Bang-up shortcake

Last Tuesday we found a basketful of organic ruby strawberries when we picked up our farm share. My mister stared at the dark plump berries and immediately said, “Strawberry Shortcake,” and I had to agree. These strawberries demanded to be shown off in a way that a chunky blended smoothie would homogenize their texture, color, and shape.

Growing up, I ate plenty of strawberry spongecake, the kind you buy wrapped in cellophane from any grocery store. For years, this sweet porous cake was my idea of this classic American dessert. Twinkie-esque, it too, was moist and squishy with a mound of sugary strawberries and cool-whip. It was sunny-day picnics and July 4th sparklers, it was my youth, and it was a decadent treat. Until the day which I no longer can recall that it was served atop a biscuit.

In my family we celebrate four birthdays in May as well as Mother’s Day, which means platefuls of cake. This year, we decided to throw one party and instead of making my usual cupcake buffet including: chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting, carrot cake with lemony-cream cheese frosting, and coconut cake with coconut pecan fudge frosting; I made shortcake with a hint of maple sweetness and covered with strawberries, chocolate sauce, and tangy whipped cream.

Since the shortcake was a stand in for the cupcakes, I needed a bit of debauchery – like a slightly boozy yet not too sweet chocolate sauce. I adapted several recipes to come up with this one. I used the biscuit recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, substituting maple syrup for granulated sugar. The chocolate sauce is based on one from Bon Appétit magazine and the whipped cream and strawberry filling from The Gourmet Cookbook. Light some sparklers and pour a glass of champagne to accompany this bang-up shortcake. Be prepared for seconds.

Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake
Yield: Serves 12
Active time: 20 minutes
Start to finish: 1 ¾ hours

Biscuit (recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, by Lindsay R. Shere)

2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ cup unsalted butter
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons whipping cream

Chocolate Sauce (recipe adapted from a June 1996, Bon Appétit)

½ cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Filling (recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 Recipes, edited by Zanne Early Stewart, Ruth Reichl, and John Willoughby )

2 ½ pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup, or to taste (divided)
1 cup very cold whipping cream
1/3 cup sour cream or greek yogurt (whole milk or low-fat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (to taste)

For Biscuit:

Preheat oven to 425º. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, and maple syrup in a bowl. Cut in the butter with two knives or with your fingers until the mixture resembles cornmeal with a few larger chunks of butter remaining. Mix in ¾ cup whipping cream, until most of dry mixture has been moistened. Turn out on a board and knead for 6 turns or until the dough just comes together. Roll ½-inch thick and cut into your shape of choice. This recipe makes 12 individual shortcakes.

Place on an unbuttered baking sheet. Knead together any scraps and roll and cut. Brush the tops with remaining 2 tablespoons whipping cream and bake for 10-12 minutes or until tops are lightly browned and the dough is set. Cool on a wrack.

For Sauce:

Combine cream and maple syrup in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until mixture comes to boil. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and stir until chocolate melts and sauce is smooth. Mix in brandy and vanilla. Cover and chill.

For Filling:

Beat whipping cream, sour cream, vanilla and 2 tablespoons maple syrup in a chilled bowl. Whip to soft peaks. Cover and chill cream until ready to serve.

Gently mash strawberries with maple syrup in a large bowl with a potato masher just until berries release their juices, being careful not to crush them to a pulp. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

For Serving:

Rewarm sauce over low heat, stirring often. Warm the shortcakes if necessary, split them in half, and spoon the berries with their juices over the bottom half. Drizzle chocolate sauce over the berries. Spoon whipped cream over the biscuit halves; cover with biscuit top. Spoon more whipped cream onto the biscuit and more chocolate sauce.


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