Macerated Strawberries with Cornmeal Shortcakes...
Certain things always remind me that summer is just around the corner. School coming to an end, daylight after dinner, strawberries at the farm stands, to name a few. Strawberry picking is one my family's favorite early summer activities. Actually we make berry picking an all-summer affair, but you can only pick strawberries in late May and early June here.
You can tell a lot about someone by how they approach berry picking. Do they sit on the sidelines, afraid of dirt and the possibility of snakes? Do they stay in one spot and clean out all the berries from one or two plants, or follow the paths back and forth casually grabbing a berry here and there? Berry picking shows tell-tail signs of how a person approaches life. Of course, it's not an exact science, but a fairly good indicator!
I steadily observe my children as they take on the berry patch. My oldest races out with her bucket. She quickly checks the berries, but is more interested in filling her bucket FIRST. Then as the self-proclaimed "Queen of Strawberries", she helps (dictates) everyone else with their picking efforts. My youngest gingerly floats down the rows studying the berries for utter perfection. He quietly mutters at times, "That one's a little dirty....this one isn't red enough yet." He then picks the largest, most crimson berry, and devours it RIGHT THERE instead of placing it in his basket! I think last time he came out of the strawberry patch with no more than 5 berries--but they were the loveliest!
What do we do with our baskets full of berries? The real question is, what DON'T we do with them. We spend the early summer stuffing berries in just about everything we make. Breakfast, salads, snacks, appetizers, but above all, desserts! Get ready for a months worth of berry recipes! Not every post will be a strawberry recipe, but there will be quite a few. Sorry to those who are allergic. Hopefully you can substitute blueberries or raspberries!
I'll start with my all-time favorite summer dessert...Strawberry Shortcake. We make a variety of shortcakes throughout the summer with whatever is in season, so this dessert isn't limited to strawberries alone. However, I think it's best with strawberries, ripe off the vine!
Real shortcakes are squatty sweet biscuits that can be cracked in the middle to provide a top and bottom. As a member of the "quick bread" family, it's best to use very cold ingredients, and to WORK FAST, so the dough goes in the oven cold. This allows the cool butter clumps to work their magic and produce light flaky layers. You could also make the shortcakes and put them into the fridge until ready to bake. In this recipe, I've added a little cornmeal to the mix to provide a distinct color and texture. Cornmeal shortcakes are also fabulous with blueberries!
Fresh Strawberry Cornmeal Shortcakes
1 ½ + cups flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 Tb. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup + 2 Tb. sugar
8 Tb. cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
½ cup + 1 Tb. whole milk (half-n-half)
5 cups strawberries, sliced
¼ cup sugar
2 cups cold heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tb. sugar
Separate 1 cup of berries and macerate (smash) with ¼ cup of sugar. I used the back of a ladle to do this. Mix with the rest of the berries and chill until ready to serve.
Preheat oven to 425*. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and ¼ cup sugar in the food processor.
Chop the butter into cubes and add to the processor. Pulse the processor several times until the pieces are the size of peas.
Add 1 egg and ½ cup whole milk. Pulse one or two times, until just combine—you still want to be able to see butter clumps!
Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and pat with your hands into a rectangle about ¾ -1 inch thick. Use a 2 ¾ or 3 inch cookie cutter to cut out 6-8 shortcakes.
Place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the shortcakes with milk and sprinkle the extra 2 Tb. sugar over the tops.
Bake for 12-14 minutes. Cool the shortcakes for just a few minutes.
Whip the heavy cream in an electric mixer, with the vanilla and 3 Tb. sugar until soft peaks form.
Find a crack in the side of each shortcake and gently separate them into tops and bottoms. Spoon berries over the bottom half of each shortcake, add a large dollop of whipped cream, and place the shortcake top on the cream. YUM! Serves 6-8.