One of the many delightful things about semi-rural living is the presence of fruit-off-the-farm and shrimp-off-the-boat, easily found at highway intersections or empty lots.
The only downside to this bounty is a propensity to be cashless, a survival tactic I discovered driving my kids around when they were, well, kids.
But today I had a loose twenty, which is the price of a whole flat, another downside. With three people and
even an eager neighbor, that’s still a lot of quick eating with such a short spoilage meter.
Weather like this just makes you feel good, and I thought about strawberry shortcake-the real kind, not that spongy nastiness available in the supermarket. Our high water mark was ML’s tenth birthday cake, which was a high pillow of strawberry shortcake perfection Tom created to serve fifty. (Birthday parties at the Cool Water Ranch were nothing short of extravaganzas back in the day.)
Our daughter Mary Leigh has moved on to dipping nature’s treat in chocolate, but there was a quart of cream sitting idle in the refrigerator since ML’s last cake artistry.
Such a thing is most unfortunate for the Marys. My mother’s voice in my head means it cannot go to waste. Yes, I know some people automatically think of smoothies, but I am definitely not one of those people. I never met a smoothie I liked, except for the periwinkle-colored smoothie shooters (strawberries and blueberries)that are hopefully still on the breakfast buffet in the Marriott Renaissance Brand hotels. No smoothies usually means one of two other fates: chocolate mousse, which always winds up with the neighbor when eater’s remorse sets in. . .OR, a vat of super creamy, extra cheesy crusty-on-top mac’n’cheese. Gee, that does sound good! This one makes ML want to kill me when her eater’s remorse sets in.
Too late anyway. I decided to try the third option. Pulling out the thick tome by the Cook’s Illustrated guys, I started doing everything wrong till ML took over. She was dipping strawberries and declared that it pains her to watch me bake (mission accomplished.) It delights me to watch her create baked goods. Then it delights me even more to eat them.
A true shortcake is not the sponge cake that’s typically used for this famous old dessert, but something a lot like a drop biscuit. We make these all the time, and it’s an essential for our Easter parties.
- 3 cups self-rising flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 Tbs. butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
- 2 pints fresh strawberries
- 1 pint whipping cream
- 1/3 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
1. Measure flour and sugar into a large bowl. Whisk to blend. Cut butter into flour mixture and stir in with a wire whisk until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. A few small lumps are okay.
2. Blend in the half-and-half with light strokes of a kitchen fork. Continue lightly blending until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. Add a little more milk if necessary to work all the dry ingredients into a sticky, thoroughly damp dough.
3. Spoon out the dough with a tablespoon and drop biscuits about four inches in diameter and two inches high on a greased cookie sheet. Leave about in inch between each. Bake 10 to 14 minutes in the preheated 475-degree oven. They’re ready when they lightly brown on the top. Don’t look for a dark brown; that indicates overbaking.
4. Wash and remove leaves from the strawberries. Slice them top to bottom about 1/4 inch thick.
5. Whip the cream in a chilled metal bowl until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue whipping until no grittiness remains.
6. Slice the shortcakes in half. Spoon some whipped cream on the bottom half. Add sliced strawberries until they fall off the sides, and a little more whipped cream.
Makes about twelve shortcakes.