Raspberry and Blueberry Shortcakes



In my time living in Italy, I’ve noticed that many American desserts have slowly but surely made their way across the ocean to Italy, finding a home here amongst the more classic tiramisu and cannoli. Cheesecake has become ever more present on Italian dessert menus, quite a few cupcake bakeries have opened in Rome, and many caf├ęs now offer muffins as a breakfast option to enjoy alongside your cappuccino. In short, Italians have welcomed many of our buttery, frosting laden sweets, which are richer and somewhat over the top compared to their own. Shortcake, however, is an American dessert that has yet to break through in Italy, and actually, most Italians I describe it to have never heard of it – strange, because shortcake (more specifically, Strawberry Shortcake) is one of the most classic American desserts, in the same category as apple pie and chocolate chip cookies. So until shortcake makes its way to Italy, I will take the opportunity to educate our non-American readers with this post, and give everyone a great recipe to add to their repertoire this summer.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, shortcake is a dessert that consists of two biscuits, filled with whipped cream and fruit, traditionally strawberries. I’d like to point out that the concept of the “biscuit” is one that is generally new to most non Americans, and is not to be confused with the English meaning of “biscuit,” as it is quite different from a cookie. An American biscuit is made with lots of butter, which makes it crumbly (hence the name “shortcake”-- from the addition of shortening or butter to a dough) and either buttermilk or heavy cream, along with flour and baking powder. They can be savory and served as a side with soup or stew, with gravy as a classic Southern dish, or even with breakfast. With the addition of a little sugar, you can also make sweet biscuits, as I do here. All in all biscuits are very versatile and a good dish to have in your repertoire.

I’m pleased to report that the Italians I have prepared this dessert for have gone crazy for it (Gloria included). Despite its simplicity, it is a surprisingly complex dessert in terms of flavor -- a perfect combination of juicy tart berries, sweet billowy whipped cream, and crumbly buttery biscuits, where each bite is slightly different.

Shortcake is a great way to finish any summer meal, but given its very American roots, I decided that it would be the perfect dessert to make on the 4th of July. Though shortcake is traditionally made with strawberries, I decided to use raspberries (just to try something different) and blueberries to create a red, white, and blue effect – a very patriotic dessert! You can use any kind of fruit you want, however -- peach shortcakes, plum shortcakes, blackberry shortcakes, and even cherry shortcakes would be great. Use your imagination, and enjoy!

RASPBERRY AND BLUEBERRY SHORTCAKES

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, very cold, cut in to cubes
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled

For the egg wash:
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash

For the filling:
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Using electric beaters, incorporate the butter at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Combine the eggs and heavy cream in a separate bowl and quickly add to the flour and butter mixture, mixing until just blended.

Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Flour your hands and pat the dough out 3/4-inch thick. You might notice at this point that you need to knead a bit more flour if it seems too sticky.

Cut 6 or so biscuits with a 2 3/4-inch fluted cutter and place on a greased baking sheet. Gather up the scraps of biscuit dough.*

Brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the biscuits for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are crisp and the insides are fully baked. Let cool completely.

To assemble, whip the cream and sugar with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla and continue to beat until the peaks are stiff. Combine the blueberries and raspberries in a bowl.

Take one biscuit and place it on a plate. Spoon whipped cream on top, then place some blueberries and raspberries on the first shortcake, top with a bit more cream, and then another biscuit. Continue until all shortcakes have been assembled. Serves 6. 


*If you are making these shortcakes when it is very hot out and you are in a house without air conditioning (like I was) it is better to cut out the biscuits, and then refrigerate them for an hour or so to keep the butter in the biscuits from melting before the biscuits even begin to bake.


*Recipe adapted from the Ina Garten’s Peach and Raspberry Shortcakes (the Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2002).




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