Thursday, July 5, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake

The last couple of days, I've been reading a book called Hometown Appetites: The Store of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate, by Kelly Alexander and Cynthia Harris (2008, Gotham Books). Paddleford's career spanned from the 20s through the 60s, and she wrote about food for many newspapers and magazines, most notably the New York Herald Tribune. The book is, happily, supplemented with some recipes from her long career as a journalist. One of the first was a recipe for "Jennie Paddleford's Strawberry Shortcake," her mother's recipe that she ate growing up. It is probably from the late 1800s and can be found on page 17.

For July 4, what better dessert to make than strawberry shortcake? I was curious about the recipe, although I adapted it to what I had available. It is a recipe for a large single strawberry shortcake. The shortcake itself is more like a sweet biscuit than anything else. It's not a sponge cake--its much more dense and slightly dry.

Strawberry Shortcake, adapted from "Jennie Paddleford's Strawberry Shortcake"

3 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
11 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup whole milk

at least 1 quart strawberries, more if you have them
about 3 tablespoons sugar/quart of strawberries, more or less to taste

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 heaping teaspoons confectioners sugar--more or less to taste

Mix together flour, baking powder, freshly ground nutmeg, salt, and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or two knives, as you would for making a pie crus. Mix the milk and egg, then make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and mix together with a fork. The mixture will not come together completely--turn it out onto a floured counter and knead briefly until the dough comes together. Don't overwork the dough. Cut dough in half, roll out into a 9" circle for two circles. Place the dough into two 9 inch cake pans then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. While they are chilling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake about 15-17 minutes until the shortcakes begin to brown and have cooked through. Turn out onto cooling racks and let cool to room temperature.

To prepare strawberries, hull them and cut into halves or fourths. Sprinkle with sugar, then let them macerate for 15 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, make the whipped cream. In a mixing bowl, mix the cream and confectioners sugar. Using a hand mixer, whip until the cream is firm and begins to look a little dry. Don't over mix or you'll end up with butter!

Assemble the shortcake by putting whipped cream and about half the strawberries on one shortcake. Top with the second shortcake and add the rest of the whipped cream and strawberries. If not eating right away, store in the refrigerator.

So, here's the play by play:
Fresh ground nutmeg! Buying whole nutmeg and grating it gives you incredibly fresh and fragrant spice! I use a microplane grater, but you could use a box grater or even the little graters that are sometimes sold with whole nutmeg. Tough to measure out exactly 1/8 teaspoon unless you grate onto some parchment paper and then measure, but I usually just eyeball it.
Cutting in butter is easier if you start with relatively small pieces. You want to mix it in so that you get something that looks kind of like clumpy cornmeal. Small individual pieces of butter visible is fine, but large chunks are not. You could also do this part in the food processor, but I like to do it by hand for no other reason than I like to do it by hand.
So, once you've got it mixed up the way you want it, it's time to add the milk and beaten egg.
And here we are after I've mixed it, then turned it out onto the counter and kneaded it a bit until it all came together.
I cut it in half and rolled out my first 9" circle. Actually, I probably rolled out an 11" circle then had to fold parts over to pat into the cake pan. Oops. Did better with the second one!
Into the cake pans...
...then into the oven to bake. Here they are, all done and cooling off. Yes, I also made chocolate cookies for the kids.
Now, on to assembly. First layer...
...then whipped cream and the second layer and more whipped cream. Ta da!

Overall, I like the recipe, although if I had it to do over I would use more strawberries. The shortcakes are not sweet and spongy, like one would get at the grocery store, but they do have their own special charm. The original recipe calls for buttering the shortcakes when they come out of the oven, and serving them warm with strawberries, with a pitch of cream on the side to pour over individual portions, should you want to try it the original way.

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