Strawberry Shortcakes

I have always loved strawberry shortcake.  When I was little, my parents, siblings and I would drive to Belleville, Illinois to Eckert’s Farm and Country Store.  We would go during the Fall to pick apples, and sometimes we would even go in the thick of summer, when temperatures were at least 90 degrees (and often warmer with the heat index).  I always liked the summers more, though, because summers meant strawberries.

Sometimes, I think pictures can trigger emotions, making us feel like we’re re-living a moment (even if we hadn’t remembered the moment until then).  Recently, I saw a picture of me, my sister, grandparents and Mom sitting at one of Eckert’s picnic tables.  I wasn’t even looking at the camera, because I was too busy looking down into a big bowl of strawberry shortcake.  I can’t remember what I was thinking or feeling at that moment (I was only around 2 years old), but now, using the transitive properties of flavor, I can imagine what I was tasting.  I picture the cool, eggy vanilla custard on my tongue, the fresh, ripe berries exploding with juice (that was probably running down my chin), and the soft pillows of sweet whipped cream, all piled on top of a buttery biscuit.

Nowadays, I only eat strawberry shortcake on occasion…once a summer at most.  When I buy it, I usually buy it from a frozen custard store, where I can get scoops of fresh vanilla custard piled on top.  But lately, I’ve been craving the strawberry shortcake from my childhood memory…Maybe not with the sheer volume of whipped cream, but with the buttery, crumbly shortcake and fresh, juicy strawberries.

I did a little research, and finally landed upon the perfect recipe on Smitten Kitchen.  Deb (can I call her that? it feels weird referring to someone I don’t know by their first name) promised that the recipe would yield the most buttery shortcakes ever, miles away from the store-bought sponge variety (even though I sort of still secretly love them).  Reading through the recipe, I was surprised to see that the cakes didn’t call for eggs, but rather, hard-boiled egg yolks.  I was weirded out by the concept of hard-boiling eggs, and sticking the yolks in the batter…After all, eggs: cakes as water: dehydrated person….They need each other.

However, when I read the comments, Deb explained to other confused readers that the hard-boiled egg yolks add richness to the batter without adding extra liquid.  I found this to be true, as my shortcakes turned out light and fluffy, while still retaining a buttery richness. They even stayed moist and buttery a couple days later (when stored in air-tight bags).

Perhaps nothing can top the strawberry shortcakes of my childhood memory, but these come pretty close…I enjoyed layering the sugary berries with the whipped cream, and topping off the whole creation with the buttery top of the cake.  I’m sure that I’ll be making this recipe for many years to come…

Strawberry Shortcakes (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Adapted from Claudia Fleming and Russ Parsons

Serves 6

1 2/3 cups (224 grams) all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon (20 grams) baking powder
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (84 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 teaspoons lemon zest (optional)
2/3 cup (168 grams) plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Shortcake assembly
1/2 pound strawberries, washed, hulled and quartered
2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup whipping cream, beaten to soft peaks

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, egg yolks, and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and zest, if using, and pulse until the flour resembles coarse meal. Add 2/3 cup of cream and pulse until the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather into a shaggy mass. Knead a couple times to make it into a cohesive mass and then pat it into a rough circle about 6 to 7 inches in diameter, and 3/4 to 1-inch thick.

Using a sharp knife, cut the circle into 6 wedges and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Alternatively, you can use a cookie cutter to make shapes of your choice. Chill for 20 minutes (and up to 2 hours).

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the tops of the shortcakes very lightly with heavy cream and sprinkle lightly with the coarse sugar. Bake until risen and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn the pan around halfway through to ensure even cooking.

While the shortcakes are baking, toss the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl. Let stand several minutes. (If the strawberries are extremely firm, do this 30 minutes in advance.)

*To make the whipped cream…Place one cup of whipping cream in a cold bowl.  Using a whisk (or a whisk attachment on a mixer), beat on high until soft peaks form.  If you want firm peaks, you can beat the cream a little longer, but I found that the soft peaks were the perfect consistency.  Here is a good visual guide to making whipped cream (as a first-timer, I needed it).

Split the shortcakes in half horizontally and set the tops aside. Place the bottoms on dessert plates and heap strawberries over them. Spoon whipped cream generously over the strawberries and replace the shortcake tops. Serve immediately with any remaining whipped cream on the side.

About Emily Wasserman

Hi! My name is Emily and I'm a writer based in St. Louis. If I was stranded on an island and could request three items of food, they would be avocados, Halloumi and chocolate croissants.
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