Forget No Gluten, No Dairy, and Your Diet: It’s Strawberry Shortcake Time!

The strawberry season in Vermont consists of, if we’re lucky, two and a half weeks. With all due respect to California and Florida, you don’t know strawberries until you’ve had a Vermont one in July. Red, ripe, and juicy, set aside the sugar; they are sweet just on their own. I’m lucky there is a farm about three miles away and I can either pick my own or buzz up and get a couple of quarts to tide me over for the next couple of days, and to freeze, so I can have a little bit of summer in the colder months.

When I was growing up, there was always one night that we would have strawberry shortcake for dinner. That’s right, nothing but strawberry shortcake. And despite everything I know nutrition-wise, I have continued this tradition. I just can’t let a July evening go by without making biscuits and homemade whipped cream with fresh strawberries.

This is the way I grew up eating it, a bit biscuit-like “cake,” split it in the middle, fill the middle with whipped cream and lots of berries, and then top with more whipped cream and berries. While the Egg Biscuit Cake is from The New England Cookbook, by Brooke Dojny, the assembling instructions and whipped cream recipe are my own.

Luckily for myself and the eater of the house, the heat and humidity finally broke, so much so I needed to turn on the oven to warm up the kitchen! My suggestion would be if you have a small family to either make this for a dinner party or instead of making a cake, divide into drop biscuits. It really doesn’t last past a day. But then, there is always breakfast!

strawHomemade Strawberry Shortcake
1+ quart of strawberries, hulled and sliced (set aside eight perfect berries)

Egg Biscuit Cake
This cake recipe is published in The New England Cookbook by Brooke Dojny, 1999.

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into about 10 pieces
1 egg
½ cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Generously grease an 8-inch cake pan.

2. Pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor. Distribute the butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture looks crumbly. Whisk the egg with the milk in a glass measuring cup. With the motor running, pour the milk mixture through the feed tube and process just until the dough begins to clump together. (To make the dough by hand, whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl, work in the cold butter with your fingertips, add the egg and milk and stir with a large fork to make a soft dough.) Scrape out onto a lightly floured board, knead lightly a few times, and roll or pat into an 8-inch round. (The dough can be prepared several hours ahead and refrigerated at this point.)

3. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, patting it gently to the edges. Place in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 22 to 26 minutes until the shortcake is pale golden brown on top. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes.

Homemade Whipped Cream
1 pint of heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pour the cream into a large bowl. Add the sugar and vanilla. With a hand mixer set on high, beat the cream until stiff peaks form—about 6 minutes or so. Set aside.

To assemble
Take the shortcake out of the pan and carefully slice it in half horizontally and divide. With the bottom of the shortcake, add some whipped cream and berries. Add the top of the shortcake, add more berries, whipped cream, and dot with the reserved whole berries.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

Look at this gorgeous kale patch!

Look at this gorgeous kale patch!

Before I went home to a ton of strawberries, the Eater of the House and myself were lucky enough to be invited for a front-row seat to watch our local Fourth of July parade at our friends, Jo and Emmett’s house. Both eaters, readers, cooks, and artists, Emmett took me on a tour of his flower and vegetable gardens as I looked with envy. Living here on Bunny Hill, vegetables had a way of not making it to the dinner table, so I gave up vegetable gardening a long time ago.

Jo pointed out the kale and said she already had made my kale chips once this season, which reminded me I needed to make a batch myself!

So this week’s endorsement is make some kale chips! They are healthy, delicious, and low in calories–a terrific snack to counter-balance the shortcake!

Roasted Fall Fruit

You probably wouldn't recognize the crabapple tree this time of year. The bows are heavy with the tiny apples.

You probably wouldn’t recognize the crabapple tree this time of year. The boughs are heavy with the tiny apples.

If you have the urge to make a quick dessert this month, but you don’t want to go to the effort of making a pie, cake, or cookies, this is the perfect time of year to roast late summer and fall fruit. Yes, the technique just like you would vegetables! By slow cooking, the sugar comes out and makes a delicious  compote that is as comforting as pudding.

I have roasted both peaches and pears (separately) and they are fabulous. Just remove the skin, slice thinly, and place into a mixing bowl. Add a dash of sugar (brown, white, or a mixture), a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a little bit of butter. Place into a oven-proof pan and cook at 325 degrees until the fruit is soft. You can serve this with cream, ice cream, or just on its own.

The beauty in this recipe is it’s a “set it and forget it” kind of dessert. (Please forgive the quip, but it’s true!) You can put it in the oven if you are roasting a chicken or during dinner if you have guests. Of course, if you actually do forget it in the oven, it can overcook, but it would have to be in there for hours for that to happen. Just keep an eye on the clock and cook no more than an hour.

* * * *

Sometimes I read stories in the newspaper that just make me smile. (Believe me, these days, that is rare.) So when I read this story the other night, I knew I had to share it, since it relates to the enjoyment of dining with others.


A Nightly Dinner Out That’s Like Therapy

Crumbly Peach Pie

It’s almost the middle of July and the refrigerator already is bursting at its seams with fruit! Cherries, blueberries, cantaloupe, peaches, bananas, raspberries, lemons, limes, grapes, and watermelon are filling the shelves, leaving precious little room for anything else. Fresh fruit for breakfast, for lunch, and in the evening, we live for this season in the dead of January.

Last week we were out of town for three days, but before I left I put a bowl of almost ripe peaches in the fridge so they wouldn’t go bad before my return. When I pulled the five peaches out, they were ready to go, but I wasn’t. I had no desire to eat them plain and had to figure out how I wanted to use them. There is only one recipe that will make me turn on the stove in 80 degree weather: my grandmother’s recipe for Crumbly Peach Pie!

I grew up eating this pie at the height of peach season every the summer and have carried on the tradition, making it at least once every summer. While the recipe came from my grandmother, who passed it on to my mother, who passed it on to me (with various changes along the way), I always thought it was a family recipe. Imagine my surprise when I was going through Grandma’s old recipe books to find a version of this in an old Betty Crocker cookbook! No matter, this pie with its flaky, crumbly filling, just ripe peaches, and homemade crust is delicious, decadent, and easy. Good for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dessert! I think serving it at room temperature is best.

Crumbly Peach Pie
Cook’s note: This is directly from Grandma’s recipe, but since I am horrible at math, I put in the tablespoon conversion of what I use. 

2/3 cup sugar (scant)
3/8 cup (6 Tablespoons) flour
1/3 cup (5 Tablespoons) butter (scant)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
6-8 peach halves, skinned

Mix the ingredients together and place half of the mixture at the bottom of a ready-to-bake pie crust. Place the peach halves on top and add the remainder of the crumbly mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then 325 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden.

To peel peaches: This is the easiest method I’ve found, albeit a bit tedious. Fill a large pan with water and bring to a boil. In the sink, fill a large bowl with extra cold water. When the water has come to a boil, add the peaches one at a time and let it sit in the water for about 45 seconds to a minute. (The timing is very important, as you don’t want the peaches to cook.) Transfer immediately to the bowl of cold water. If everything goes well, you should be able to peel the skins off easily with your fingers. If you find they don’t, you can stick them in the hot water a little bit longer.

A Strawberry Solstice Celebration!

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.

And if you’re watching your weight or are gluten intolerant, a small bowl of berries and whipped cream makes an equally delicious dessert! I’ve had both this week!

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)
1 egg
1/2 milk

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!