Strawberries when ripe are impossibly sweet. Sample a fresh strawberry, from a farm stand or better, right off the bush and you’ll wonder why you’ve been settling for the out of season ones all winter long. Attempting to grow strawberries in New Jersey growing up was a failure. Apparently the local wildlife was also pretty keen on fresh strawberries so if we wanted to have any for ourselves, we’d have to pick them slightly under ripe. Otherwise there would be nothing left.
The first time I had a real fresh strawberry was in Ireland. We were staying with my stepfather’s family in Newcastle and there was a farm stand on one of the main “highways”. Really it was a small table with some boxes of strawberries on a long country road. Purchases were by the honor system. You’d grab a small container and leave the money in the box beside it. If you went at daybreak the table would be overflowing, but just a few hours later the table would be bare.
I try to let the natural beauty of strawberries shine though, without pouring on pounds of sugar or other sweeteners. One of my favorite desserts (snacks, whatever you want to call it) fresh strawberries with cream. Sometimes I whip the cream, light and fluffy, other times I just drizzle a tablespoon over the berries and enjoy. For a slightly heartier and more presentable dessert, I make strawberry shortcake. But with the berries so sweet already, the last thing I want is a sugar laden sponge cake as a base. Instead, I bake a batch of buttermilk biscuits, slice them in half and sandwich the berries and cream inside. I add the tiniest bit of sugar to the biscuits to help them bridge the line between dinner roll and dessert worthy.
Not So Sweet Strawberry Shortcake (Serves 6)
- 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar, divided
- 4 tbsp chilled butter
- 3/4 c buttermilk
- 1 c very cold heavy cream
- 3 c sliced strawberries
Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large bowl whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar (optional). Cut in chilled butter using a pastry blender or fingers until the mixture resembles course cornmeal. Make a well in the center and pour in buttermilk, mixing with a spatula until just blended. Divide dough into 6 parts and drop slightly flattened lumps onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned.
While biscuits are baking, whip the cream. Pour cream into the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a wire whisk. Start mixing on medium speed, gradually increasing speed until it begins to thicken. Add remaining tablespoon of sugar and continue mixing until cream becomes stiff and can hold shape. Be careful not to mix too much or you’ll end up with butter!
When the biscuits have cooled slightly, cut in half and drop a hearty spoonful of whipped cream on the bottom half. Top with 1/2 c strawberries and the other half. Serve immediately.
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