My mother used to make me strawberry shortcake for breakfast on my birthday when I was a kid. My birthday is in early July, which was at the end of strawberry season around here, but no matter – if she couldn’t get ripe local berries, she’d buy what was available and macerate them in some sugar for a while before making the shortcake.
I also remember that sometimes instead of the traditional biscuit, she’d get those spongy yellow mini-cakes (you can find them near the strawberries in most grocery stores this time of year). I loved those little cakes. Light and fluffy, they reminded me of another childhood favorite – Twinkies. Yep. Twinkies. I think my introduction to those has been blamed on my paternal grandfather.
But I digress….
Alex’s birthday, unlike mine, is at the beginning of strawberry season here. And, even luckier, our strawberries got a head start because we had them under the winter garden cover. Their section of earth warmed up sooner than strawberry patches in other peoples’ gardens, and our strawberries bloomed and produced fruit nice and early.
One thing I’ve noticed about strawberries. If they’re really and truly ripe, they are red-black on the outside, and a very slightly lighter red-black all the way through on the inside. This is what I now watch for in the garden. When they’re a bright, candy apple red, they’re not ready. They look great, sure, but they’re still white on the inside. I find that pretty much all the packaged strawberries in the stores here (RI) – most of which were shipped from California – are that same pretty red on the outside, but white inside.
They’re not ripe.
And they don’t taste anywhere near as good as truly ripe strawberries eaten the same day you picked them.
Just my two cents’ worth.
Now, here’s the dessert.
For Alex’s birthday (not to be confused with his birthday party, which will take place at some time in the relatively near future, once we know the rest of Alex’s baseball schedule and can pick a date for it) I decided to make this variation on strawberry shortcake. I tested it out a week or so ago and decided it was worth photographing and writing up, and I knew that Alex would like it because it contains strawberries, rhubarb, ice cream, and a biscuit. (The rest of us also had whipped cream on ours, but Alex doesn’t like that stuff, freshly whipped or not.)
I made a batch of biscuit dough. Any basic biscuit dough will do. These had buttermilk in them. (But if you don’t want to go with biscuits, you certainly don’t have to. You know what’s REALLY good instead? Palmiers. Also called “elephant ears” – they are spirals of puff pastry dough and cinnamon sugar or some other similar filling, sliced cross-wise, and baked. I bought some day-old palmiers at the grocery store because I wondered how they’d work…and they definitely work well! Because it’s puff pastry dough, the resulting pastry is crispy and flaky and a perfect contrast to the other textures and temperatures in this dessert. Just a suggestion.)
Usually you bake biscuits in a very hot oven – say, 450 degrees F – but I didn’t want to crank up the oven for something that was only going to bake about twenty minutes, if that. It’s been HOT here lately, and I didn’t feel like raising the kitchen temperature any higher.
So I browned them on a griddle.
Once they’d browned on both sides, I carefully set them on a cookie sheet and baked them in a 350 degree oven for about ten more minutes. It worked nicely. And the kitchen didn’t get any hotter. At least, not that I noticed.
The strawberries didn’t need much beyond a good rinse. I removed the bit at the stem end, and sliced the larger berries in half. I saved a couple especially pretty berries for garnishes.
And then I poured some heavy cream in a large, chilled, metal bowl and whipped it until the cream had soft peaks.
I did it by hand.
It took seven minutes.
Yeah, it probably would have been faster using the stand mixer. But for some reason I stubbornly force myself to use my own muscle power for such a small amount of cream.
Anyway. Once the cream was whipped, I warmed some of the rhubarb sauce and it was time to assemble the dessert.
I don’t know why, but I thought it would look cool (for my picture purposes) in a small, wide-mouth canning jar.
I sliced the biscuit in two and placed the bottom half in the bottom of the jar. Then I scooped vanilla ice cream in, then strawberries, then some of the rhubarb sauce, the top of the biscuit, more sauce, a few more strawberries, a healthy dollop of whipped cream, and a final pretty strawberry on top.
Here’s a closer look:
I ate this one – I served the kids theirs in bowls, and served Bill’s in a Margarita glass.
Julia didn’t have any of the rhubarb sauce, and Alex, as I mentioned before, didn’t want whipped cream. But apart from those two modifications, everyone thought this was very yummy.
I warmed the biscuits and the sauce a bit before serving, too.
By the way – to make the rhubarb sauce, all you do is cut some rhubarb into one-inch pieces, combine it with some sugar and maybe some grated lemon zest and a bit of lemon juice, and simmer it on the stove until the rhubarb is soft and the mixture has thickened a bit. The amount of sugar is up to you – how tart or sweet do you want the sauce. Anyway, once it cools, just store it in the fridge and use as needed. We’ve had it on pancakes, too, and it’s really, really good.