Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Strawberry shortcake

Two days after Valentine's Day and I'm just now getting around to writing about what I made for my betrothed.  Bad blogger?  Yes.  Good fiancee?  Hopefully -- I'd like to think that makes up for the former.  You see, love is a funny thing.  It can make people do things they may not otherwise do.  For example, last night I skipped the gym in favor of curling up with a good book next to Matt while he studied until he could study no more.  Not exactly medal-worthy, but I considered it a big deal to change up my normal routine.  But, what we did on Monday certainly was sacrificial for both of us:

1. Matt watched The Bachelor.
2. I made us a Valentine's dessert without any trace of chocolate.

To defend Matt's actions, it's safe to say he wouldn't have been so easily persuaded had the second thing never happened.  (Though the most recent episode was trashy TV at its best... even he started calling Michelle "Crazy Eyes.")  And, to defend my actions, I'd already made a batch of chocolate-somethings for my coworkers.  (But I didn't exactly suffer having slowly chiseled away at a towering piece of chocolate hazelnut cake from Saturday evening's dinner affair.)  Love is all about compromise, right?

When I opened my cookbook to the recipe for strawberry shortcakes, I patted myself on the back as I read through the notes that I'd made the first time I'd baked them.  "2/14/08 - Made for Valentine's Day.  Fluffy and sweet.  Matt loved these -- a favorite.  Make again!"  Those scribbles were enough to jog my memory.   Though we started dating almost 9 months before, Valentine's Day 2008 was our first together.  Matt made dinner reservations at a romantic little restaurant in the South Side of Pittsburgh, and I offered to bake dessert for us to enjoy at my apartment after the meal.

At that point in our relationship, he still claimed he preferred seconds of the main course in lieu of dessert.  (Go ahead and ask him that now, ha!)  But I did know his three favorite desserts: cherry pie, cheesecake, and strawberry shortcake.  The first two, while certainly tasty, required much more work and seemed a bit big for a party of two.  Strawberry shortcake was a perfectly-proportioned dessert.  And it's so easy that there's no need for even a mixer.  The biscuit is sweet and fluffy, just as I'd written, and melts in your mouth when topped with whipped cream and strawberries.  Plus, who doesn't love the presentation of a dessert all for oneself?

Matt was so smitten with dessert (and me?) that I've made it every year since as our Valentine's Day dessert.  Of course, even after halving the recipe, there are four biscuits left... what to do, what to do?  I say extend the holiday and love your dessert every day until it's gone.

Like Paula Deen, I suspect that my heart is made of sugar and butter... and I'm okay with the fact that there's no chocolate in sight.  For now, anyway.

One Year Ago: Easiest olive oil bread

Strawberry Shortcake
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)
-makes 6

A few notes: To make hearts, I divided the dough into six equal portions and gently (and quickly!) formed the shapes.  If you don't have a round biscuit cutter, feel free to simply form a rectangle of dough and cut into equal squares.  They will be just as golden and delicious as their round cousins.  Also, I failed as a Valentine and didn't buy enough cream to whip for serving, but the strawberry mixture provided more than enough moisture -- saved!

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced into quarters
1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
Whipped topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger clumps remaining.  Pour in the heavy cream; using a rubber spatula, fold cream into the dough, working in all directions and incorporating crumbs at the bottom of the bowl, until the dough just comes together.  The dough will be slightly sticky.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  With floured fingers, gently pat the dough into a round about 1 inch thick, pressing in any loose bits.  Do not overwork the dough.  Use a floured 2 1/4-inch round biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits as close together as possible.

Place the biscuits on an unlined baking sheet about 1/2 inches apart.  Brush biscuits with egg wash and sprinkled generously with granulated sugar if desired.  Bake, rotating sheet, halfway through, until the biscuits are golden and flecked with brown spots, 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool the biscuits on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

While the biscuits bake, slice and hull the fresh strawberries in half  (or quarters).  In a medium bowl, toss to combine with lemon juice and additional sugar.  Stir and let mixture macerate for 20 minutes.

Slice biscuits in half horizontally with a serrated knife and place bottom halves on serving plates, top each with strawberries and juice, and whipped topping if using, and biscuit tops.  Serve immediately!  (If not serving immediately, store shortcake components separately.  Biscuits will keep up to 5 days in a covered container at room temperature.)

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