Saturday, May 10, 2003

VANILLA-STRAWBERRY MEGA-SHORTCAKE

The strawberry harvest is gradually making its way north, and though strawberries won’t be ripe in New England for another 6 to 7 weeks, the ones we’ve been able to get in the market from California and Florida are delightful—deep red, sweet, and juicy.

Being a northern New Englander, the strawberry shortcake I enjoy every year is made with a biscuit, rather than yellow sponge cake. This year, I decided to gild the lily in a number of different ways. In place of biscuits, I made a giant vanilla scone; its texture is similar to that of a biscuit, but the added sugar and vanilla take it over the top when paired with strawberries and whipped cream. Then I decided to add a layer of pastry cream in the middle—but who wants to go to the bother of cooking a custard? I used my favorite fallback method instead: instant vanilla pudding, enhanced with added vanilla, and made with light cream instead of milk. Then, to bring out the flavor of the fresh strawberries, I added a layer of “sun-dried strawberries”—sugar-dusted strawberries baked in the oven along with the scone till they turn a deep-dark red and thicken in their juice. The concentrated flavor of these berries is akin to the best strawberry jam you’ve ever had (which, by the way, you can substitute, if you don’t feel like baking strawberries; but it’s not difficult at all, and I highly suggest taking those extra couple of steps to make your shortcake truly special).

The result? A strawberry shortCAKE, a lovely dessert to bring to the table or to a potluck. The not-too-sweet scone base is pleasing to us abstemious New Englanders; if you’re used to sponge cake, give this version a try, and see if it tickles your fancy.

SHORTCAKE

3 1/4 cups (14 ounces) Mellow Pastry Blend OR
3 cups + 2 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar or glazing (icing) sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3-ounce package cold cream cheese
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla

GLAZE
1 tablespoon milk
sparkling white sugar, for topping

FILLING & TOPPING
1 1/2 quarts (1 1/2 pounds) fresh strawberries
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
one small (3.4-ounce) box instant vanilla pudding mix
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
whipped cream or whipped topping of your choice

FILLING: Hull and slice 1 quart (1 pound) of the strawberries; slicing each berry in half lengthwise should be sufficient. Put them in a 9-inch square cake pan, and sprinkle them with the sugar. Put the strawberries in the oven, turn it to 400°F, and let them start to bake while you make the shortcake.

SHORTCAKE: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cream cheese and butter, using your fingers, a pastry blender, fork, or a mixer, until the mixture is unevenly crumbly. In a separate bowl whisk together the egg, vanilla and milk.

Combine the liquid and dry ingredients and stir until the dough becomes cohesive. Don't mix and mix and mix; the more you work with the dough, the tougher it'll get. Remember: an iron fist in a velvet glove does the trick! When everything is cohesive save for a bit of dry crumbs in the bottom of the bowl, give the dough a few turns in the bowl, to collect the crumbs. Pat it into a lightly greased 9-inch round cake pan. Brush the top with milk, and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

BAKING: Put the shortcake in the preheated 400°F oven, and bake it along with the strawberries, for 30 minutes. When done, the shortcake will be golden brown, and should be completely baked in the center. (Poke a tiny hole into the center with a sharp knife; it should look moist, but not gooey.) Remove the shortcake from the oven, cool it for about 5 minutes, then carefully (it’s fairly delicate) turn it out onto a rack to cool completely. Remove the strawberries from the oven, scrape them out of the pan into a dish, stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and allow them to cool.

FILLING: Gently whisk together the pudding mix, the milk or cream, and the vanilla. Use anything from skim milk to heavy cream; let your diet and taste buds be your guide. Clearly, the cream-based version will be richer and tastier than the skim milk version. Refrigerate the pudding until it’s thickened.

ASSEMBLY: Using a long serrated knife, carefully slice the completely cooled shortcake in half around the equator to make two 9-inch rounds. Spoon the baked strawberries atop one of the rounds, then spread with the pudding. Top with the second layer, sugar-side up. Pipe or spoon whipped cream or whipped topping over the shortcake; garnish with fresh berries, whole if they’re not very large, sliced if they are. Serve with additional sliced berries, if desired. Yield: 1 cake, 8 to 12 servings. Note: This cake is best served the same day it’s assembled; wait about 30 minutes after putting it together before cutting, so the filling has a chance to soften the scone a bit.

Nutrition information per serving (1 slice, 1/12 of shortcake, without whipped cream, 203g): 336 cal, 7g fat, 7g protein, 32g complex carbohydrates, 20g sugar, 3g dietary fiber, 49mg cholesterol, 361mg sodium, 260mg potassium, 148RE vitamin A, 42mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 142mg calcium, 199mg phosphorus.

www.BakingCircle.com
May 6, 2003

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