April 22, 2010

Brighten Up

Oh, southern California, you spoil me so.  80 degree days smack in the middle of January and February (never mind that's it's rainy and stormy out right now).   Beaches, deserts and mountains all with within a few hours drive.  And the farmer's markets are colorful year-round with vegetables and fruits.  There isn't much of the winter doldrums around here at the markets where you can most always find avocados (!), tropical fruits (!) and tomatoes (!).  See, even the strawberries started popping up about a month ago, but they were mild and only slightly sweet, still tart with newness.  But now, oh now, they're getting sweet and juicy.  They're begging to be taken home, to be put in salads and desserts and to be eaten out of hand.

There were salads with spring mix, strawberries, avocados, green onions and candied walnuts.  There were giant colorful bowls of fruit salad and yogurt topped with granola, bananas and strawberries.  But I can't think of a better way to celebrate these spring time strawberries than with strawberry shortcake.  Inspired by Fine Cooking magazine, I added a splash of cherry balsamic vinegar to the strawberries while they macerated with a bit of sugar to get nice and juicy, and folks, I may never leave it out again, and neither should you!  It really brightens the berries up and marries nicely.  The original recipe called for you to add plain balsamic vinegar, but I had the cherry variety hanging out in my fridge and it's oh-so-delicious, so I used it instead.  The shortcake recipe is from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From my Home to Yours", which really, has never let me down.  Just a hint of sweetness and soft crumbly texture, they're the perfect canvas to let the strawberries shine.  All topped with a wisp of freshly whipped cream.  Fresh, slightly decadent yet casual, it's one of my favorite warm weather desserts.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From my Home to Yours”

6 cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 oz) cold butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 F degrees.

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a large bowl.  Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the butter in flour.  Quickly, using your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.

Pour the milk over the dry ingredients and toss and gently, turn the ingredients with a fork until you’ve got a very soft dough.  If there’s still some dry ingredients left at the bottom of the bowl use your hand to knead the dough until it’s evenly blended.  Don’t overdo it; it’s better to have a few dry spots than an overworked dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle that is roughly 6”x9” and about an inch thick, cut into 6 squares.

Place about 3” apart on a baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back about halfway through, until the shortcakes are puffed and lightly golden brown.  Remove from oven and transfer the shortcakes to a wire cooling rack.

When ready to serve, carefully pry in half horizontally with either a knife or a fork.  With the bottom half on a plate top with berries (and some juices) and whipped cream.  Gently set the other half on top.

Balsamic Strawberries
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine #86

16 oz strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cherry balsamic vinegar

Combine ingredients in a bowl, cover and let macerate in fridge for a few hours.

Whipped Cream
* This recipe will probably make more than is needed for 6 shortcakes.

1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream
1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Chill a medium sized stainless steel bowl in the freezer for a few minutes. Then combine cream and sugar in chilled bowl.  Beat with a hand held electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (about 5 minutes).

1 comment:

  1. Delicious! I wish I was still in town so I could sample them. :)