Strawberry Shortcakes

July 11, 2012

Could there be a more classic summer dessert than a strawberry shortcake?  Probably not.  So when I finally got my hands on a lug of gorgeously fragrant, deep red strawberries from a local farm, all I could think of was making this simple dessert to showcase these berries.

Since there are only three simple components to a strawberry shortcake, it is essential that all three elements can sing on their own. Most recipes call for a cream scone, but I prefer a buttermilk biscuit not only because it reduces the overall fat in the recipe, but also for the lovely tang that the buttermilk provides.  This recipe makes buttery, flaky, beautifully browned biscuits.  Split them open and dollop  them with cream which has been whipped into a soft, velvety mixture.  (Do not pour in cream, turn on your mixer to whisk and then leave the room to mediate a sibling squabble,  oh no, do not.  You will make butter. Trust me.)

Last are the strawberries.  This dish is best with fresh sweet summer berries.  Pick ones that are small and red to the core, preferably from your local farmers market and not shipped to the supermarket in plastic boxes.  There is a huge difference.  Depending on the size of the strawberries, halve or quarter them and dust with a bit of sugar.  As the strawberries sit they will gently weep and make a beautiful pink syrup.  Scoop the berries and their syrup onto the pillow of whipped cream and top with the other half of the biscuit.  Simple and delightful.

The last time we made these was the 4th of July, so we tossed in some blueberries as well to go with the red, white, and blue theme.  My son insisted that the dessert would benefit from the option of Chocolate Pudding as well.  He was right.  We went with the self serve model, allowing each person to create their own shortcake dessert from bowls of whipped cream, strawberries, blueberries, and chocolate pudding.  For a more formal approach, serve the assembled shortcakes.

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I am not known for overt patriotism, but I am also not one to pass up an opportunity to celebrate.  And isn’t it a happy coincidence that our nation’s birthday falls smack dab in the middle of berry season?  We are surrounded by luscious reds and blues hanging from the bushes and trees throughout our neighborhoods and farms.  To pass these by is a shame and perhaps even unpatriotic.

My kids and I went on a west county adventure yesterday, and came home with a bag full of blueberries from Sonoma Swamp Blues (great spot to pick up super tasty local blueberries!).  Most of them are destined for shortcakes with strawberries and cream, but I could not resist tossing a few handfuls into the blender to make these popsicles. Believe it our not, my kiddos will happily gobble up a popsicle every day of summer!

Red, White and Blueberry Popsicles are a tasty treat to cool you off while savoring the sweet tastes of July.   Also they only take about 10 minutes to prepare (and freeze overnight), so you have more time to sit around sipping on lemonade (or an ice cold margarita).  You can test your luck and pull them out of the mold after 4 hours or so.  We did.  Waiting until the actual 4th of July was more than our patience could take.  Use caution though, if they are not fully frozen they are more likely to break off or for the stick to come loose from the popsicle.

*Don’t have a popsicle mold?  Check out this one.

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Summer, with a capital “S”, beginning with the longest day of the year, is weeks away, but thanks to our local school board, summer is in full swing here.  School is out, pools are open, and that means it is time to break out the ice cream maker.  My kids and I (since I teach for a living) are wholeheartedly leaping into carefree summer-mode.  I am now in the business of putting smiles on their sweet little faces and nothing works better for that than some form of sweet frozen goodness.

Lebovitz’s Strawberry Frozen Yogurt made its way into our lives (and bellies) last summer.  As strawberry season unfolded this year, I could not wait to make it again.  David Lebovitz is a master of desserts and this frozen yogurt is no exception.  The recipe starts with a full pound of perfectly ripe seasonal strawberries macerating in sugar and vodka.  Once they are nice and syrupy, simply blend them with yogurt (he calls for whole milk, but I find lowfat makes it perfectly creamy) and pour into your ice cream maker.  Wow, the result is frozen yogurt with an amazingly intense strawberry flavor not to mention the remarkable pink color.  The yogurt has a tender yielding texture and truly tastes like strawberries.  Head for the field or market, gather the most delectable strawberries you can find and make this dessert.  It is sure to bring a smile to your face.

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I fell in love with carrot cake, when I fell in love with my husband. For years I had an exclusive (some would say dependent) relationship with chocolate. Given a choice of ice cream, cake, cookies, snacks, drinks (you get the picture), I would almost always sway towards the chocolate offering. So you can imagine the shock and ensuing protest when he suggested we serve carrot cake at our wedding. I still do not know how he convinced me, but I did give up the vision of rich chocolate cake with richer, thicker chocolate frosting willingly agreed to carrot cake. One of our marriage’s first big compromises.

Key to our agreement was that we found an absolutely fantastic bakery, The Buttery in Santa Cruz, that baked up the most luscious carrot cake imaginable. This was 10 years ago and I still remember how delicious it was! This recipe is NOT from The Buttery, I adapted it from one clipped from a newspaper years ago, but it is the next best thing. It includes the absolutely key ingredient BUTTER! Flip through a pile of carrot cake recipes and you will see how rare this ingredient is. Almost all of the carrot cake recipes in my collection call for vegetable oil, which makes a nice moist cake, but fails to deliver the distinctive buttery note that reminds me that chocolate (while a delicious intoxicant) is not the only way to celebrate an occasion. The cream cheese frosting is super creamy and just sweet and tangy enough to add a nice counterpoint to the rich cake.

This particular cake I whipped up for a very special person to celebrate her 65th birthday. Which brings me to another reason to love carrot cake… there is no need to wait for a birthday or wedding. Carrot cake is fancy enough to hold its own on these occasions, but simple enough for an afternoon snack. Really, it is full of carrots and nuts and raisins; it is practically health food!

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Meyer Lemon Pudding Cakes

February 25, 2012

The birthday spirit lives on around here, but the cake does not.  Given one more chance to sing a Happy Birthday, I whipped up a second birthday dessert, this one a bit brighter and lighter than the first (Caramel Cake).  There have been a lot of posts about sweets and liquor lately, but to be honest, that pretty much sums up the month of February around here.  I did mention the “birthday month“, did I not?

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake is just the thing for a sweet wintery treat.  A cross between a souffle and lemon curd, but so much easier to prepare.  Prepare the batter and bake.  As the cake bakes it separates into two delightful layers, a lemon pudding on top and an incredibly light and moist cake on the bottom.  Serve with a gently sweetened berry sauce.  I used ollalie berries from my parents bushes (thanks Mom!), but blackberries, raspberries, even blueberries would be delicious.  This can be made one day in advance, making it a great dessert for guests.

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