At Sweet Melissa Patisserie, I use strawberries for more than just shortcakes. The fragrant berries find their way into a variety of pies, tarts, and muffins.
Luckily, the berries are shipped in from all over the world, from warm places like Chile and California, and are available most months of the year. But the very best berries still arrive locally in June, peaking at the end of the month and remaining good through July.
When the season comes, I borrow a friend’s truck, bring along my mom and sister, and get down to some serious picking. We need to make tons of strawberry jam to serve with all of our scones and fresh croissants. Sometimes, I add a bit of rhubarb, or a touch of orange zest, and my mom approves of them all!
I always set aside the very best berries for shortcakes, and we serve up plenty of them at the shop and at home.
Though based on a time-honored recipe, I’ve made a few changes — and the result is a strawberry shortcakes that’s as good as the ones I remember from my childhood.
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for glazing
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream, for glazing
3 tablespoons sugar (or more to your taste)
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
To make the shortcakes, begin by whisking together the flour, baking powder, salt, two tablespoons of the sugar, and the zest in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it resembles a coarse meal. Little by little, stir in heavy cream until the dough starts to hold together (you may use a bit more cream if need be).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat together to form a rectangle five inches wide by seven-and-a-half inches long that is about one inch thick. Cut the long side of the dough into thirds, and the width in half to form six two-and-one-half-inch squares. Place the shortcakes three inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet.
Brush the tops of the shortcakes with the milk or heavy cream and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
While the shortcakes are cooling, in a medium bowl, combine the sliced strawberries with the sugar. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes to macerate.
To make the whipped cream, fit an electric mixer with the whip attachment, and begin beating the heavy cream and vanilla on medium speed.
In a slow steady stream, add the sugar and beat until the mixture forms medium-stiff peaks. The whipped cream is best used when just made, but can be refrigerated in an airtight container overnight and beaten again before serving.
To complete the shortcakes, fork split each cake in half horizontally. Place one half on each of six plates. Spoon two tablespoons of berries on each. Top each with a large dollop of whipped cream. Spoon more berries on top. Place each of the remaining halves on top of the berries. Garnish with more cream and berries, if desired. Add a sprig of mint for garnish, if you’d like.
Pro tips: When whipping cream, the colder the cream the better. If the bowl, the whisk or beaters, and the heavy cream are all well chilled, you will achieve the most volume.
Prepare the strawberries and whipped cream no more than 30 minutes before serving.
The shortcakes are best eaten the day they are made, but they can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and frozen for up to three weeks. Do not unwrap before defrosting.
Melissa Murphy is the chef/owner of Sweet Melissa Patisserie [175 Seventh Ave., between First and Second streets in Park Slope, (718) 788-2700; 276 Court St., between Butler and Douglass streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 855-3410].