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Strawberry Shortcake

by Flo Braker

For me, strawberries taste best when eaten fresh. Heat them, cook them, bake them and they lose both their flavor and texture in the process. Because of my love for this brilliant red fruit, I'm always looking for desserts that feature them and innovative ways to serve them...raw, of course.

Try as I might to find new strawberry recipes -- and find them I do...by the dozens -- I keep coming back to the good old-time American favorite, and also the most delicious one of all: strawberry shortcake.

The shortcake part of this recipe is what most of us know as a biscuit dough. Nothing tastes better than a rich biscuit dough moistened with the juice of fresh strawberries and topped with a dollop of just-whipped heavy cream. A biscuit dough usually contains flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and milk. However, a richer, slightly sweeter biscuit, is made with buttermilk for tang and some all-vegetable solid shortening for tenderness.

For this dessert, I've chosen a shape different from the traditional. Rather than forming several individual shortcakes, you bake the entire batch of biscuit dough in the shape of a ring to transform it into a strawberry shortcake that is simply regal.

Some suggestions for making the biscuit dough its best:

* butter and all-vegetable solid shortening should be chilled

* for a flakier biscuit, cut in fats with a pastry blender rather than your fingertips

* don't cut in the fats beyond the coarse meal stage

* for a more tender biscuit, add buttermilk with fork just until mixture is moistened without overmixing the dough

* for the best tasting biscuit, don't add too much additional flour when kneading

* pat lightly (just use fingertips) when forming or shaping the dough in the baking pan

* if you can't remember when you bought your present container of baking powder, perhaps you should replace it with a new supply. Fresh baking powder gives the biscuit dough that important lift it needs during baking.

Strawberry Shortcake Ring
makes 8 servings
To make a whole wheat biscuit dough, substitute 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour for 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon each baking soda and salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
2 tablespoons solid all-vegetable shortening, chilled
2/3 to 3/4 cup buttermilk
filling:
2 pints fresh strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 pint heavy cream, whipped
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, for decoration

Adjust rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 450ÉF. Generously grease a 9-inch ring mold (or an 8-inch cake pan).

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch slices. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until butter pieces are the size of lima beans. Cut in the shortening until mixture looks like coarse meal.

Slowly stir in the buttermilk with a fork until mixture forms a dough that leaves the sides of the bowl. Gently knead the dough on a lightly floured board about five to six times until the dough holds together (it should be soft).

With a lightly floured hand, pat to one-inch thickness and pat into ring mold. Bake about 18 to 20 minutes or until golden. Remove to rack to cool 5 minutes, then invert from pan onto another wire rack, baked bottom side up. Cool before filling.

Filling: Slice berries in half, sprinkle with two tablespoons sugar and allow to sit at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove half the strawberries to another bowl and coarsely mash them with a pastry blender or fork. Let both bowls of strawberries sit at least an additional 30 minutes.

When cool, set shortcake ring on a serving plate. Carefully split it into two layers with a serrated knife. With the aid of another pan or baking sheet, lift the top shortcake portion and set it nearby. (The baking sheet bottom supports the shortcake ring and prevents it from breaking.)

Spoon the mashed berries with their juice over the biscuit bottom, spread the lightly whipped cream on top of the berries, then arrange the berry halves on top of the cream. With the aid of the baking sheet, set the shortcake ring half on top. Sprinkle powdered sugar lightly over the top. Serve immediately.

Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.



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