Thursday, April 26, 2012

SOUTHERN STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE FOR THREE OR FOUR


I've had strawberry shortcake made with angel food cake, sponge cake and pound cake, but till now, never with biscuits.  Years ago, I had a neighbor from Arkansas who insisted that the only good strawberry shortcake  was made with biscuits, but she never did make it for me.  Since strawberries are very much in season in Eastern North Carolina, and since I find it very hard to pass up such succulent treats at the New Bern Farmer's Market, this seemed like the right time to try my hand at Southern strawberry shortcake, made with biscuits.

After reading many recipes, I went rogue and came up with my own.  I didn't want an overly sweet dessert, and I didn't want to use White Lily flour, though I admit it makes ultra-light and tender baked goods.  There's just something about chlorinated flour that turns me off.  Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose is about as bad as I want to get.

And now I can agree with my ex-neighbor:  strawberry shortcake made with biscuits is the only way to go.  I'm hard pressed to say which was better, the biscuit or the strawberries.  Let's call it a draw.  
You can get four biscuits out of this recipe, especially if you use a 2" cutter.  I used a 2-3/4" cutter that would have yielded four biscuits if I had rerolled the scraps.  Instead, I put them on the baking sheet as is, to make sweet little odd-shaped biscuits that were so delicious I could have eaten them all, just like that.  The edges are seductively crispy and the insides are gloriously tender and light.

Biscuits are not difficult to make, but there are some things to remember:

  1. First, work quickly to keep ingredients cold.  When the cold butter hits the hot, hot oven, that's what creates the tender flakiness that biscuits are known for.  
  2. Second, handle the dough as little as possible.  The more you handle the dough, the tougher your biscuits will be.  
  3. Third, piercing the dough with a dinner fork helps steam to escape so the biscuits can rise evenly.  
  4. Fourth, don't twist the biscuit cutter, just press straight down and lift straight up.  Twisting the dough interferes with the rising process.
  5. Fifth, put the biscuits back into the fridge for a final chilling before baking.
Southern Strawberry Shortcake for Two to Four
Inspired by Scott Peacock, Better Homes & Gardens and Cook's Illustrated
Rating:  10 out of 10


Macerated Strawberries:
2 Tbsp. strawberry preserves
1 Tbsp. orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec
1/4 cup chopped strawberries (4-5 medium)
4-5 large strawberries, sliced

In small bowl, whisk together preserves and liqueur.  Add chopped strawberries.  Crush with potato masher or fork.  Slice large strawberries.  (An egg slicer works perfectly.)


Add sliced strawberries to mixture in bowl.

Set aside to macerate at room temperature while you make the biscuits.

Dessert Biscuits:
1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, measured after sifting
1-1/8 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. sugar + 1 Tbsp. sugar for tops
1/2 tsp. Morton kosher salt
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold, chopped into 6-8 pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1-1/2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice + enough milk to equal 1/2 cup)
2-1/4 tsp. coconut cream (or heavy cream, if preferred)

Heat oven to 500F.  Set oven rack to upper third of oven.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift flour, then measure 1-1/4 cups into medium bowl.  Add baking powder, 2 Tbsp. sugar and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Add butter.  Working quickly, rub between fingertips until roughly half the butter is coarsely blended and half remains in large pieces, about 3/4 inch.  Make a well in center of flour mixture.  Add buttermilk all at once.  With a large spoon, stir mixture quickly, just until blended and a sticky dough forms.  Immediately turn dough onto generously floured surface.

Using floured hands, lightly roll dough in flour and pat to 3/4" thickness.  Using a dinner fork dipped in flour, pierce dough completely through at 1/2" intervals.  Flour a 2-1/2" or 3" biscuit cutter.  Press straight down onto the dough -- do not twist the cutter -- and transfer to baking sheet.  Add excess dough, as is, onto baking sheet without rerolling.  Chill the biscuits in the baking pan for 15 -30 minutes to ensure the butter is very cold before baking.

Before baking, brush each biscuit (including scraps) with coconut cream or heavy cream and sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar.  Bake 8-12 minutes, until crusty and golden brown.  Cool.


Sweetened Whipped Cream:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, very cold
2 Tbsp. Grade B maple syrup

In medium bowl, whisk together cream and syrup till thick, about 3-4 minutes.  (You can use an electric mixer, but it really isn't necessary, and the consistency will be perfect from hand whisking.)


Put It All Together:
Split biscuits.  Spread with about 1 Tbsp. jam each.

Spoon some whipped cream over jam.

Top with strawberries, more whipped cream and biscuit top.  For a garnish, I dipped a large whole strawberry in preserves, then set it on a dollop of whipped cream.


Monday, April 23, 2012

THE FRESH MARKET, GREENVILLE


Greenville, one hour from New Bern, doesn't have Earth Fare, Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.  But it does have The Fresh Market (TFM).  We go there several times a year to get some of the products we can't get in New Bern.  Sam's Club is just down the road, Kohl's is right next door, and Stein Mart is around the corner, so we make a sweep.

TFM has good-quality dark and white chocolate in bulk.  They also carry a grand assortment of gourmet chocolate bars.  I love the Italian Gianduia (chocolate hazelnut bar).

Fresh ground peanut butter and almond butter are always in my cart.  I love eating nut butter that has no added sugar or salt.

And, speaking of nuts, you can get just about any nut you desire from their bulk bins. Or pick up one of their pre-measured packages.

Candy?  Take your pick of numerous varieties in any amount.

Looking for vegetable or fruit chips?  TFM has them.

Whole bean coffee?  Tons of varieties.  TFM has a table set with complimentary coffee so that you can sample different blends each time you visit.

My hubby, who just couldn't find a hot-enough horseradish, has finally found it at TFM.  Atomic extra-hot keeps him happy.  I have to eat it in much smaller doses because it really is the hottest I've ever tasted.

You'll find produce, dairy and meat/fish departments, canned goods, beverages and paper goods, but they're just a notch higher in quality.  TFM also has a great deli, complete with salads, gourmet cheeses and hot foods.  I'd love to see The Fresh Market come to New Bern, but I doubt that our small population could support them.  So we'll just keep trekking to Greenville.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A LONG SPRING CLEANUP

The remains of 65 bales of pinestraw
Warmer winter weather gave us an early start on yard work this year, so instead of blogging, I've been outside.  We're nearing the end of our pinestraw delivery, but it's been a long, slow process.  I admit it, we've neglected our yard and this was the year we could no longer ignore the work that was needed to get it back into shape.

Two Chinese fringe trees purchased from Trent Woods Hardware & Garden Center five years ago have become the shining stars of our landscape.  Not only are they super hardy and easy to grow, but also they are  stunningly beautiful in early spring when they are covered with snow-white fringe blossoms.
One of our Chinese fringe trees
People are constantly stopping and asking what they are and commenting on their striking beauty.
Flowers almost look like they're cut, or fringed, hence the name.
Some of the beds that we've completed
One of the last beds needing work
Hubby has been building frames for pea gravel by the perimeter of our house.  We've been told it will help with pest infestations, especially spiders and roaches.  Anything that will limit the amount of pesticides sprayed around and inside our house is welcome.
An 18" border of pea gravel will deter pests from entering a home.