Eric Akis: Strawberry Shortcake 2.0

Add some in-season rhubarb to give this traditional springtime treat a tangy twist

Eric Akis

June is almost here and with it the start of shortcake season. Flavourful local strawberries will soon be available to complement this baked good, making it as divine as can be.

According to the Oxford Companion to Food, shortcake has varied widely from place to place and over time. The only common factor is the use of a fat, such as shortening, butter or lard, to make it tender and crumbly.

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In North America, shortcake is most commonly a buttery, sweetened biscuit that you spilt and stuff with strawberries and whipped cream. Other fruit can be used in shortcake, such as other berries.

For today’s recipe, though, I decided to combine strawberries with another in-season item it pairs well with: rhubarb. I’ve frequently seen the two successfully combine in such things as pies, crumbles and muffins, so I concluded they would also be great for shortcake.

I first made compote by simmering cubes of rhubarb in a sweetened and thickened juice mixture until just tender. When that mixture had cooled, I mixed in wedges of fresh strawberry, creating a lovely filling and topping for my shortcakes.

If you have any strawberry-rhubarb compote left over after making the shortcakes, refrigerate it and use it in the next day or two as a topping for yogurt, granola or ice cream.

Making the shortcakes

1. After making the dense, sticky dough, turn it onto a floured surface, knead and shape it into a ball, press it into a 3/4- to one-inch-thick circle, and cut it into four, three-inch rounds. When that’s done, gather up the scraps of dough and make two more rounds.

2. Before setting the shortcakes in the oven, brush with melted butter, ensuring they’re nice and golden when baked.

3. When baked, let the tender shortcakes cool to room temperature, before splitting, filling and adorning with whipped cream and strawberry rhubarb compote.

Strawberry Rhubarb Shortcakes

This version of the classic dessert, filled and topped with whipped cream, is perfect for a late-spring compote made with in-season local strawberries and rhubarb.

Preparation time: one hour

Cooking time: about 20 minutes

Makes: six servings

For the strawberry rhubarb compote

2/3 cup unsweetened orange juice

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut 1/2-inch cubes (see Note 1)

1 3/4 cups strawberries, cut into small wedges (about 3/4 to 1 lb; see Note 2)

Place juice, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and salt in a medium pot and whisk until smooth. Bring to a simmer and cook 30 seconds to one minute. (Mixture will be thick, but will loosen once the rhubarb is added and cooked.)

Mix in the rhubarb, return to a simmer and very gently simmer until the rhubarb is just tender, but still holding its shape, about five minutes. (Do not overcook the rhubarb or it will fall apart and become mushy.)

Remove from the heat and cool rhubarb to room temperature. When cooled, mixed in the strawberries. Transfer mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed below.

For the shortcakes and to serve

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for kneading and shaping

3 Tbsp granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

• pinch salt

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp (1/8 cup) cold butter, cut into small cubes

3/4 cup half and half (10 per cent) cream

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 Tbsp melted butter

1 cup whipping cream

2 Tbsp icing sugar, plus some for dusting

6 mint sprigs

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl, or in the bowl of your stand mixer.

With your fingers, two forks, a pastry cutter or your mixer’s paddle attachment, work the cold butter into the flour mixture until thoroughly distributed and no visible cubes of butter remain. Mix in the cream and vanilla, until loose, sticky, dense dough forms.

Lightly flour a work surface, then turn the dough on to it. With lightly floured hands, knead and shape the dough into a ball.

Press the dough into a 3/4- to one-inch thick, about seven-inch round circle. Use a floured biscuit cutter to cut the dough into four, three-inch rounds. Set the rounds of dough on the baking sheet, spacing each about two inches apart. Gather the scraps of dough, shape and press until 3/4-inch thick, then cut into two more rounds and set them on the baking sheet.

Brush the top and sides of each round of dough with melted butter. Bake in the middle of the oven 17 to 18 minutes, or until puffed and light golden. Cool these shortcakes to room temperature.

To serve, place the whipping cream in a clean mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Add the 2 Tbsp icing sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Cut each shortcake in half. Set a bottom half of shortcake on each of six dessert plates, then top each one with a dollop of whipped cream. Top whipped cream on each shortcake with some of the strawberry rhubarb compote, neatly setting it on. Set on the top halves of the shortcakes. Put a small dollop of whipped cream on each stacked shortcake and top it with a bit of the strawberry rhubarb compote.

Dust each shortcake with a little icing sugar, garnish with mint and serve

Note 1: Three medium stalks of fresh rhubarb should yield the amount needed here.

Note 2: To cut strawberries into wedges, hull them, and then half them, lengthwise. Now cut each half strawberry, lengthwise, into wedges. One pint of strawberries weighs 3/4 lb.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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