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Shortbread, Strawberries, and Cream for Tea

“The best ideas always arrive after a glass of wine or two …”

This was said to me in response to an email that I’d sent to a friend in England, after telling him that I’d made my first-ever batch of shortbread.  Last night, I’d met up with another friend who used to live in the city for a glass of wine and mezze at a Greek restaurant near where she’d been at a networking conference.  She now lives in New Jersey.  When she’s in town for a meeting we usually try to see if we can squeeze in a massive catch-up session.

As we were parting ways after said eats and drinks, I invited her for tea today, as we still had more to talk about, which was the idea I’d shared with my English friend.  The crazier part of this story is that I also had a former roommate coming in for a visit this afternoon.  On top of that, I’m trying to get ready to head down to Virginia tomorrow for a family birthday barbecue.  At least I was already cleaning up my apartment and trying to get it knocked into some kind of order, but what would I serve everyone?

Fortunately, I’d picked up some of these gorgeous beauties at the Greenmarket on Wednesday.  We have a couple of strawberry seasons in the markets in New York, if we are lucky.  The first batch are large and sweet and can sometimes be lighter in berry flavor.  The second crop comes in more towards the end of the summer and are smaller and have a sweet-tart taste that can make your mouth pucker.

These need minimal dressing up before serving them.  All I did was sprinkle them with a little bit of Grand Marnier liqueur and a very small amount of sugar to draw out some of their moisture and create a syrup, to macerate them. This technique is especially helpful if you have under ripe fruit and are trying to give it some extra flavor and juiciness.  As I mentioned, these didn’t really need much extra attention, so I prepared these right before my guests arrived, serving them with a healthy helping of freshly whipped cream.

The  soft, sweet, juicy strawberries and silken cream partnered perfectly with the buttery, crumbly shortbread.  A few of the edges of the shortbread were baked to a darker, golden color which gave them a more caramel-like flavor.  Not surprisingly, those were my favorite ones, and I tried to position the plate so that they were closest to me.  It was very much like having a deconstructed strawberry shortcake with all the milky, berry, and biscuit-like flavors melting in my mouth at the same time.  As an afternoon snack, at the table with friends, sunlight streaming into my apartment on a cool day, this was an ideal summertime treat.

Strawberries and Cream

Serving size: Depends upon how much your friends like berries (o.k., so about 4 folks)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

2 cups Strawberries

1 tsp. Grand Marnier or other liqueur

1 /4 tsp. White Sugar or Cane Sugar

1/2 c. heavy (whipping) Cream (not ultra-pasterized if you can find it)

Assembly:

Put bowl in which you will be whipping the cream and the beaters you will be using to whip the cream into the freezer.  Hull the strawberries, i.e., cut off the stem and the hard bit attached to it, and slice the strawberries crosswise into about 1-inch pieces.  Place in a serving bowl.

Sprinkle the strawberries with the liqueur and the sugar.  Stir to coat the berries.  Set aside in the refrigerator.  This can be done up to an hour or so in advance.  Extra time will allow for more syrup to develop, but if your berries are very ripe, it can also make them get mushy.

Remove bowl and beaters from the freezer.  Pour cream into bowl and whip with beaters/mixer until the cream has thickened and has developed soft peaks.  You can whip a little bit longer to develop stiff peaks, if you prefer, but be careful not to overwhip the cream.  Gently pour whipped cream into a serving bowl.  Remove strawberries from the refrigerator and serve with the whipped cream.

British Classic Shortbread

Here is the link to a version of the recipe that I used.  It is originally from BBC Good Food from September of 2000 and was put together by Angela Nilsen.  For the American audience, I’ll write down the proportions that I used.  There is also another slight change to this recipe in that you will want an extra little bit of sugar to sprinkle over the top of the shortbread after you take it out of the oven.

Serving size: 8 pieces

Prep time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

6 oz. white Flour (3/4 c.)

4 oz. lightly salted Butter, at room temperature (1 stick butter)

2 oz. golden caster Sugar (unrefined superfine sugar), plus extra for sprinkling on top (1/4 c.)

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  After combining the ingredients and forming the mixture into a ball, per the recipe link, put the dough onto an ungreased baking tray.  Roll it out into a circle on the tray, and then mark 8 slices on the dough with a knife (don’t cut all the way through).  With a fork, press lightly around the outside to make a fan pattern at the edge.

Put baking tray into oven and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.  The shortbread will still be soft.  Sprinkle the top with extra golden caster sugar or regular unrefined sugar (just about 1/4 tsp. or less).  Press the sugar lightly into the shortbread.  With a knife, cut through the shortbread in the same place where you made the light cuts prior to baking.  Allow to cool before serving so that the shortbread turns crisp  and crumbly.

Buon appetito!