Strawberries, Strawberries, Strawberries & Shortcake

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Strawberries, warmed by the sun and picked right from the plant— to me that is the essence of summer. My husband and I have been picking strawberries for years. On our first venture into berry picking, we drove out to the eastern end of Long Island. We drove until we found a hand-painted sign that read: “You Pick Strawberries”. That was before “you” was replaced with a “U.” A gray-haired man with a straw hat sat in a lawn chair watching over his strawberry field. He handed both of us a green cardboard quart container and gave us these instructions: “It ain’t easy.” And he was right— kneeling in the straw-covered rows and searching under leaves for ripe berries isn’t easy work, but as soon as I tasted my first sun-warmed strawberry, I was hooked. We’ve been picking annually ever since.

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Over the years, we’ve introduced our kids to berry picking. Now that they are capable pickers (they used to be only capable eaters), we haul home a huge amount of berries. Just last week, we brought home over 17 lbs of berries! Maybe we got a little carried away. Still, not wanting to waste a single one, we got right to work using those berries. Our haul was turned into strawberry jam, pie, dutch baby pancakes, strawberry shortcake and many, many were eaten in their whole, sweet perfection. The remaining berries are frozen for future use.

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Our family’s favorite strawberry dessert has to be shortcake. I’ll share my recipe for a tender, sweet shortcake. I first created this recipe for a piece I wrote for Fine Cooking magazine. The key to these shortcakes is to mix just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix. Stop yourself. Press the dough gently together and chill it.

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These are best eaten the day they are made but can be frozen to enjoy another day. Homemade whipped cream and ripe berries are a must. I realize in most parts of the country it is a little late in the season for strawberry picking but as summer progresses, we add local blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Shortcakes and whipped cream are delicious with any berries. Happy Summer to you!

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Strawberry Shortcakes

Makes 9 shortcakes

13 1/2 oz. (about 3 cups) all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. sugar plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. table salt
6 oz (12 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, plus about 3 Tbsp. for brushing
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

5 cups sliced berries (about 3 pints)
1 to 3 Tbsp. sugar

For Whipped Cream:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Use a fork to toss together. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the flour until the size of large peas.

2. Combine cream and vanilla extract. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and pour in the cream. Mix with a fork until dough is just combined. Gently knead a few times in the bowl to pick up any remaining dry ingredients. Turn the dough onto a lightly flour surface and pat into an 8-inch square, about 3/4″ thick. Transfer to the baking sheet, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes.

3. Heat oven to 425°F. Remove dough from refrigerator. Using a bench knife or large knife, cut dough into 9 even squares and spread them out on baking sheet. Brush each one with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until biscuits are golden brown, about 18 minutes. Let cool until warm.

4. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, toss sliced strawberries with sugar. Taste and add more sugar if still tart. In chilled bowl, whip cream with sugar and vanilla until it is softly whipped and can hold its shape.

5. To serve: slice each biscuit in half horizontally and layer with berries and cream.

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