Hurrah! We finally went strawberry picking (after being thwarted last weekend)! And it was, of course, everything I was hoping for. If there is anything in this world that tastes more marvelous – or looks more beautiful – than a rotund, juicy, crimson strawberry, warm from the sun, plucked and eaten right there in the field, well then I’m feeling hard pressed to figure out what it might be. The darling little flavor-packed, mixed variety of strawberries available at peak season on farms and in farmer’s markets should make us feel ashamed that we even call those ginormous, watery things that are shipped around the country most of the year, “strawberries”. They’re just not the same thing at all (though, in the spirit of full disclosure I’ll admit they can be kind of good on occasion, and if someone gives me one dipped in chocolate, I’m afraid I’m not saying “no”).
For me, scrambling around on hands and knees in the dirt, searching for the jewel red berries, as if collecting treasure, sends my gatherer instinct into hyperactive mode. And eating the berries themselves. Well, now that is the really good part. A ripe strawberry needs nothing else. It defies my standard food writing vocabulary, even the most flowery stuff I can muster, and sends me searching for some deep extended metaphor, or something, to convey my feelings. Maybe a spiritual metaphor, or a relationship metaphor. I picture myself telling them “Strawberries, you are absolutely perfect just exactly as you are.” And isn’t that all any of us really want to hear in a relationship, and believe about ourselves?
And that’s how I continue to feel about my strawberries, until I arrive at home with pint after pint, and I start to think that maaaaybe strawberries drizzled with cream and just a teensy pinch of sugar would be awfully nice. “It’s not you strawberry. It’s me. It’s just, well, I have kind of an addiction to cream, actually.”… And then I decide to make scones. It’s possible I have a scone addiction as well.
Oh dear, I’m starting to feel as though I’m being unfaithful to my strawberries! But then, as I eat my shortcake I realize that the strawberries in the shortcake are still perfect, perfect strawberries. In the company of the scones and whipped cream, I still want them to be strawberries. Not apples, not peaches, not even raspberries. They’re still expressing all the deliciousness of their strawberriness, whether they’re dressed up or dressed down. We have a good relationship, strawberries and me.
I somehow doubt that you need a recipe to eat strawberries plain, or even just drizzled with cream. But, if you choose to gussy them up in a shortcake, here’s my favorite way of doing so. It uses the cream scone recipe from The Best Recipes (from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated), which are tender, buttery, and just lightly sweet. And because I am currently quite obsessed with crème fraiche (we may need an intervention soon, but seriously, the stuff is heavenly), it includes some crème fraiche whipped into the cream, which gives you just the slightest tangy freshness, wonderful enveloped in the fluffy creaminess of the whipped cream, and does something akin to enrobing the strawberries in splendor.
Perfect Strawberry Shortcake (makes 8 )
- 2 cups flour
- 1 Tbs. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 3 Tbs. sugar
- 5 Tbs. cold butter, cut into little cubes
- 2 cups of heavy cream, divided
- ½ cup of crème fraiche
- 1 tsp. of vanilla
- ¼ cup plus 1 Tbs. sugar
- about 6 cups of strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced into quarters
- Toss the strawberries with the 1 Tbs. of sugar, and set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 425F. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Drop in the little chunks of butter, and use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until the whole thing is about the texture of coarse crumbs.
- Make a well in the center, pour in 1 cup of the heavy cream, and stir until the ingredients just come together into a dough. Scoop up the dough and press it together into a ball with your hands.
- Now, on a greased baking sheet, you can either pat the dough into one ¾ inch thick circle and cut it into 8 wedges (you can leave the wedges attached to each other if you like moister sides or separate them if that crispy, crunchy edge is your favorite part of a scone), if you feel that triangular shortcakes will suit your fancy. Or ,you can divide it into 8 equal sized balls, and press each ball into a ¾ inch thick little disk on the baking sheet. Or, if you for some reason have come by a biscuit pan in your acquisition of fun kitchen gadgets, you can press the dough into that.
- Anyway, pop the baking sheet into the oven and bake the scones for 12-15 minutes until they are light, golden brown on top. Allow to cool on a cooling rack.
- In a chilled metal bowl, whip together (using an electric mixer, Kitchen Aid, or even a wire whisk) the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream, the crème fraiche, vanilla, and ¼ cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Divide each of the scones in half and place the bottom halves on your dessert plates. Top each scone bottom with a generous scoop of strawberries and a massive dollop of whipped cream. Then perch the scone tops on top of each shortcake and serve.