I know a woman who grew up on a blueberry and strawberry farm in Maine. She no longer has a taste for either blueberries or strawberries. Nor does she like lobster. For the rest of us it was very exciting on Saturday to see, among the varied shades of young, spring greens, the brilliant red of the season's first strawberries.
I intend to make piles of strawberry jam this year, but the first berries of the season should really be enjoyed as unadorned as possible. There's a gelato stand at the market this year and mom suggested we have a cup. We both chose the Tahitian vanilla and found a sunny spot to sit in while we ate. The gelato was incredible. And then I remembered the pint of strawberries in my shopping bag. I pulled out a berry, scooped up a bite of gelato with it, and bit into it. Now, that's the way to eat the first strawberry of the season.
I ate a couple more berries with my gelato, but saved the majority of them for strawberry shortcake. I have become a devotee of Claudia Fleming's biscuit recipe. It includes hard-boiled egg yolks and heavy cream and is perfect on cobblers and equally divine with strawberries and cream.
Claudia Fleming (mostly)
- 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 Tbs. sugar
- 1 Tbs. plus 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 hard-boiled egg yolds
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 6 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 tsp. citrus zest (if you like)
heavy cream, plus more for brushing on top
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, egg yolks, and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and zest (if using) and pulse until the flour resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and pulse until the dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat it together, incorporating any stray crumbs. Knead the dough a couple times so everything comes nicely together.
- Pat into a circle about 6 inches in diameter and 3/4 to 1-inch thick. Using a fluted biscuit cutter (my preference) or anything else you have to hand (a water glass, a baked bean tin, last Christmas's mitten cookie cutter, andonandon), cut out biscuits. You should get about six (depending, of course, on how big or small you make them.) Place biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush tops of biscuits lightly with heavy cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake until risen and golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Turn baking sheet around halfway through to ensure even cooking. Cool on racks several minutes before assembling shortcakes.
Heap with strawberries and top with unsweetened whipped cream.
To prepare the strawberries just wash them, remove their stems, and quarter them. Toss them with a dusting of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice and let them macerate while the biscuits are cooking (longer if using woody, shipped-in berries, but you wouldn't).
If you're using this biscuit recipe for a cobbler, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake about 40 minutes, or until fruit is bubbling and biscuits are golden.
And just a quick note on cream: Granted, I am lucky to be able to buy the best Jersey cream ever directly from the farm. You merely look at it and it whips. You eat a spoonful straight from the jar and hear choruses. You leave it on the counter overnight to find perfect crème fraîche in the morning. But anyway, what I wanted to say is that I have found myself lately averse to the sweetening of whipped cream. It doesn't need it and whatever you're going to put it on is usually sweet enough already. I will admit to adding equal amounts of vanilla extract and brandy (Grand Marnier recently, since I have some left from making truffles), about a teaspoon each per pint of cream. But in the end it's up to you. And this was supposed to be about the strawberries.