I suppose you could convince me there is a dessert that typifies summer more than shortcake, and you might be able to string me along for a while before I came to my senses to explain delicately that, at least to me, not much else can compete.
My shortcake memories go back years, but they always begin the same: with a biscuit. Not a slice of angel food cake, or pound cake. A lowly biscuit. One that, if you’re me, would normally be found on a plate filled with beans, rice, and coleslaw. That kind of biscuit. The one that not much else can compare to when it comes to soaking up juice and binding everything together, whether it’s dessert or not.
Sure, I’ve tried a variety of recipes, combinations of flavors and ingredients, but in the end I’m only truly satisfied with that slightly salty bite of biscuit and the tart sweetness of fresh berries tempered by the richness of cream. It’s fabulous.
Recently, my husband surprised me with Thomas Keller’s latest book, ad hoc at home. He’d heard that the man himself would be visiting a local Williams-Sonoma so decided to wait on his lunch hour in a rather lengthy line to get Keller’s signature for me. Not only was I touched by the gesture, I couldn’t wait to dig into the recipes.
You know what it’s like to get a new cookbook. You leaf through the pages, savoring each possibility, wondering what might measure up to your expectations without killing yourself on the first attempt: buttermilk fried chicken…rubbed and glazed pork spareribs…iceberg lettuce slices…No, it was the buttermilk biscuits that got my attention first. I have to admit I did go back to the iceberg lettuce slices (you have to try his Blue Cheese Dressing), but the biscuits are what I first settled down to make knowing instantly they were destined for berry shortcakes.
Think about it. They’re perfect for the picnic of all summer picnics — July 4th. You make them the day before, cool them completely before sealing their crispy freshness away so you can split them and then dollop on some cream and berries that have had a chance to sit for a while to develop a lovely, syrupy juice.
There is an art to this if you want to take some time with it, and if you’d like to consider another ingredient you may never have tried before which is perfect with berries, try mascarpone. I’m partial to mascarpone, so when I saw that Keller included it in a recipe for peaches and cream, I had to try it giving it my own spin, of course.
If you’re thinking that it may not travel well, think again. With a few recycled jars filled and kept in an ice chest, you’ll be able to turn out the perfect summer dessert for your July 4th holiday, courtesy of inspiration from Thomas Keller, of course.