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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My search for the perfect banana bread ended years ago.  There are plenty of recipes out there, but none that fit my tall list of criteria.  So many have a dead bland banana flavor, others are too dry, or full of overpowering seasoning.  This recipe, which is my standby banana bread, is to my taste, the best. It has just the right amount of sweetness (not a lot), a crispy , crunchy, buttery crust, a moist bananay interior, and a delightful tang from the baking soda.   Chunks of dark chocolate melt into the bread making it just a little more special.

This is why, though I attempted to give another recipe a try last weekend, I simply could not find another one worth baking.  Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread, developed from years of tinkering, is the one for me.   We ate this bread for dessert after a disappointing football game, the rest served as a happy surprise in my son’s school lunch.

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The darkest night of the year has come and passed and the holidays are well underway, but I would be remiss to not share with you this one last edible gift.Chocolate Bark with Chile-Spiced Mango and Pepitas is everything I want in a chocolate bar.  Dark chocolate (first and most important ingredient), sweet dried mango, spicy chile pepper, crunchy pepitas, and of course the sparkling salt dancing across the top.  This combination is unexpected and delightful.

Chocolate Bark makes an excellent gift, wrapped up with a tag and a bow.  It would also be a delicious way to encourage your guest to linger at the table after their dinner.  Put out a plate of chocolate bark and let everyone break off their own piece.  It is delicious with wine or coffee.

You can find chile-spiced mango at Mexican markets and Trader Joe’s.  If you have a different taste sensation in mind, go for it!  This recipe is incredibly adaptable, just keep the proportions of chocolate to chunks the same.  Other ideas  I would like to try are Dried apricot and pistachio and dried cherry and almond.  If you want chunks of another type of chocolate (white chocolate or milk chocolate in the bark, simply chop them up and add with the nuts and fruit (do not melt).  The possibilities are endless!

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My holiday baking got off to a late start this year.  There are still many edible holiday treats still on my to-do list, but this was one recipe I was not going to let pass.  In fact, this the only batch of holiday cookies that I was able to fit into my schedule this year.   They are so tasty!

Chocolate Candy Cane Crackle Cookies combine rich fudgy chocolate with a hint of peppermint flavor and crunch from candy canes and peppermint schnapps.  If you like dark chocolate and peppermint, these should definitely be on your “To Bake” list. The recipe is based on one from Dorie Greenspan that ran in the November 2006 Bon Appetit.  I made the original recipe years ago and enjoyed it very much.  The seasoning (cloves and cinnamon), make it more of an adult flavored cookie.  My adaptation below follows Dorie’s basic recipe, but leaves out the spices.  In their place are chunks of candy canes and a touch of peppermint schnapps. (Finally a use for that bottle I picked up at a white elephant gift exchange last year!)

There are a few things to keep in mind when you make these cookies.  First, the candy cane chunks are bound to melt in the oven.  There is nothing really wrong with this since they will still impart their flavor, but if you, like me, want to be able to see the candy canes in the final product, be sure to leave the chunks rather big (1/4 to 1/3 inch long).  Second, the dough is tough to work with.  It is super dry and firm and  tough to roll in your hands.  Both my kids were helping to roll and we ended up with chocolate crumbs everywhere and a bunch of squarish cookies.  The good news is, it does not really matter.  The cookies will still taste great.  Lastly, do not overcook these cookies.  Since the dough is so dry, it is much better to undercook them.  Think of brownies.  You want to pull them when the dough just begins to set, but is not completely cooked through.

My happy helpers bagged these up and delivered them to our friends and neighbors.  What are your favorite cookies to bake during this time of year?

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Everyone needs a go-to cookie recipe and this is mine.  I have made it more times than I can remember for snacks, parties, camping trips, gift bags, potlucks, you name it.  They are my favorite!  Adapt it to what you have on hand by adding nuts (walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, etc.) or leaving them out.  The chocolate chips can be replaced with peanut butter chips or white chocolate, but do not dare leave those out!

Mix up the dough, then chill it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake them (at least two hours).  You can also freeze the dough if you want to make it in advance.  Portion out the dough before freezing to make it easier to use.  The cookies bake up slightly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  They are great straight from the oven,  as well as days later.  There is never a shortage of taste testers!

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