A friend asked me if I could meet him for lunch on Tuesday downtown. “I can’t,” I replied. “My office is closing early for the 4th and I am going home to make strawberry shortcakes.”
“A very American dish for this 4th of July,” he joked.
The truth is, turning down lunch with a fellow pork lover to make strawberry shortcakes is not something I would typically do. But what can I say? I like to trot out my otherwise well-hidden Martha Stewart side for those patriotic summer holidays. And sometimes there’s nothing like an individually portioned, downright pretty dessert.
Shortcakes are essentially sweetened buttermilk biscuits, so I kept all the ingredients cold throughout my prep and was careful not to overmix the dough (almost to a counter intuitive degree). The end result was a tender and slightly sweet biscuit, and I loved the warmth imparted by just a dusting of cinnamon.
The freshness of the lightly sweetened whipped cream got a bright little zip from the addition of orange zest, and the just ripe berries were perfectly tart-sweet.
I got the recipe (and some coupons to boot) from Driscoll’s Berries, thanks to the lovely Driscoll representatives who were at Camp Blogaway in May. This recipe makes about eight strawberry shortcakes, with a few shortcakes leftover.
Strawberry shortcakes with orange-scented whipped cream
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cups plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, chilled
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups Driscoll’s Strawberries
3 teaspoons granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest, plus 8 small orange peel twists, for garnish
For the shortcakes
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. It’s okay if there are a few large chunks of butter in the mixture. In a separate bowl whisk together 1 cup buttermilk, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Stir into flour mixture until just moistened.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead a few times with floured hands until it just comes together. It will look quite raggedy, but that’s okay. Gently pat dough to 3/4-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch-round biscuit cutter (or a buttered 3-inch tumbler glass), cut out 8 shortcakes, gathering scraps and patting out again if necessary, and transfer them to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Brush the tops of shortcakes with remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for about 14 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top. Remove, and let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
Carefully split them horizontally using a serrated knife. Note: If you are baking the shortcakes ahead of time, you can store them pre-sliced in an airtight container on the counter for a few hours until you’re ready to assemble.
For the filling
Hull and chop about 1 cup of strawberries and toss in a bowl with 2 teaspoons sugar; set aside. Hull and vertically slice 10 strawberries. Cut any remaining strawberries in half for garnish or reserve for another use.
Combine the cold heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar, and orange zest in a bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer (or by hand, like I did, if you want a serious workout for the ole arms) until stiff peaks just form. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Place the bottom halves of shortcakes, cut side up, on eight serving plates and spread each with 2 tablespoons whipped cream. Arrange 4 strawberry slices, with the pointy ends around the edge of each shortcake. Spoon chopped strawberries into the center.
Spoon another 2 tablespoons of whipped cream on top, smoothing it out carefully with the back of the spoon. Place the shortcake lid on top and press lightly. Top with a small dollop of whipped cream, and arrange two small strawberry halves along with a twist of orange peel on top. Serve immediately with lots of napkins (or give guests the appropriate confidence boost to lick their fingers freely).