Let me guess: It’s Sunday. If you’re lucky, you’ve got at least a whole extra day left of a summer-summoning holiday weekend and if you’re even luckier, and the weather is a little more barbecue, pot-luck or picnic-friendly than it is where I am in the mountains of North Carolina, and maybe, just maybe, you’re trying to figure out what you can bring that won’t take you any time to make.
Well, Smitten Kitchen is here for you! A few weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times’ ran an article on shortcakes, no not those little “foam discs” that you find next to the strawberries at the grocery store, but lightly sweetened cream biscuits — rich and buttery, coming to a crunch at the edges (often hastened by a sprinkling of coarse sugar), just the perfect cake to offset some lightly sweetened whipped cream and slightly macerated berries. Drooling yet? I was and the accompanying recipe was quickly moved to the top of the Cook This Now or Lose It Forever list. (Top Gun, anyone?)
A week later, that poor thing got pushed aside for the most perfect cream biscuit-topped Rhubarb Cobbler I will ever want to eat. Those biscuits were a work of art, and I swore I’d try them soon on their own and see how they held up. And guess what? With only a nudge less cream and flour, they’re also a near-exact match for what Russ Parsons declared his new ultimate shortcake.
And oh, they are. Believe me, I know. I’ve now made them four times because, I’m warning you, when you find your shortcake nirvana, the reasons pile up that you should make them again: It’s a sunny Wednesday night and you want to grill on your friend’s roof. It’s a Friday night and friends are demanding an encore. It’s a lazy Sunday and it occurs to you that there are some people out there on the internet that might also like to share in your shortcake breakthrough. As you wish!
Adapted from Claudia Fleming and Russ Parsons
Update: Weights have been added! Er, or at least the ones I jotted down.
1 2/3 cups (224 grams) all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon (20 grams) baking powder
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (84 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 teaspoons lemon or orange zest (optional)
2/3 cup (168 grams) plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 pound strawberries, washed, hulled and quartered
2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup whipping cream, beaten to soft peaks
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, egg yolks, and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and zest, if using, and pulse until the flour resembles coarse meal. Add 2/3 cup of cream and pulse until the dough comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather into a shaggy mass. Knead a couple times to make it into a cohesive mass and then pat it into a rough circle about 6 to 7 inches in diameter, and 3/4 to 1-inch thick.
Using a sharp knife, cut the circle into 6 wedges and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Alternately, you can use a cookie cutter to make shapes of your choice. Chill for 20 minutes (and up to 2 hours).
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the tops of the shortcakes very lightly with heavy cream and sprinkle lightly with the coarse sugar. Bake until risen and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn the pan around halfway through to ensure even cooking.
While the shortcakes are baking, toss the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl. Let stand several minutes. (If the strawberries are extremely firm, do this 30 minutes in advance.)
Split the shortcakes in half horizontally and set the tops aside. Place the bottoms on dessert plates and heap strawberries over them. Spoon whipped cream generously over the strawberries and replace the shortcake tops. Serve immediately with any remaining whipped cream on the side.