Dessert and Dorie Greenspan: Her Perfect Strawberry Shortcake
Dorie Greenspan is a James Beard award-winning baker and cookbook author. Her meticulous recipes demystify baking and have won her legions of fans. Her upcoming book, Baking Chez Moi which features the treats she bakes in her Paris kitchen, is due out this Fall. In anticipation of Mother’s Day coming up on May 11th and National Strawberry Shortcake Day June 14th, we spoke to Dorie to learn her tips and techniques for making strawberry shortcake, the perfect dessert for late Spring and Summer.
Recipe.com: Is shortcake a good project for novice bakers?
Dorie Greenspan: Shortcake is a great project for newbie bakers. It’s easy—no machines involved; precision is not important; and it’s forgiving—even first-timers get top-hat high biscuits, thanks to the baking powder, the magic leavener that powers the biscuits to puffiness. Strawberry Shortcakes are all about delicious fun. Experiment. Make the shortcakes your own. Add flavor to the berries or the whipped cream. Decorate the plate with whole berries or, as I do, with candied rose petals. As soon as I learned that strawberries are a member of the rose family, the combination of strawberry and rose became irresistible. I love the idea of fathers and kids making this for mom!
R.com: Some shortcake recipes call for heavy cream, others call for buttermilk, which do you prefer and why?
DG: I like both cream and buttermilk biscuits, but I prefer buttermilk biscuits for strawberry shortcakes. They’re a little lighter and a little less rich than biscuits made with heavy cream and, since whipped cream is a big part of a great shortcake, you don’t really need the added richness of cream in the biscuit.
R.com: What are the secrets to achieving a tender dough?
DG: To make a tender biscuit you need three things:
- A good recipe. Make sure to measure the ingredients accurately.
- A light touch—go easy on the kneading. This sounds easy, but kneading is so much fun—and it feels so good—that everyone, first-timers and pros alike, has a tendency to knead too much. As soon as the dough comes together: Stop! A few little lumps and bumps are a good thing here.
- A watchful eye when your babies are in the oven. Biscuits are best baked in high heat for a short time; don’t overbake them
R.com: How do you know when the shortcakes are done?
DG: You want a nice golden color on top and bottom and some color on the edges. There is some residual baking that goes on afterwards so you want to let them rest and cool. The rise and also the smell. Usually the smell tells you they are ready. Baking is sensual, you have to use all your senses!
R.com: Does the dough need to be brushed with cream or sprinkled with sugar before baking?
DG: It’s not necessary to brush the tops of the biscuits with cream or butter or to sprinkle them with sugar, but it can be nice. Brushing the tops makes them a bit softer, but I don’t care about that—I like the contrast of crisp crusts and soft, tender innards. I usually sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with granulated, sanding or raw sugar because I like the prettiness of sparkling sugar and it makes the biscuit more festive. If you want soft sided biscuits, place the biscuits together on the pan, but with shortcakes in particular you really want them to be free stranding and crusty around the edge.
R.com: How do you prepare the fruit for shortcake?
DG: You can do just about anything you want with the berries for the shortcakes. Many people just cut strawberries and spoon them over whipped cream, which is the way my mom did it. I sometimes do that, but I also like to play around with the fruit a little and to build in more contrasts.
In the Double Strawberry and Rose Shortcakes that I created for Driscoll’s, I quickly cook a smidgen of sugar and cut berries until the strawberries soften and there’s a little syrup in the pan, and then I add some pure rose extract. This is the mixture that I put directly on the bottom of the biscuit. I circle the berry compote with whipped cream flavored with rose and tinted rose-berry pink (not necessary, but so pretty), and then I finish the shortcake with freshly sliced strawberries. Fresh and cooked berries together give you a whole bunch of textures in one bite. It’s unexpected and extends the flavor of the strawberries. The rose supports the flavor of the strawberries.
R.com: One last tip?
DG: I do a neat baker’s trick with my biscuits—learn it and you’ll use it all the time. I wanted the flavor of lemon in my biscuits, so I grate lemon zest over the sugar and use my fingers to blend the two ingredients together until the sugar is moist and wildly aromatic. You can do this with any zest or herb; it’s a way to get the oils out of the zest (or herb) and into your dessert and you can do it with cakes and cookies or crusts. I love the technique!
Dorie Greenspan’s Double Strawberry and Rose Shortcakes
Makes 12 shortcakes
For the rose petal decoration:
3 unsprayed roses
1 to 2 very fresh organic egg whites
OR store bought candied rose petals
For the strawberry compote:
3/4 pound (about 3 cups) Driscoll’s strawberries, hulled
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 3/4 teaspoon pure rose extract
For the lemon-buttermilk biscuits:
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
For the whipped cream:
1 cup very cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon pure rose extract (availbale from Star Kay White)
1 tablespoon cold sour cream, optional Red or pink food coloring
For the topping:
1/2 to 3/4 pound (about 2 to 3 cups) Driscoll’s strawberries, hulled
1. To make the rose petal decoration: Several hours ahead or the day before, separate the rose petals, rinse them quickly in cold water and pat them dry. Put one egg white in a small bowl and whisk until it’s foamy. (You may or may not need the second white.) Put the sugar in another small bowl and place a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat on the counter. One at a time, dip a petal into the white and let the excess drip back into the bowl. Drag the petal through the sugar to coat both sides very lightly. Dry the petals on the paper or mat in a cool, non-humid place for at least 6 hours or for as long as overnight.
2. To make the strawberry compote: Coarsely chop the berries and toss them into a small saucepan with the sugar. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the juices are slightly thickened and syrupy. Scrape the berries and syrup into a bowl, stir in the rose extract and cool to room temperature. (You can make the compote up to 3 days ahead and keep it covered in the refrigerator.)
3. To make the biscuits: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl and, working with your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the rest of the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk to combine. Drop in the pieces of cold butter and, again using your fingertips, crush, rub and blend the butter in. You’ll have flakes of butter and small pieces and this is just right. Pour the cold buttermilk over the mixture, switch to a fork and toss and stir everything together until the milk is absorbed – your dough might look like curds, but that’s fine. Don’t stir too much, too vigorously or for too long and if there are a few dry spots in the bottom of the bowl, ignore them. Reach into the bowl and knead the dough gently, folding it over on itself and turning it over 6 to 8 times.
4. Dust a work surface lightly with flour, turn out the dough and, still using your hands, pat the dough out until it is 1/2 inch thick. (The thickness is what’s important here.) Using a high-sided 2 inch cutter, cut out biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Pat the scraps together until they’re 1/2 inch thick and cut out as many more biscuits as you can. (The leftover dough can be cut into biscuits, but they won’t rise as high or as evenly as the others – you can keep them as your baker’s treat).
5. Bake for 15 to18 minutes, or until the biscuits have risen gloriously and their tops and bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow the biscuits to cool until they reach room temperature. (The biscuits can be made up to 6 hours ahead; keep them uncovered at room temperature.)
6. To make the whipped cream: Working with an electric mixer, beat the cream just until it mounds softly. Still beating, add the sugar, followed by the vanilla and rose extracts. When the cream is fully whipped and holds firm peaks, quickly beat in the sour cream, if you’re using it. To tint the cream, beat in just one drop of coloring; continuing adding coloring a tiny drop at a time until you get the shade of pink you want. (The whipped cream can be made up to 3 hours ahead and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator; whisk a couple of times before using.) To make the topping: Just before you’re ready to put the shortcakes together, stand the berries up and, using a thin-bladed knife, cut each berry into 4 or 5 thin slices.
7. To assemble the shortcakes: If you’d like to pipe the whipped cream, either spoon the cream into a pastry bag fitted with an open star or plain tip, or spoon the cream into a zipper-lock plastic bag and snip off a corner. Alternatively, you can simply spoon on the cream.
8. Slice a thin layer off the top of the biscuit to create an even surface for piping the cream. Discard the tops or store them to nibble on later. Put a teaspoonful of strawberry compote and syrup in the center of each biscuit. Pipe (or spoon) a circle of whipped cream around the compote, leaving a bit of compote uncovered. Finish each shortcake by pressing two or three slices of strawberry together, fanning them out a little and placing them, broad side down, in the center of each cake. (If you have any extra compote and/or cream, cover and keep in the refrigerator to enjoy at another time.) To Arrange the shortcakes on a platter. Scatter the rose petals around the platter and serve immediately.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Driscoll’s