This is what the start of summer eating looks like to me. I love asparagus but send me down the path to strawberry shortcake, the biscuit kind, thank you very much, and I am good. It was always Mom’s birthday cake, and if my b’day was in May or June, I’d hop on board that train in a heartbeat. At work, we’ve been making this iconic dessert professionally for *about* 31 years. It is very popular. How often do you see real strawberry shortcake on a restaurant dessert menu? With local strawberries and freshly whipped cream? It is one of those desserts that you can’t say no to, you will only have this one chance and you’ve got to grab it. Go for it!
One of my favorite stories regarding SBSC restaurant style was one Memorial Day weekend probably about 30 years ago when we had a new cook start at the Ironstone. That weekend – his first in our kitchen, on the cold station, which included setting up the dessert orders – found Eugene Bethel in charge of the shortcakes. And, being what they are, this was a very very popular item… Eugene pumped them out, all night long, Friday and Saturday – you know, they are put together to order: biscuits are split, heated up in the oven, spread with soft butter, layered with sweetened strawberries, topped with whipped cream. It wasn’t just slice and plate. At the end of that weekend I will never forget Eugene’s face, when it was all over, and we laughed and laughed – ha ha – about how hard he had to work on his first weekend with us. I guess it wasn’t too bad, since he stayed with us our whole tenure, but in hindsight, it must have been a real eyeopener as to what he was getting into.
I don’t make too many of the desserts here at KBM – fruit pies and the occasional cookie are about the extent of my contributions any more. But I am in charge of the shortcakes, for some unknown reason. Not that I mind – it means I get to eat one. My recipe for the biscuit is pretty much directly taken from the Joy of Cooking, with a few adjustments made over time. It’s basically a sweet baking powder biscuit – hence the addition of sugar – but it is adapted from a savory recipe, so you can revert back to that by leaving out the sugar and switching the butter up for lard or shortening. Buttermilk can always be substituted for regular milk, in either case. The recipe makes about 24 individual biscuits, which are fine to freeze, or two nine inch cakes.
Short cakes – biscuits style
Put 6 cups AP flour, sifted after measuring, into a large bowl. Resift the flour with: 7.5 tsp. baking powder, 1 T. salt and 3 T. sugar.
Next, cut in 6 ounces of cold butter. I generally start this process with a pastry cutter and finish with my fingertips. Like pie dough, you want to keep the butter from getting too warm to increase the flaky-factor. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is sort of the texture of rough cornmeal.
After you have the butter thoroughly worked in, add 2.25 cups of cold whole milk (or you can use buttermilk) all at once. Make a little well in the flour and just pour the milk on in.
Take a large fork and gently begin to bring the outside dry toward the wet middle, sort of folding things together with your fork. Stir it this way until you think you will be able to shape the dough into a ball, with all the dry incorporated, from this:
Manipulate the dough until it comes together in a ball and then dump it onto a lightly floured board. It should not require very much flour on your board, because it is not supposed to be a sticky dough. On the board, the dough should be kneaded for about 30 seconds, until it becomes a nice, smooth ball.
Admire your work and let the ball rest for a minute or two while you fetch your rolling pin and put some parchment paper on a baking sheet. The oven should be pre-heating to 375 degrees.
Now the fun part! You have several choices here. You can pat the dough into the bottom of a 9 inch cake pan or two and bake it as a whole cake – pretty dramatic and great for a Mom’s birthday party. Or you can take a biscuit cutter and cut the rolled dough into rounds, re-working the scraps as needed to cut more. But what I do, lazy cook that I am, is roll the dough into a rough squarish round, about 3/4 inch thick, and cut it, with a knife, into approximately equal sized squares. Or rounded triangles, as the case sometimes is. I have found that not only is this a lot easier and faster, it saves on waste – sometimes those reworked biscuits are not the ones you want to serve to your mother-in-law, who could detect a bit of toughness in a biscuit made from previously rolled dough. So, squares are my way to go.
Put your biscuits into the 375 degree oven for about 15 to 18 minutes, depending on your oven temper-mentality. If you bake a whole cake, it will take a bit longer.
Done! Now all you need is some nice soft butter, a pile of sugared strawberries and some softly whipped cream in order to make the ultimate sacrifice to your diet:
It’s not summer without three things – soft-shelled crabs, rosé wine and strawberry shortcake! Bon appetit!