Monday, June 18, 2012

Hood Strawberry Shortcake

Pretty much every American kid can easily remember Cookie Monster, the prototypical chaos muppet who roamed Sesame Street in search of, well, cookies. But evidently Cookie Monster now sings a slightly different song. One of balance and moderation. Who knew? In a nod to our lackluster national eating habits, Cookie Monster now sets an example by enjoying a healthier spread of fresh fruits and vegetables. He still eats cookies—I mean, after all, he's still Cookie Monster. But the new mantra is that a cookie is not something to go batshit crazy for in a flurry of noms and crumbs. No, a cookie, Cookie Monster now realizes, is a sometime food.

I should probably be dismayed at the tempering of such pure sugar-seeking id. But in truth, I find it kind of adorable. And totally understandable. A cookie is a sometime food. As it should be. Fresh fruit is usually a perfectly reasonable dessert, especially in these sweet harvest days. But sometimes, you want something a bit more indulgent.

Like many parts of the country, Oregon has a spread of unique strawberry cultivars. But the most beloved of these are the Hoods. People await their all-too-brief season with a sort of fanaticism, and farm stands will often put out signs with the single word, "hoods," that causes lines of cars to pull over. They're sweet, they're tart, and they're just so intense that they pretty much put you off of the tasteless supermarket behemoth strawberries forever. I'm happy to eat them out of hand, or stirred into a bit of yogurt. But every now and then, I want something a bit more.

Strawberry shortcake is my sometimes food. I take the nature-perfect, good-for-you hood strawberries, and ruin it all with a warm, crumbly, buttery biscuit, and a big blob of barely-sweetened cold whipped cream. And I'm not sorry. Occasionally I'll toss a bit of cornmeal into the biscuit dough, some fresh herbs into the berries, or some leftover creme fraiche in the whipped cream. But really, it's delicious as is. Because yes, hood strawberries are perfect as they are. But a bit of shortcake can make things even better. Sometimes.

Strawberry Shortcake

adapted fairly heavily from James Beard
yields 8 shortcakes

2 pints strawberries
3 Tbsp sugar (or more, if your strawberries aren't as sweet as our Hoods)

1 2/3 cups flour (I like to sub in 1/3 cup rye or whole wheat pastry flour), plus more for rolling/cutting biscuits
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (substituting coconut oil for part of the butter is particularly lovely)
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
scant 3/4 cup half and half or heavy cream

1 egg white, slightly beaten, or a splash of cream
a few spoonfuls sugar (coarse sugar is especially nice)

1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Slice the strawberries, and place in a bowl with the sugar. Mash about half of them with a potato masher, leaving some whole but creaming enough smaller bits to hold the mixture together. Set aside to let the juices come out.

Preheat oven to 375ยบ Farenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment or grease it well.

Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut the butter in pats into the flour, and press with the heel of your hand to form fat flakes. Turn from the bottom to bring up the flour mixture, and repeat the process until all of the butter is reduced to flakes or bits. Press the hard-boiled egg yolks through a sieve into the bowl, and toss a few times, until they're coated with flour and mixed throughout.

Pour the half-and-half or cream into the flour mixture, and toss together until most of the flour is incorporated (as with most baked goods, under-mixing is better than over-mixing).  Lightly flour a counter or work surface, and gently knead the dough until it just comes together.  Pat or roll it out to a 3/4" thickness, and cut into rounds with a 3-inch biscuit cutter. Gently press together any scraps and cut until all the dough is gone.

Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, brush with the egg white or cream, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until set and just beginning to brown, ~12-15 minutes. Let cool very slightly.

While the biscuits are cooling, whip the cream to soft peaks and add the vanilla and sugar. Taste and add more if desired.

Split the still-warm biscuits, and top with the berries and whipped cream. Devour.


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