May 15, 2010

Signs of Summer

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!

Sommer


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)
1 egg
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.

16 comments:

  1. Love strawberries. Can't wait until we have ripe ones near me to pick. The squirrels ate all the ones in my home garden.

    Short-breads and preserves. Nothing says summer like strawberries!

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  2. This looks incredibly delicious, I am craving something sweet and I wish I could have one of those. What's better than summer fruits?

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  3. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing. Great way to honor those strawberries with a fantastic dish.

    Cheers!

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  4. Waw!!! Stunning food!

    This dessert sings to me!!

    MMMMMMMMMM,...I so love strawberries!

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  5. Wow! I love the look of your shortcakes and those strawberries are just unbelievable! I've bookmarked this - they look so irresistable!

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  6. Agree with your post 100% my in laws have rows and rows of strawberry and raspberry patches in their garden and we take full advantage of it !

    Looking forward to seeing your other recipes to widen my aresenal with :) We just did last night strawberries macerated with Limcello and topped with real chantilly

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  7. It's such a classic summer celebration. As I read your post and seeing the pictures, I got reminded of the summer that's just passed here.(It's autumn in Wellington)... So much sweet memories, including strawberries.

    Another perfection, again, Sommer!

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  8. What a fun activity! We have gone apple pickin gin the fall but not strawberry picking. We'll hvae to find a farm out here. The strawberry shortcake looks wonderful with the fresh strawberries.

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  9. Gorgeous Sommer! I'm in love with fresh berries this time of year and just went strawberry picking for the first time last week - I'm in love - the berries are incredible! This recipe is terrible for me right now as I have sworn off desserts temporarily - strawberry shortcake is one of my favorites and i love the idea of a bit of corn meal crunch - Terrible, terrible!

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  10. Ohh this looks so tempting. Such bright beautiful strawberries. I love strawberry shortcake.

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  11. Wonderful way to eat fresh strawberries, YUM!

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  12. How wonderful Sommer!
    I love cornmeal period! And I love summer strawberries, period! So there you have it - you've combined the best of both worlds in this delightful seasonal creation.

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

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  13. Although I love strawberries I really look forward to blueberry season which starts in a few weeks! These shortcakes are so divine! Just scrumptious.

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  14. cornmeal shortcake...how awesome..i love strawberry season...bookmarked..yum

    sweetlife

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  15. Hey it's Serena, I came to your last cooking class w Kerry. Just saw you in one of her pictures and wanted to let you know I made to strawberry shortcake last night and it was delicious! Good job teaching the us how to cook! ;) Hope you had a great Memorial weekend.

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I love to hear your thoughts! Thanks for taking the time. If you have a question, I'll get back to you ASAP!