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.

Month of February Goals

It seems that I get food smell memories since my stroke.  The most recent is a good sauerbraten with braised red cabbage.  So I’ll do a little shopping tomorrow after physical therapy and then start making some. I am going to use Alton Brown’s recipe. My ex used it as a base once, and it was quite delicious. I also want to make soup dumplings.  I first read about them 4 years ago when dating my now-husband. Since they’ve gained popularity in the last few years, I figure why not try them? The nearest place to get them is in Washington, DC, though, so I’ll make them myself. I figure I can use part of the liquid and meat from the sauerbraten to make a mix for the...
READ MORE

Texas Baklava

I had once seen a movie that featured people of Greek descent. (Guess which movie it was.) It got me thinking about Greek food and a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a fellow pastry chef about phyllo dough. My colleague was of the opinion that phyllo is passé, an opinion that I do not share. Now, food trends come and go, but when a dish is truly delicious it endures. People come up with variations, but the basic components of a classic dish are still the same. Baklava is one of those dishes. The basic recipe has been around for centuries — layers of crisp buttery phyllo dough and honey-sweetened nuts. This is my Texas version. It satisfies my yen for sweet, a bit...
READ MORE

Tres Leches Cake: Mystery Solved

Another yummy blast from my past.  With something as delicious and easy-to-make as Tres Leches Cake, you’d think I would have long experience with it, but that’s not the case. As a dessert chef, the world of sweets is familiar territory, so my lack of knowledge about this cake added to the intrigue. I decided to explore the history of Tres Leches Cake — one of many Mexican dessert recipes that are commonplace to some, while foreign to others Tres Leches Cake History I first heard of this dessert from a baker who has been baking here in Austin for about fifty years. He didn’t really describe it, but just gave me a slice to try. I am always willing to try a new dessert, but milk cake?...
READ MORE

Fruitcake Subculture Conspiracy Revisited

Once upon a time wrote for a website called texascooking.com.  My articles are still up there but I figured I would post up some of them here.  This first one is one of my favorites.  I hope you  enjoy it too. Somewhere in the recent past, society took a turn and a long-standing holiday tradition was transformed into a joke. So complete was this societal change that those daring to speak up for or defend fruitcake were virtually stoned by an angry mob. Fruitcake lovers were outcast, rejected and ridiculed by popular culture. So vitriolic was the anti-fruitcake feeling that those with differing views were forced to quietly seek out others who, like them, still appreciated the fruitcake. Soon, the outcasts began to find each other, and so,...
READ MORE

Recent Events

Sorry for the lack of updates. I had a stroke on August 30th, and although I’m able to get around I have some residual problems. Most seriously, I have a blind spot in my left eye. It’s been a slow recovery, but I am recovering. I actually cooked my first meal last week, a potato and pea soup.  I’m going to make a potato and corn chowder today.  Something with a bit of heat to battle the fall chill.

Mom’s Pasta Sauce

My Mom is probably one of the best chefs I’ve ever known.  She makes some mom staples: spaghetti and meatballs, beef stroganoff, peanut butter chicken, big breakfast, pirogi and stuffing are the dishes that I look forward to eating when I go home. Some of them even bring out my sisters and their families for dinner. I’ve decided I need to write down how she makes these items while she’s still willing and able to share the recipes with me.  Everyone is familiar with meatballs and red sauce, but there’s something about my Mom’s sauce, the flavor of her meatballs that just melt in your mouth. Never too spicy but with a flavor that dances on your tongue. They marry well with the sauce, which she sometimes enhances...
READ MORE

Showing Off My Collection

I have an addiction.  It can be pricy, it is heavy at times, and it can be totally gross too. I collect cookbooks. Very specific ones.  Older than I am.  Full of colorful pictures. With well-written recipes and information about their history. I have Vincent Prices’ cookbook just because he was AWESOME! I inherited a few of those pamphlet cookbooks, ones given out by grocery stores and food companies to promote their own products.  I love the kitschy art and the very traditional recipes, many of them are chock full of information. The first one to show off is The German and Viennese Cookbook by the Culinary Arts Institute. This is the front cover. (I just noticed I did not unfold the bottom properly.) The back cover is...
READ MORE

Planning a Wedding

Planning a wedding takes time.  You want to do it right so on the day of the event you can just hit auto-pilot and enjoy all that you have planned. So far we have a tight control on the numbers, about 150. That so far is just the folks I think might come or it would be rude to not invite.  It can be a messed up part of any event where money is on a strict budget and you do not want to be rude to family.  I feel that you do need to consider how a person or family member has interacted with you in the last 10 years or so to help decide if they are really worth having at an event.  I have decided...
READ MORE

Divorce, Engaged and a Wedding

This last month has been hectic. After five years my divorce was finalized. I was engaged a few days later. And that following weekend we went to Dave’s brother’s wedding. I will post about my own wedding plans later, this post is more about what I liked and disliked about the food experiences I had in Philly for this wedding. First off, with my recent diagnosis of diabetes I am trying to avoid all bread, pasta, and potatoes (at least until I get my glucose numbers down).  At home I have been fairly successful. I’ve also found several restaurants with low-carb options, extra fruit, salads instead of the starch or double veg.  I have to admit, I love Italian, LOVE it.  Pasta, which gently carries a sauce… creamy...
READ MORE