Strawberries are whizzing past ripe at a breakneck speed this year. Quick, make a shortcake before it is too late.
Just make sure it is a proper New England-style one. That needs a sweet, rich biscuit cake, topped with macerated, sliced ripe berries that are red all the way through. And cream. None of that sponge cake mess. And here is a modern wrinkle which you can try or ignore: using a dribble of the best balsamic vinegar to adorn the very top.
Let’s talk about balsamic vinegar first. There are gallons of the stuff in stores, too often thin and sharply flavored. Better balsamic, often expensive because of the long ageing process, turns out nearly syrupy with a sweet tang.
The good news? You can make a thicker, syrupy balsamic at home by reducing cheaper thin, store balsamic vinegar. Pour a whole bottle into a non-reactive pan and put it on low to simmer gently until it is quite thick, adding a little sugar if you wish, and tasting as you go until you achieve a pleasing balance of sweet and sour.
For the biscuit, a boxed mix works pretty well, and you will find instructions for shortcake on the box. Usually all that is required is the addition of sugar. Sometimes cooks divide the dough, pat out the two rounds, spread one with butter and lay one atop the other to cut out into rounds. I make biscuit dough from scratch and sometimes follow the layering procedure, too.
Most recently, I cut out large biscuits, used only half of one for each serving, and really piled on the berries. Instead of whipping the cream, I poured it over the biscuit, then added the berries, then added more cream, and then thin streams of thick balsamic vinegar.
Not everyone is going to like the vinegar addition; if there are kids in your family, or people with a massive sweet tooth, they’ll just hate it. I loved the citrusy tang, and some of you might pick up a combination of tart apple or dark chocolate flavor — which I don’t personally, but some of the other people in this household swear they do. No matter: with or without vinegar garnish, strawberry shortcake is wonderful stuff.
Strawberry Shortcake With or Without Balsamic Vinegar
Serves 3-4 large portions or 6-8 smaller portions
1 quart strawberries, sliced
¼ cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup milk
1 cup whipping or heavy cream
Sugar to taste
Thick balsamic vinegar
Place the berries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar, tossing to coat berries. Let stand.
Make the shortcakes by heating the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
Blend the flour, baking powder, sugar and butter together with a pastry blender or even by pulsing in a food processor.
Turn it out into a bowl and add the milk, tossing it until the dough holds together but is not sticky, using more or less milk as needed.
Pat out on a floured board about three-quarters of an inch thick and cut into three or four rounds with a cutter, or divide into balls and flatten them to three-quarters of an inch thick and place on the baking sheet.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden and hollow sounding when tapped.
Cool, then split in half. Use a whole biscuit or a half-biscuit per serving, depending on appetites.
Put each on a plate, cut side up.
If you wish to sweeten your cream, do so to taste. Whip the cream if desired, or pour some cream over the biscuit, add strawberries and then a bit more cream.
Finally, pour a thin stream of balsamic vinegar over each about half-inch apart.