Spring means that strawberries are appearing in the store. Now, we know, and you know, that these strawberries are a pale imitation of those freshly picked from a local field, but they’re still tasty. So, we buy them, even though we know (or think we know) how destructive conventional strawberry growing is to the soil. Sometimes our scruples just go out the window, which might just leave us with a tiny bit of bad karma.
So, we thought that we’d make up a small batch of strawberry shortcake with a huge — we mean HUGE — amount of whipped cream topping. We happened to have about a cup of heavy cream, so we whipped away with no regrets. But, rather than talk about whipped cream, let’s scratch out some strawberry shortcakes.
We made up the recipe for the strawberry sauce, just using the idea of macerating sliced strawberries to bring out the juices, but, for the shortcake recipe, we thought we’d see if there was a recipe from Thomas Keller available on the Internet. While it seemed to be a good idea, it turns out that just about anyone can post a recipe, and we found two competing versions. We selected one, and … well, you’ll see, but we will say that we’re posting what we think is the correct version. And, this is just for the shortcake; we didn’t include the strawberry sorbet, even though we’re seriously considering making that next.
Obviously, this is all about strawberries. If they’re good, you’re all set. If not, expect to be disappointed. For honey, buy it from a local beekeeper if you can. It’s better. For the buttermilk, we always use home-scratched, as it’s so easy.
As an aside, please note that we think we used an incorrectly- transcribed recipe for the shortcakes (or sweet biscuits, really)– ours did not rise enough, due to a reduced amount of leavening — we think the correct amounts are given above.
Procedure in detail:
Macerate strawberries. A long word for steeping the strawberries in sugar to release juices, right? Well, in a medium bowl, combine the strawberries, honey, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Let stand for several hours, stirring about every half hour, until the strawberries are nice and juicy.
Sift dry ingredients. We find that the easiest way to deal with sifting is to place the sifter in a bowl, place the bowl on a scale, tare it (set it to zero), then weigh out the flour. Add the sugar, baking powder, and baking soda, and sift away. Once sifted, add the kosher salt and whisk in. Kosher salt has granules are too big to sift in easily, so we add them after sifting.
Preheat oven to 500°F. Place one baking sheet on top of another and line the top sheet with parchment. Why? This will help insulate the bottom of the biscuits, which means that they’re less likely to burn. The exact timing of preheating the oven will vary depending on your oven. If it heats fast, you can do it later; if it’s slow, you might want to start before sifting the dry ingredients.
Rub in butter. Add the butter to the flour mixture, and, using your fingertips, rub it in until the flour mixture resembles a coarse meal. It should take no more than about 30 seconds to get it incorporated; longer than that and you risk melting the butter, meaning you’ll have tough biscuits (shortcakes).
Add liquid. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the buttermilk and milk. Now, using a flexible dough scraper, work the flour mixture into the liquid by drawing it from the edges into the buttermilk. In no time at all, you’ll have a rough and shaggy dough.
Rest. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes, giving more time for the oven to preheat.
Roll and cut. Turn the dough onto a lightly- floured work surface, and press out to 3/4-inch thick. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour, cut out four biscuits and place them on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch of space between them. The scraps can be baked as chef’s snacks, or as additional biscuit pieces for your shortcake.
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake until golden brown, about 9 minutes.
Cool. Let the biscuits cool on a rack until just warm.
Assemble. Tear a biscuit in two so you have a top half and a bottom half. Place the bottom half on a plate and scoop strawberries on top, followed by the top half of the biscuit and whipped cream.
We were disappointed by the shortcakes (or biscuits). They just stayed flat and didn’t rise very much at all, which we attributed to the small amount of baking powder and baking soda we’d used — we think we used the incorrect recipe, remember — possibly because of a bad transcription. We’ll double-check the next time we look in a copy of The French Laundry Cookbook, and, if we remember, we’ll make sure to update the recipe (and try it again, because this was so unlike all other Thomas Keller recipes that we’ve tried). For our — incorrect — version, we have to give only three stars.