Monday, July 7

Strawberries Aplenty

Local strawberries, like summer itself, were a little late this year, but now they're ripe for the picking. Our neighbours spent a morning at one of the local pick-your-own strawberry farms last week and brought us back 2 baskets brimming with sweet, ripe berries.

Since then, these little gems have made their way into fruit courses, compotes and desserts; and topped waffles, french toast and even homemade ice cream. Many, many berries went straight from colander to mouth!

Of course, I can't let our brief local strawberry season pass without indulging in the classic dessert to showcase these berries at their best. What would summer be without Strawberry Shortcake?
Summer is also a time to be lazy, so I keep things simple and cut out a few steps (like making one big shortcake instead of individual ones). The result is a quick and easy show-stopper.

Strawberry Shortcake

For the shortcake:

1 tbsp lemon juice

3/4 cup milk
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 tsp sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a 9" cookie sheet with parchment paper.

together the lemon juice and milk. Reserve 1 tbsp of the mixture to use as a glaze. Set aside the remainder to sour until ready to use.

In a large bowl sift together flour, baking powder, 3 tbsp sugar, salt and baking soda. Use a pastry cutter to cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in enough of the soured milk until dough clings together. (You can do these steps in a food processor if you like, just don't over-process the dough.)

Dump the mixture onto a floured surface and knead together 5 or 6 times. Pat out dough into an 8-inch round and use a bench scraper and broad spatula to transfer to cookie sheet. Brush with the reserved 1 tbsp lemon-milk and sprinkle the top with 1 tsp sugar.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on cookie sheet then cut horizontally in half.

While cake is cooling, prepare the filling:

4 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 to 2 tbsp sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries
1/2 cup mascarpone or cream cheese (optional)
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup whipping cream

Toss the strawberries with 1 to 2 tbsp sugar and set aside. In a cold bowl with chilled beaters, beat the mascarpone or cream cheese (if using) and 2 tbsp sugar until smooth. Beat in the whipping cream and beat until soft-stiff peaks form.

Assemble the shortcake:

Slide shortcake onto a serving platter. Carefully remove top layer (use the bench scraper and broad spatula) and set aside. Top bottom layer with half of berries and half of cream mixture. Top with top layer of shortcake. Pile remaining cream mixture and berries on top. Slice and serve immediately. Makes 6-8 servings.

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