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Chocolate Shortcakes with Red Fruits & Cream
For me, conversations with fellow bakers can be inspirational. Whether we compare views on a particular ingredient, like vanilla extract and unsweetened cocoa powder or exchange information on electric mixers, baking pans, ovens and other types of equipment or just bandy about recipe concepts or share favorite recipes for all sorts of cakes, cookies, pastries and breads, I always walk away feeling rejuvenated. I can't wait to get back into my kitchen to bake, but not as I baked before. It's a treat to not bake the same cakes, cookies, pastries and breads all the time.
A few months ago I spent an afternoon with Evie Lieb who is both a marvelous baker and cooking teacher. We talked about baking, non-stop. One dessert that Evie described to me I could not only visualize but I could also taste. It was a chocolate shortcake with fresh cherries and cream. And though Evie would graciously give me her recipe, part of the fun of baking is to create a variation of something you bake all the time.
These easy-to-prepare chocolate shortcakes use a portion of cocoa powder for some of the flour in the basic shortcake recipe. The combination of buttermilk, milk and an egg make these shortcakes fluffy, tender and cake-like. They're so easy to make -- no dough to knead or roll, just spoon the soft batter (similar to a dumpling mixture) to form a freeform shape. Bake now and freeze for future use -- these shortcakes stay fresh and moist. When you're ready to assemble the shortcakes, split them in half horizontally, preferably with the tines of a fork. Fill them with a blend of strawberries, raspberries, cherries and lightly sweetened whipped cream to add intense flavors to the rich layers of chocolate shortcake.
Chocolate Shortcakes with Red Fruits and Cream
2 pints fresh, ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
1 pint fresh raspberries
1/2 pound sweet red cherries, pitted and halved
2 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold milk
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 tablespoons sugar, for topping
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar, optional
In a large bowl, pour sugar over strawberries and gently toss. Set aside at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Using a fork, mash a third of the berries in the bowl, toss mixture again, add the raspberries and cherries, and let stand another hour. (You can make this the day before, but refrigerate the mixture after mashing some of the berries, and bring berries to room temperature before serving.)
Adjust oven rack to lower third and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, mix the egg with the buttermilk, milk and orange zest. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the egg mixture just until it forms a soft and moist, sticky dough. Spoon 1/4 cup mounds of dough, about 2-inches apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle a small amount of sugar over each shape and with fingertips pat dough to 1/2 to 3/4-inch thickness. (After patting, shortcakes should be about 1-inch apart to allow for spreading while baking.) Bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool shortcakes on a wire rack. (You can freeze shortcakes in a sturdy container for up to 2 weeks.)
To assemble, split shortcakes in half horizontally, preferably with the tines of a fork. Whip cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Place bottom halves on dessert plates, top each with berries, cherries and whipped cream mixture and set other half of shortcake onto the whipped cream. If desired, sprinkle with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.