I am all about birthdays—especially mine. I’ve long moved on from celebrating for a day, to a week, and now to a month. So it’s not a stretch to spend much of this month celebrating the first year of Twice as Tasty.
It’s not a birthday without dessert, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the traditional cake loaded with frosting. As a kid, I always wanted homemade angel food cake, buried in berries and carrying a dollop of home-whipped cream. Pies have also topped my list of celebratory sweets, particularly when you can load a table with a dozen varieties. But both of these choices can be labor intensive for a crowd. For today’s party, it was hard to resist easily created desserts that show off freshly harvested botanicals and fruits of summer.
Strawberry Shortcake with Lilac Cream
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
3/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 cups Lilac Cream
Clean the strawberries, remove their stems and hulls, and slice or chop as needed. Zest and juice an orange, reserving the zest for the shortcake. In a wide, shallow bowl, toss the strawberries with the orange juice and 3 tablespoons of sugar; let them sit at room temperature to macerate, or draw out the juices, while you make the shortcake.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, and then stir in the reserved zest. Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch cubes with a sharp knife, add it to the flour mixture, and then use your fingertips to work the butter into the flour, pressing it into flat chips coated with flour and then coarse crumbs. Gradually add the half-and-half and cream, mixing just until the crumbs form a dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a half dozen times, just until the dough holds together. With your hands, press the dough to a 1/2-inch thick disc. Using a 2-1/2-inch biscuit cutter or a large drinking glass, cut out circles of shortcake. Bake on a lightly greased baking sheet at 450°F for 12–15 minutes, until golden.
Cool the shortcake slightly on a wire rack, and then split it horizontally. Place the bottom halves on plates, top with the filling, cover with the shortcake tops, and garnish with Lilac Cream (see below). Makes 8–10 shortcakes.
Tips & Tricks
- Although you can simply slice the strawberries and use them on your shortcake, letting them macerate in sugar brings out their flavor and creates an ideal texture for the shortcake filling. I love how J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats describes it: “Drawing liquid out from the strawberries also tenderizes them, very much like letting some of the air out of an air-mattress will make it softer and squishier.”
- While maceration is good, too much turns the berries into sauce. The time it takes to prepare the shortcakes is ideal, but the berries can sit in the sugar for up to 2 hours in the fridge before serving. Beyond that, the effect may be closer to an ice cream topping.
- My preferred shortcake is a slightly sweetened biscuit, and I’ve come to love the home-style texture created from working the dough by hand. You can even skip the biscuit cutter and just make rough circles with a knife. For smoother shortcakes, roll out your dough with a rolling pin.
- The key to fluffy shortcakes is to avoid overworking the dough; unlike with bread, you’re looking to limit gluten formation. For the best effect, add the liquid slowly and mix and knead just enough to hold the dough together.
- Strawberries aren’t your only option for shortcake; as with fruit crisps (see below), try raspberries, blackberries, or even a mix of different berries and fruit. Out of season, you can defrost and drain frozen fruit or serve the biscuits with fruit jam or syrup.
1 cup heavy cream
1–2 tablespoons Lilac-Infused Sugar
1 tablespoon powdered milk
If lilacs are in season, harvest 2–3 clusters of lilac blossoms and separate the blossoms from their sepals. Place the blossoms in a large clear bowl, and pour the heavy cream over the blossoms. Add the infused sugar, using more if you prefer a sweeter cream and incorporating as many sugared blossoms as possible if fresh are unavailable. Stir gently, and then cover the bowl loosely with clear plastic and let it sit for 3–4 hours, preferably in a sunny place. Put the bowl, along with your whisk attachments, in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours, until completely chilled.
Pull out the bowl and add the powdered milk. Whip the cream on medium-high speed for 2–5 minutes, until it forms firm, but not stiff, peaks. Serve immediately, or return the finished cream to the refrigerator and let it infuse for up to 24 hours before serving. Makes about 2 cups of whipped cream.
Tips & Tricks
- Lilac cream is a delicious shortcake upgrade. When they’re available, fresh lilacs give the best boost of flavor to the cream.
- As with other botanicals, short-lived lilacs can be easily harvested just before they peak and buried in sugar for later use. If you’re not used to harvesting edible flowers, you can find tips on doing so here.
- Chilling everything helps cream to whip more quickly initially, but dry milk powder is my favorite trick for keeping the cream fully whipped for days. Without it, the cream is likely to become runny even in the fridge. If you don’t have any on hand, skip the long infusion time after whipping and serve the cream immediately.
- For shortcake, you can play with any other infused sugar or just stick to a neutral whipped cream with unaltered sugar. For a breakfast leftover, top the berry sandwich with Fresh Yogurt.
Twice as Tasty
I’d only planned one dessert for the Twice as Tasty birthday party, but friends so loved a recent batch of rhubarb crisp that I knew I needed to make space for it on the table. Rhubarb has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Although my grandmother was a master pie maker who turned much of the summer’s rhubarb yield into filling, crisp was the dessert that always appeared in a pinch, whether for family or a gathering.
Rhubarb is just the beginning of the crisp options. These desserts are so simple to throw together yet so delicious. They’re also easy to transport and share among a group, making them perfect summer potluck or party fare.
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/2–1 cup rolled oats or other grains
1/2 cup nuts, chopped (optional)
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Clean the rhubarb as needed, and then cut it into 1-inch pieces. Mix the rhubarb with the honey and 3 tablespoons of flour. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish, and then spread the rhubarb mixture into it.
In a small bowl, combine all remaining ingredients until crumbly, using 1 cup of grains if you want a nut-free topping. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Bake at 350°F for 35–40 minutes, until the fruit is soft and bubbly and the topping is browned. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 4–6.
Tips & Tricks
- Almost any summer fruit, or blend of them, can be served in a crisp, from berries to peaches. By fall, apples and pears are ideal crisp fillings. I often combine fruits, mixing flavors in different proportions depending on what I have at hand.
- Whatever fruit you save at its peak can be used to make crisps all winter: Pour an entire bag of frozen fruit into the baking pan for a saucy crisp, or defrost and separate the juice for a fruit syrup before using the solids in your baking.
- Topping ingredients can vary just as widely as crisp filling. I tend to keep a jar of mixed grains on my counter to use for hot cereal and granola, so I just dip into that for my topping. For a gluten-free version, stick to just nuts or use gluten-free rolled oats and flour.
- My father would tell you crisp needs ice cream, but it really does stand well on its own. Better yet, top it with Lilac Cream—assuming there’s any left over after you finish the Strawberry Shortcake.
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