Shortcake

On Friday, I made shortcakes.  It seemed like the only right thing to do, considering we were also in possession of some cream laced with Chinese five spice and vanilla, then whipped up fluffy, and some of the best berries I had had since last summer.

The shortcakes occurred to me as I stood in the kitchen, the air around me sunny for the first time since what also seemed like last summer (but what may have just been the last warm moment we had in Chicago, which was several weeks ago).  I was greedily dunking strawberries into the whipped cream, nibbling around the leaves at the top, and remembering my Gramma Jean hulling strawberries a few summers ago for jam.  She was slowing down, but still held the paring knife like a pro, hulling and slicing the berries with nary a nick on her fingers, or a sideways whack through the berries, never bringing the fruit low to a cutting board or surface to rest. Just swivel, slice, slice, next berry.  Swivel, slice, slice, next.  Her easy focus felt legendary. 

It dawned on me that it could (okay, would) be selfish of me to enjoy these berries & cream by myself.  It also dawned on me that presenting Danny with a bowl of berries and whipped cream could seem to be… I dunno, missing something.

I scoured the baking shelf in our “goldmine” cabinet (first shelf: spices; second shelf; oils, vinegars, sweeteners, nut butters; third shelf: baking ingredients; top shelf: fancy salts, small kitchen power tools) and realized:  LO! I had everything I needed for shortcake.

In literally the time it took me to whistle “Short’nin’ Bread” on loop and get only a little sick of it (10 minutes?), I had the biscuits in the oven.

A few notes:

  • These are adapted from a stupid-easy Alton Brown recipe – you can make them slightly sweet for this sort of application, but omitting the sugar will give you an everyday biscuit recipe that lends itself to any number of add-ins.  (Rosemary? Caramelized shallots? Dill & feta? Chive & parmesan? Lemon zest, thyme, pecorino?)
  • For dessert use, I like the softness that cream or half & half give you, but you can swap in buttermilk if you have it, especially for a savory biscuit.
  • There is a lone tablespoon of sugar in this recipe. Not a sweet biscuit by any stretch of the imagination; just enough sugar to lend itself to berries & cream.  If you want more sweetness, feel free to add more sugar, but don’t go crazy.  Your fruit should be the highlight.  (Unless you like to enjoy one of these shortcakes as a snack before bedtime, which I most certainly did not do last night.)
  • I had never bought shortening prior to acquiring Gramma Jean’s “white bread” recipe (a basic and deeply satisfying Pullman loaf, basically), and as you may have guessed, I use it only for that, and now these biscuits.  I’d recommend having it on hand as it seems like one of those things that is not easily substituted in many heirloom recipes, though please do buy the non-hydrogenated variety.  For a different flavor, you could likely use coconut oil instead, though I can’t vouch whether it behaves in the same way in this recipe.

 Get this:

  • 2 cups flour (I resorted to half all-purpose flour, and half cake flour, as it’s what I had on hand)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder – not soda!
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 3/4 to 1 cup half & half or cream

Do this: 

Heat your oven to 450F.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Cut in the butter and shortening with a fork or pastry cutter. Once the butter and shortening are relatively well distributed – your mixture should look dry but somewhat pellet-y – mix in the cream/half & half.  I ended up needing a few extra splashes of cream this time as my mixture seemed dry and was hard to mix into something resembling even the ugliest dough.

Drop by big dollops onto a baking sheet (I used a Silpat but you could use parchment or just spray down the pan); you should get about 8 decent-sized biscuits out of this.  Sprinkle the tops with a little sugar, and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Cool and eat with berries, cream, ice cream, and/or any sort of stone fruit later on this season (OMGZ CHERRIES AND PEACHES).

Store in an airtight container if you have leftovers – they will keep for about a week, though you’ll need to resign yourself to losing the crispness after a day or so.  We got over it and ate the last of them tonight for dessert, windows open, breeze blowing, wondering if we skipped Spring and went straight into Summer.

Tell me what you think...

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