It's hard to resist good fruit when it's in season, especially when the price is right, and we've been known to stock up on berries whenever they're on sale. But what do we do with all this fresh fruit once we bring it home?
For strawberries, the answer in our house is almost always strawberry shortcake. I have two men in my house who love strawberries and can eat them by the handful, so I have to move quickly before the berries are gone. Luckily, shortcake is easy to make and takes less than 15 minutes to bake in the oven.
Growing up, my mom's strawberry shortcake was a family favorite. Her recipe, from Betty Crocker, is the one I use today, and it has never failed me. I'm always happy when I can find a recipe that is relatively fuss-free, and over the years I've simplified this shortcake even more by letting my food processor do all the work.
Unlike pie crust dough, which uses similar ingredients, this dough is soft, pliable and easy to work with. Use a food processor to mix the dry ingredients together first and then add the shortening, pulsing several times just until the dough appears coarse and crumbly.
Next, turn the processor on and slowly add the milk, stopping just as a ball begins to form. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gently form it into a ball and divide it in half.
Next, gently pat one of the dough halves into a greased, 8-inch round cake pan, and then dot the dough with little bits of butter (about 1 to 2 tablespoons). Take the other dough half and gently pat it on top until it reaches the edges of the pan. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, cool for five minutes and then remove from pan.
When ready to serve, use a long, serrated knife to cut the cake in half horizontally, and fill with strawberries and cream. Place the top layer on and cover with a layer of whipped cream followed by more strawberries.
When making strawberry shortcake, it's important to macerate the strawberries several hours before serving, or even a day in advance. Maceration is a process that helps the fruit release its juices, and the longer the berries can macerate, the better. This can be achieved by generously sprinkling the fruit with sugar and/or soaking the berries in a liquid like honey or maple syrup, or a liqueur like limoncello or Grand Marnier.
Strawberry shortcake is a classic American dessert and you can find recipes where the cake is made in individual portions, much like a scone, or featured as a whole cake, like my mom's Betty Crocker recipe. You could portion this dough into personal servings for a more elegant presentation, but it's faster and easier to bake it as a whole cake, slice it in half, fill it with strawberries and whipped cream and cut it into wedges for serving.
If I'm feeling especially fancy, I'll create a trifle by breaking the cake into bite-size pieces which are layered in a wine glass with whipped cream, macerated berries and shortcake. I may even top it with toasted almonds. But this is about as fussy as I'll get with this simple summer dessert.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons shortening, cubed
2/3 to ¾ cup milk
1 to 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and grease a round, 8-inch cake pan.
In a food processor, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt by pulsing 10 times until combined. Add the shortening and pulse until mixture appears coarse and crumbly, about 6 times. Turn the processor on and slowly add the milk until the dough just begins to form a ball. Turn the processor off and turn the dough out onto a work surface.
Gently form the dough into a ball and divide in half. Gently pat one half of the dough into the greased cake pan, and dot this layer with little bits of cold butter. Gently pat the other half of dough on top until fully covered.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown, and cool for 5 minutes before removing cake from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. Before serving, use a long, serrated knife to split the cake in half horizontally.
Cover the bottom layer with macerated strawberries (recipe below), followed by a generous layer of whipped cream (recipe at thelostitalian.areavoices.com). Place the second cake layer on top and then cover with a layer of whipped cream followed by more strawberries. Cut into wedges and enjoy!
2 pounds strawberries, washed and sliced into pieces
¼ to ½ cup sugar
Prepare the strawberries at least 2 hours before serving, or even overnight. Wash the strawberries and remove the greens, then cut into pieces as desired. In a medium bowl, mix the berries with the sugar until well coated. Let sit for 2 hours at room temperature, or in the refrigerator up to 24 hours. For best results, bring to room temperature before using.
- If you don't have a food processor, you can mix the ingredients by hand using a pastry cutter or fork to combine. You may have to knead the dough a bit after turning it out until a ball is formed.
- For an elegant presentation, create a trifle by layering pieces of cake with strawberries and whipped cream in a wine glass, topped with toasted almonds.
- Once baked, the shortcake can be frozen up to 2 months.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com