Have you tasted this year’s Strawberry crop?
The garden strawberry has a rich and surprisingly recent history in America.
The French started moving wild strawberry plants from the woodlands into their gardens in the 1300s. It wasn’t until the 1750s that two cultivars from the new world, the Fragaria Virginia from Eastern North America was crossed by the French with a variety from Chile called Fragaria chiloensis to create the strawberry as we now know it. This “new” variety has almost completely replaced the woodland strawberry in commercial strawberry growing. The United States’ production of strawberries outstrips any other country in the world. In fact, about ¼ of the strawberries grown worldwide are grown here—a whopping 1.3 million tons of them in 2011 alone. But wherever they are grown, they are highly prized worldwide—everywhere from the Philippines to Morocco.
The Shortcake is a British Invention
Shortcakes get their name from the adding of shortening or butter to a dough which makes it tender. Calling lard or fat “shortening” comes from the 15th-century term “to shorten” which meant, “easily crumbled”. Although shortcakes can be used with all manner of fruits, they have been linked to the strawberry in this country since 1847. The arrival of the transcontinental trains meant that strawberries could be shipped coast to coast surrounded by ice to keep them fresh. Strawberries and shortcakes signaled the arrival of summer across the country. And they still do today. Don’t let the strawberry season pass by without tasting these. Here is the recipe:
Joanne Chang's Balsamic Strawberry Shortcakes
The balsamic vinegar and the grated lemon zest are a perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the berries and the lushness of the whipped cream.
- For the Shortcakes:
- 2 1/2 cups (350 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1-teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4-cup (1-1/2 sticks/170 grams) cold unsalted butter
- cut into 12-14 pieces
- 3 eggs
- 1/2-cup (120 grams) heavy cream
- For the Strawberries:
- 2 pints (600 grams) strawberries
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (about 2/3 lemon)
- 6 tablespoons (75 grams) plus 1-tablespoon sugar
- 1-1/4 cups (300 grams) heavy cream
- 1-teaspoon vanilla extract
- Step 1 To make the shortcakes: Position the rack in the center of the oven, heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Step 2 In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed for 10-15 seconds or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top and beat on medium-low speed for about 30 seconds or until the butter is brown down the mixture gets sort of mealy.
- Step 3 In a small bowl, whisk together 2 of the eggs and the cream until thoroughly mixed. At low speed, pour in the egg mixture all at once and beat for 10 to 15 seconds, or until the dough comes together.
- Step 4 Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface and press it out into a circle about 8 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut out circles, rerolling scraps as necessary to get 8 circles total. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet several inches apart.
- Step 5 In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg until blended. Brush the tops of the dough circles with the egg. Sprinkle evenly with the 1-tablespoon of sugar.
- Step 6 Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool on pan or on a wire rack until cool enough to handle, then transfer to a rack to cool until warm.
- Step 7 Meanwhile, stem the strawberries, and cut each berry lengthwise into four or five slices. In a medium bowl, toss the strawberries with the vinegar, lemon zest, and 6 tablespoons of sugar, and let macerate for about 30 minutes.
- Step 8 Using a handheld mixer or whisk, whip the cream with the 1-tablespoon sugar and the vanilla just until it holds soft peaks.
- Step 9 Split each shortcake in half horizontally. Set the bottom haves, cut sides up, on individual services plates. Divide the strawberries and their syrup evenly among the bottom halves, then top the strawberries with the whipped cream, again dividing evenly. Balance the top halves on the whipped cream and serve immediately