do a couple of tablespoons per pint), and whip everything to the desired point. I like my whipped cream nice and firm, so you can almost slice through it with a fork, but no one is saying you can’t have it softer than that. I like using a whisk attachment on my stand mixer for this.

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Now cut a wedge from the cake… Just look at this cake… do you see how wonderfully moist it is? That’s how it should be. This will also keep it edible into the next day. Woe to a cook with a dry strawberry shortcake.

Note that I don’t split the slice sideways – just pile everything right on top.

Now spread it with the macerated berries (did I say I loved this word? It makes me sound so… so… sophisticated! Right along with “watcha” and “ya know”). I bet this will also be awesome on top of a cheesecake, especially if it’s half brownie.

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Now plop a small mountain of whipped cream on top… and dig in! Strawberry shortcake waits for no man.

The Best Strawberry Shortcake You’ll Ever Have. Possibly. Quite Possibly.

Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

For the cake:

  • 2 C all-purpose white flour (the cookbook says “sifted” flour but I know better. Sifting the four,  I believe, makes for airier, drier cakes, and I like mine denser and moist. You will end up using more flour this way, but I just increase the liquid to compensate).
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 4 T granulated white sugar
  • 1 t salt – omit if using salted butter
  • 1 stick of butter
  • a little over 1 C half-n-half, or 1/2 C milk and 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Butter a 9″ round cake pan. Place the dry ingredients into a bowl of a stand mixer and cut in the butter like for pie crust. Separately, whisk  the egg into the cream and add to the flour-and-butter mixture, mixing just until everything is moistened. Dump the batter into the prepared pan and spread it in the pan with your hands on some other tool that seems to fit the purpose. Bake for 10 to 18 minutes, until a few golden spots appear on the surface (but not too many), and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs stuck to it. The sides and the bottom of the cake will be brown, but that’s OK. Do not overbake! Remove the cake from the oven, and turn it over onto a cooling rack. Place another cooling rack on top of the cake, and invert the cake so the top is facing up. Plan to serve within an hour.

For the berries:

Slice the berries. Don’t crush them! Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice, stirring gently to combine, one tablespoon of sugar at a time. Be careful not to mash them! Taste the berries after each addition to see if they are sweet enough. In other words, that’s a complicated way of saying “add sugar to taste.”

For the whipped cream:

Whip heavy cream with a dash of vanilla and some sugar (again, to taste). I use 1 tablespoon of sugar for each cup of cream, but keep in mind that I like mine on a sweet side.

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