Strawberry Shortcake

February 10, 2015

Ah, strawberries — my favorite berry. Versatile and colorful, they are a delightful addition to any meal. Strawberries are common all over the world and, in fact, the Native Americans crushed strawberries into a mortar, mixed them with meal and made strawberry bread. After trying this bread, colonists developed their own version, and Strawberry Shortcake was born.

The flavor of strawberries is influenced by growing conditions, the stage of ripeness when harvested, and the variety. Look for a deep ruby color or even darker for the best tasting ones. Size is not a factor in determining the flavor of a berry. A fun fact: there are about 200 seeds on each strawberry.

Traditionally, strawberry shortcake is made with a shortcake or biscuit but, instead of the usual biscuits, I am going to use pre-made puff pastry that you can find in most grocery stores in the freezer section. It is easy to use, consistent in quality. I must admit that I am taking a shortcut, but most restaurants and bakeries these days buy some of their basic components already made to offset the high labor involved in items like puff pastry, which takes two days to properly prepare.

I am not going to make a heavy pastry cream to fill these treats but, instead, will use a white chocolate puff pastry, cocoa whipped cream and fresh strawberries that have been tossed in reduced balsamic vinegar

Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

Ingredients you will need:

I would first take one of the puff pastry sections from the package (they usually come in two’s), and let it thaw at room temperature covered by a damp, but not wet, cloth or towel or some plastic wrap. While it is thawing, which can take about an hour or more, I start to prep my other ingredients. If you do not have any round cookie cutters, find a cup or glass and set it aside. You will also need two non-stick baking pans of an equal size. Spray with non-stick cooking spray the inside of one and the outside bottom of the other, and preheat your the oven to 400F degrees.

Further advance preparations include cleaning the strawberries and slicing them into a bowl, chilling the bowl and whip you will use to make the Cocoa cream (recipe follows) and, finally, preparing some white chocolate shavings.

Once the puff pastry is thawed, place it flat on the dry counter top. If the pastry is wet, sprinkle a little flour on the counter top before placing it there. When the pastry is flat, take the round cutter (or any shape you like) and cut into the pastry like you would cookie dough. Gently remove the cutout shapes (you need about three per person) and place on the greased baking pan. The shapes can touch, but not overlap. When they are all on the pan, place the other pan (the one that you greased on the outside bottom) on top of the cutout shapes and place in the oven. The second pan helps prevent the puff pastry from rising, keeps it flat and makes it crisper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden. You can take the top pan off and check them — just be sure to put it back.

When the pastries are golden, remove them from the pan, place on a cooling rack and layer lightly some of the white chocolate shavings. You could also use regular chocolate. The warmth of the pastry will melt the chocolate enough so that when it cools it becomes a layer of chocolate that is melted on the pastry without making it soggy.

While the pastry cools, I toss the sliced strawberries with about 3 tablespoons of reduced balsamic vinegar (see below) and let it sit while I make the whipped cream.

I pull my mixing bowl and whip out of the fridge and mix 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 1/4 cup confectioners sugar and 2 tablespoons clear creme de cacao, and whip it until stiff peaks form.

Putting it all together

On a dessert plate, place a piece of the puff pastry, then some of the balsamic strawberries, then a dollop of the whipped cream, then another piece of puff pastry, some more balsamic strawberries, another dollop of whipped cream, and one last piece of puff pastry to be topped with a nice dollop of whipped cream and garnished with some strawberries or other fruit (I often use golden raspberries).

Reduced Balsamic Vinegar
Pour one whole bottle of balsamic vinegar into a saucepan and let it boil down to thickened syrup. This sweetens and intensifies the flavor. I do have one caution, however. Do this on a day you can open the windows because it is really strong smelling. This reduction will keep for several months in the fridge. It can be used in sauces, salad dressings and on top of ice cream.

Cocoa Cream

Whip in a chilled mixing bowl until stiff peaks are formed.

Balsamic Strawberries

In a bowl, mix the strawberries with the vinegar. The longer it sits the more watery it becomes, so prepare this right before service.

This marvelous dessert will be enough for four persons, and can easily be doubled or halved.