Decadence Without Difficulty

bakerI love baking, but in the summertime it’s often too hot and I don’t have the energy. Ice cream is great (and I even make my own now that I have the gear), and there’s plenty of fresh fruit available this time of year, but sometimes I want something a little more decadent. Decadence without difficulty is the topic of today’s recipe: Shortcake.

Most people know strawberry shortcake, but the truth is you can add many different kinds of fruit to shortcake. Stone fruits such as peaches, cherries, nectarines, and apricots, plus all the edible berries I know of are great in shortcake form when fresh. Others like rhubarb and apples work well when cooked down to a compote.

Here I present my version of blackberry shortcake. Shortcake is basically a biscuit dough with a little extra sugar; this recipe is the one I’ve conflated from various cookbooks and my trusty recipe box. Best of all, it’s about 15 minutes of work to serve 8 people.

1. Gather your ingredients:

SHORTCAKE

  • 2 Cups AP flour
  • 3 TBLS sugar
  • 3 tsps baking powder
  • 1 slightly fat tsp salt
  • 1/3 Cup shortening (I use the measured stick kind)
  • 3/4 – 1 Cup milk (more on that in a minute)
  • OPTIONAL: 1 tsp spice(s) of your choice – I used ginger this time

BERRY TOPPING:

  • 1 pint blackberries
  • 1 TBL sugar
  • 1 sprinkle (1/4 tsp) ginger
  • 1 tiny pinch salt

Oh, the whipped cream! I like making my own when I have the time and inclination…but remember that whole “decadence without difficulty” phrase? Yeah. Canned whippy is perfectly fine for the lazy baker.

2. Gather your gear: big mixing bowl, baking vessel (8″ round cake pan or 8″- 9″ pie plate), pastry cutter, measuring implements, mixing spoon.

gear and goodies3. Preheat your oven to 450F.

4. Use a little of the shortening to grease your baking vessel. The coating shou20160827_173050ld be light but thorough. I use a pie plate because that’s what my mom used; you can also serve it directly from the pie plate – if you use a cake pan you’ll need to de-pan onto a serving platter.

5. Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt (and spice, if using) to your bowl; blend with your spoon or cutter until it’s well combined.

6. Add your shortening and cut into the mixture until it all looks like crumbs. If there’s a few bigger lumps it’s fine, but you don’t want huge pieces of shortening remaining.

7. Time for the milk. I always measure out a cup, but depending on the age of my flour, the relative humidity, the fat content of the milk itself, the ambient temperature, the phase of the moon, and who knows how many other factors, I use between 2/3 Cup and the full Cup. And a Tablespoon can make a big difference, so add about 1/2 Cup to begin, stir in with your spoon, and then add it in dribbles.

doughstagesOnce most of it comes together, it’s time to get your hands in. Smush it all together – if it’s still crumbly, add a little more milk just until it all comes together. It shouldn’t be sticky – if it is, you can add a little flour. (This batch took a little more than 3/4 Cup milk.)

doughforming8. Form it into a big ball, then flatten into a disk about 6″ across. Pat the disk into your pre-greased pan. Don’t smash it too hard, just snug it into an evenish layer.

9. Your oven should be hot by now: bake at 450F for 15-20 minutes. If you are using a metal pan, you’ll probably be closer to the 15 minute mark; glass varies. This time it took me 17 20160827_180249minutes to lightly golden and clean toothpick.

Serving the fruit by itself is totally fine – but I like to add a couple extras, so after I got the shortcake in the oven I did the following to macerate my berries:

1. Rinse the berries under cool water, and check them over for any stems or other issues.

2. Shake off most of the excess water, then place the berries in a small bowl. Add sugar, ginger, and the tiniest pinch of salt. Mush a couple of the berries (really actually a couple – a couple means 2) to get some juice, then gently stir the mixture a few times.

3. Cover and place in the fridge until it’s time for service.

There are options for service: warm with just the macerated fruit is nice, but in summer I usually let the cake cool and then serve with whipped cream. You can slice and serve as is, or cut the piece horizontally and layer some fruit and cream inside. It’s best to combine the ingredients just before service; I actually prefer to pre-slice the portions and let people add as much or as little of everything else as they like. Because they can take what they want and think it’s fun, and I’m lazy.

20160827_193119For more excellent recipes and how-tos, I high recommend the work of Alton Brown, Molly Katzen, and the entertaining but NSFW Thug Kitchen. I also suggest you check out the blog of FoodItYourself for recipes, gardening advice, and general DIYet info.

To find out what’s in season and available locally to you, check out the helpful menu at SustainableTable.

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