It’s about damned time, that’s all I’ve got to say. Well, it’s not really all I have to say, of course. I’d like to cross my arms and turn my back and sniff haughtily at the sun and say, “You think you can just disappear for months at a time, and when you finally decide to put in an appearance I’m supposed to be glad to see you?” But who can be cross when the sun is shining, and the sky is blue? Not me. Get out the shorts and roll down the windows! The Prodigal Sun has returned to Seattle and I’m ready to kill the fatted calf and have a feast.
At the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, I gazed down at a table full of pint containers of strawberries, perfectly aligned in columns and rows like a giant excel spreadsheet. Gilded by the sun, these were not uniform grocery store strawberries. Each was different–some bigger or smaller, some knobby or bumpy like uncut rubies or maybe shrunken heads; they were all a deep blood red. “I’m looking for the reddest ones,” I told the vendor, who cast his eyes over the table, and then pointed.
Michael is the strawberry shortcake maker of this duo. So back at his house, he said he’d better sugar the berries and put them in the refrigerator so they’d be ready for Sunday. “Not these berries,” I said. “They will be so sweet that they don’t need to sit in sugar over night.” Michael ate a berry to test this assertion, and then responded with, “And what if I eat them all tonight?”
On Sunday afternoon, when the berries were sliced and stirred up with a bit of sugar, they went all soft and lush and turned, if possible, an even deeper shade of red. The scent of the baking shortbread, warm and comforting, mingled with the sexy berry tang in the air to create a tantalizing perfume. It was the smell of home, hearth, and teatime.
This shortcake is dense and creamy, and stands up well to juicy berries. The shortcake will keep for a day, well wrapped, but is best made no more than a few hours before serving. It is quick enough to make that you could also wait to start the shortcake after a leisurely dinner on the patio. By the time you’ve finished a last drink, soaked up a bit more afternoon sunshine, and started to feel hungry for dessert, it will be ready to serve.
(Adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson)
- 1 pint ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 ¼ cup flour
- 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ yellow cornmeal
- 1/3 cup sugar, plus additional sugar to top shortcakes
- ½ tsp salt
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp butter, melted, plus additional for sheet pan
- Whipped cream for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking sheet. To prepare the fruit, toss the berries in a bowl with the sugar and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the shortcake. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl, then stir in the cream and lemon zest until just combined. With floured hands, form the dough into a ball, then knead 8 to 12 times in the bowl, or until the dough holds its shape. Cut the dough into 4 equal portions and roll into balls. Dip each ball into the melted butter, then dip half of the ball into a small bowl with the extra sugar. Place each ball on the prepared baking sheet, sugar-side up. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned and baked through. Cool on a wire rack.
While the shortcakes are cooling, whip the cream.
To serve, place the shortcake on a plate, then ladle a scoop of berries on top. Top the berries with whipped cream. Serve immediately.