Saturday, March 3, 2012

Strawberries Galore!

See those magnificent ruby red gems?  They're beautiful, aren't they! Those strawberries are Florida Strawberries, directly from Plant City, Florida. I grew up in Florida. Well, part of the time, I grew up in Florida.  I also grew up in Maryland and in New Jersey. I was twelve when we moved to Tampa.
Do you remember twelve? It was a rocky year for me. Seventh grade. Two new schools- one in New Jersey, and then the one in Tampa. Then another new school for eighth grade. I hated Florida. I hated junior high. I hated life.  I'm blessed to have had a stable and happy family, one which my brother-in-law has likened to the Cleavers, to stick with me through that time (and every other tough time since). Even so, it's taken me quite some time to say, "I grew up in Florida," though I spent more years there than anywhere else in my life.  
But you didn't come here to read about my junior high angst. Everyone has that, and no one really wants to relive their own, let alone anyone else's!  What you really want to know about are those strawberries up at the top and what I did with them. I'm getting to that.
Look how pretty!
Did you know that Florida produces the bulk of the early in the year strawberries?  Probably around 95%, give or take a percent or ten. Summer strawberries come from California, but if you live anywhere around Plant City, you will start smelling the strawberries sometime in February.  Its a light smell- not like the citrus that blossoms later in the year.  At the end of February or sometimes as late as the beginning of March, Plant City hosts the annual Florida Strawberry Festival: a fair with a parade (which I have marched in!) and rides and strawberry shortcake booths.  You could always get a HUGE piece of freshly baked and assembled strawberry shortcake at one of those booths.  I learned something from them too.  Authentic shortcake is not angel food or lady fingers or white cake or pound cake-all of which taste great with strawberries.  Authentic shortcake is a biscuit.  Like the kind you eat for breakfast, but a bit sweeter.  No, really, it is!  And this is how you make it.

You need berries, flour, sugar, baking powder, butter, an egg, milk, and a can of whipped cream.

In a large-ish bowl, mix together 1/4-1/2 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, and 2 tsp baking powder.

Using two knives, cut in a stick of butter.  Keep cutting up the butter until your mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  This is sort of like making pie dough or biscuits.
See the big chunks of butter?
This is more like coarse crumbs.

Mix together 2/3 cup milk and an egg.  Beat it together well so that you don't see big clumps of eggwhite in the mixture.   (No picture here- you know how to beat an egg, right?!)
Make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients. Pour the egg-milk mixture into the well, and mix it all together with a fork.

Those knives on either side?  That's what I used to cut in the butter.

No need to dirty up the mixer, just stir it with a fork!

Don't mix it too long! You want it to be just combined (an important thing to note for any quickbread). No big dry clumps, and still kinda lumpy.

Lumpy? Yes! Dry clumps? NO!
Spread the mixture into a greased 8 inch cake pan. For picture purposes, I used my 9 inch spring form pan. This made my cake thinner and a little more difficult to cut. If you're not planning to take pictures or have a fancy presentation, use the 8 inch pan!
The dough is thick, not liquid, so spreading it evenly takes some patience. Just remember that the top layer doesn't need to be beautiful because it will be covered in strawberries and whipped cream!
Bake at 450 for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

In the meantime, slice up your strawberries.  You'll need about 6 cups. I used 2 1/2 containers (16 oz). 
They're even beautiful cut up! 

 Add 1/4 cup of sugar to the berries and mix gently.
It might seem too much to put sugar on strawberries, since they are already sweet. However, the sugar draws the juice out of the berries, and turns into syrup, which is what we want on the shortcake.

Stirred gently.  See how they have a more shiny look than the picture up above before the sugar?  That's the juice that's turning into syrup. mmmm...
Once your shortcake is done, take it out of the oven and let it sit on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. After you take it out of the pan, let it cool all the way.  After the shortcake has cooled, slice it in half horizontally so that you end up with two circles- a top and a bottom.
Okay, so remember how I said my shortcake was...short?  I didn't want it to fall apart, so this is the only "cut it in half" shot. Looks like a big cakey mouth... "Me want strawberries!"

Put the bottom half on your serving dish, or leave it in the pan. Spoon about half of the berries on the bottom part of the cake.
This is definitely easier to do with the high sides of the springform pan!

Make sure you get some of the berry juice too- it'll probably be in a pool in the bottom of the bowl!  Top the berries with whipped cream (you can use the canned stuff or make it yourself.  Homemade tastes better, but the canned stuff is easier!)
There's not much that tastes better than fresh strawberries and whipped cream...
Put the top half of the shortcake on top of the whipped cream layer- like a giant strawberry and whipped cream sandwich!

See how its all cracked and bumpy?  It doesn't matter because no one will see it!

Spoon the other half of the strawberries (and juice) on top of the cake,
At first I thought I would save some calories and be (semi) creative by using just a few puffs of whipped cream on the top...

 then cover with more whipped cream.
but then I decided that the strawberries looked to naked so I covered them up!
You can garnish with un-sugared cut strawberries if you like, or you can just serve it, which is what I did.

This just begs to be eaten!


 Just so you know... there's almost no way those individual pieces are going to come out looking ready for a photo shoot....

But it doesn't matter how un-photogenic they are...

...because they're going to taste wonderful!

 If it's possible, I think this tastes even better the second day (if you have any left over!) because the juices and the whipped cream soak into the cake.

I am not ashamed to say that I had a piece of this for breakfast.

Remind me to tell you about the time I grew up in Maryland and New Jersey!

What's cooking in your kitchen?

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