Serving up summer strawberry shortcake
Every now and then, the near-100 degree temperatures merit a little outside-time. I don’t mind sweating a little since it means that I have a good deal of the season left; we get a little reprieve from the minus-10 degrees that graced our shores a mere few months ago. And, let’s be honest, taking my first summer off since 1983 has been a nice respite to catch up on things.
An assortment of music plays in the background, and the gentlest breeze blows across my back porch. The only note of interest today is the pile of tree pieces from what is apparently the only tree to have fallen in the lamest hurricane in Ocean City history: Arthur. And of course it fell in my yard. So it goes when you live at the beach where root balls are 2 feet deep and 10 feet around. Where else would a tree go but down?
Tonight feels like it will be a good night for one of my favorite cakes from the days of yore; the halcyon days of ignorant, blissful youth. I’m speaking of strawberry shortcake, of course. For some reason, I haven’t made this version of strawberry shortcake for years, if not decades, but it was my favorite right behind my grandmother’s mocha-icing chocolate cake.
Made with spongecake instead of biscuit, another of my favorites, this is lighter and a touch more refreshing. Plus, it’s nice to change things up a bit.
One great little trick that I recommend that you try is stabilizing the whipped cream; not just for this recipe but also for any application in which the whipped cream might need to last for a good while. It’s a simple technique that I have used since the club days and if you are lucky enough to find liquid gelatin, it just saves you one step, but the liquid form lasts for a long time.
Gelatin is a powerful protein that helps to support the air bubbles that you will incorporate in the cream as you whip it into oblivion. Simple step, fantastic results.
As it just so happens to be my birthday, I have some time to reflect on what has happened to me, and because of me, over the last 46 years. What a wonderful world in which we live, my friends. Sure, tough things happen and there may be some instances for which I try to atone, but we also live in a day and age of wondrous things, and for that I am grateful.
It seems like a great day to end with a fresh berry cake, wouldn’t you think?
1 recipe sponge cake (any will suffice)
Strawberries in syrup (recipe follows)
Stable whipped cream (recipe follows)
Sometimes life just calls for simple recipes; this is one of them. For the sponge cake, you won’t go wrong finding a good recipe online or in one of your baking books. The crux here is in the simplicity of the berries in syrup and the stabilized whipped cream.
Prepare the sponge cake so that you can make at least two layers.
Place the first layer on the serving plate and pour some liqueur on top (optional) and smother with whipped cream and some drained berries.
Place the second layer of the cake on top and pour some berry syrup here. Cover again with whipped cream and berries.
If adding another layer, simply repeat the process.
Top the cake with more berries and syrup and serve.
This was one of my favorite cakes as a child and quite honestly I haven’t made one or eaten one in years. It is a nice and refreshing twist to the biscuit-style shortcake about which I have written quite a few times over the summers.
Strawberries in Syrup
makes 1 quart
1.25 quarts fresh strawberries, hulled
sugar, as needed
orange liqueur, optional
You can never have too many strawberries here. Remember that they will be used in the filling and on top of the cake. They are also a great drizzle on top of the cut piece.
Hull and slice the berries and place in a non-reactive bowl.
Add the sugar and toss thoroughly.
Add some liqueur if you like and taste.
Allow to sit under refrigeration for at least two hours. The sugar is hygroscopic, meaning that it pulls moisture from other substances, so it will leach the juice out of the strawberries, creating the simplest, most amazing syrup.
Set aside until ready to assemble.
Stable Whipped Cream
makes just over 1 quart
1 qt. heavy whipping cream
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. gelatin powder, or 2 sheets
Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling the powder or placing the sheets in cold water. If you are using powder, use just enough water to cover.
When the gelatin has bloomed, heat gently so that it is a nice, thick and pourable consistency.
Place cream and vanilla in bowl of stand mixer and mix until just before soft peaks.
Add the sugar and continue whipping until just under stiff peaks.
Pour in the gelatin with the mixer running. Allow to fully incorporate and bring to stiff peaks.
Set aside until ready to assemble.