aka The Slow Cook
If there's a better dessert any simpler than strawberry shortcake, I don't know what it is.
Our food appreciation classes are tooling around central Europe on their virtual world culinary tour, but I couldn't resist all the strawberries showing up lately in the grocery store. So we took a break from our foreign travels to whip up one of my favorite classic U.S. desserts: strawberry shortcake.
We don't go for that sugary, spongy stuff the supermarkets sell for shortcake. No, to my mind a genuine strawberry shortcake depends on a biscuit with perfect crumb, a biscuit with just enough savoriness to show off the ripe berries with a sweet dollop of whipped cream.
But before you get to the biscuits, you'll want to macerate your strawberries in a little sugar. Trim and cut 1 pound of strawberries into bite-size pieces, then toss them in a bowl with a tablespoon or more of granulated sugar. Set them aside while you prepare your biscuits. The sugar will draw the juices out of the berries--you'll want that to pour over your shortcake later.
For the biscuits, whisk together in a large mixing bowl 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Into the mix cut 6 tablespoons butter into small pieces. This is your shortening, and the really fun part for the kids, because you need to "cut" that butter into the flour, meaning pinching the flour and butter together with the tips of your fingers until the mix resembles beach sand.
This takes a bit of practice. Some of the kids want to grab handfuls of flour and butter. So I work right alongside them, pinching, pinching, pinching. Each kid gets a turn, and in a few minutes it's perfectly done.
Now into the dry mix stir 3/4 cup milk. The milk activates the baking powder, causing the biscuits to rise in the oven. The dough may be a little sticky at this point. If so, just sprinkle in some more flour. The key to a great southern biscuit is not overworking the dough. You just want to incorporate all of the ingredients, then turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it a couple of times until it holds together.
Pat the dough out to a thickness of 3/4 to 1 inch--thicker of course will result in taller biscuits. In our classes, we used a paper drinking cup with the bottom cut out to cut the dough into rounds. This made 15 2-inch biscuits, a perfect size for our classes. But if you want fewer biscuits but larger, just choose a bigger biscuit cutters.
Place the biscuit rounds on an un-greased baking sheet and bake in a 450-degree oven until the tops begin to show just a bit of brown, about 13 minutes. Set the biscuits aside to cool.
To assemble the dessert, mash the macerated strawberries with a potato masher. Slice the biscuits in half, or pry them in half with a fork. Spoon a generous portion of berries and their juices over the bottom half of the biscuit. Top this with a dollop of vanilla-flavored whipped cream. Then place the top half of the biscuit over the whipped cream, or cock it to one side for show.
I'll bet you've never had a springtime dessert better than this.