For those of us living in the northern climes, summer can’t get here fast enough. From the crisp cold of November to the warming and mud of March, I feel as if I live in a small cave. It’s dark when I get up in the morning, dusk-ish when I go to work, and dark when I leave work. Lamps that aren’t touched during the summer are all glowing in an effort to bring lightness to our lives. Outdoors on Saturday mornings, I notice things that I bypassed during the week because I’m not at home during the light of day. April and May brings warmer weather, the removal of snow tires from our cars, and a general lightness, both physically and emotionally. The bulky sweaters and turtlenecks are replaced with t-shirts and dresses.
So when the sunny and light-filled day of June 21 comes along, that means two things– the longest day of the year and strawberries! Several afternoons on my way home from work, from the middle to end of June through the first couple of weeks of July, I stop at the store for a quart of strawberries. On the weekends, I go up the road to a farm and buy a couple more. Nothing compares to a fresh Vermont strawberry. Nothing. And since our growing season is short, about a month, I take full advantage of it!
Once a year I make my favorite, strawberry shortcake, and sometimes this is our dinner, our whole dinner. Or breakfast. Or brunch. Or lunch. Or snack. Really, any time is a perfect time for strawberry shortcake! If I’m making it for a crowd, I will make a large biscuit in a cake pan, let it cool, slice it in half horizontally, lay down a layer of whipped cream and strawberries, and put more cream and berries on the top. It is fairly easy and really beautiful and you will get oohs and aahs at the table. Since it was just two of us this evening, I made the biscuit and cut it into eighths, so I can individually wrap each one and stick them in the freezer for another meal.
This biscuit, which comes from The New England Cookbook, by Brooke Dojny, which was given to me as a gift from my dear friend, Sarah, many Christmases ago, is the best one I’ve found so far. Just a little sweet, not crumbly, and really complements the berries and cream. Dojny’s instructions are for using a food processor; Luddite that I am, I did this by hand, but either way will work.
Egg Biscuit Cake
From The New England Cookbook, by Brooke Dojny
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into about 10 pieces (Cook’s note: I used salted butter and cut the salt to 1/4 teaspoon)
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dried ingredients. Add the cut butter and with a knife or pastry blender, work it into the flour until it is crumbly. In a small bowl, add the egg and mix in the milk. Make a small well at the bottom of the flour mixture, add the egg and milk, and mix until everything is incorporated. (Cook’s note: The author suggests putting this on a floured surface and kneading together. I did this in the bowl instead.) Place into a greased 8-inch cake pan and pat into a circle.
In terms of baking time, these are Dojny’s instructions:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When you put the biscuit in the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 22 to 26 minutes until the shortcake is pale golden brown on top. (Cook’s note: Since my oven is a bit more fussy, I cooked the shortcake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or so and just kept a watchful eye on it.)
Homemade Whipped Cream
Take either whipping cream or heavy cream and put it in a bowl with a splash of vanilla and a few teaspoons of sugar (I am always taste testing as I’m whipping it to make sure there is just the right about of sugar.) With a hand mixer, turn to high and continue to move the cream around. Stop when you reach the consistency of whipped cream you like. Beware, if you go too stiff, you’ll make butter!