Does anyone remember Strawberry Shortcake, that line of scented dolls all named after various fruits and berries that was so popular in the 80’s? (Yes, I grew up in the time of My Little Pony, Care Bears, and Transformers – at the risk of sounding old, I’m rather put out by the current craze for taking these beloved childhood toys and remaking them "hip" and "trendy" for the new generation – don’t they know they’re messing with sacred memories?) My favorite Strawberry Shortcake doll was , of course, Strawberry Shortcake herself, who lived in a strawberry-shaped house and baked treats all day. Sounds ideal, no?
The dessert strawberry shortcake is, of course, just as timeless and enduring. However, just to show I’m not *completely* opposed to change, I chose to use a version from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, which adds the interesting note of tarragon to the recipe. Not to mention that the accompanying photo in the book was just begging for me to make it.
Using fresh tarragon is a must, if only for the wonderful sensory experience of smelling licorice as you work with the leaves. It makes a sharp, clean contrast to the sweetness of the strawberries and cream. By macerating the berries with tarragon as well as using mixing the herb with cream, Fleming builds some complex layers of flavors and ties all the elements together nicely.
The recipe is fairly straightforward, although when I first made the tarragon syrup for the cream I was rather dubious- the syrup was of course a vibrant green, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about having green whipped cream in the final result. But the ratios were perfect: the cream turned out clean cloud-white with little green specks dotted throughout. And I have to say the shortcake biscuits are exactly what they should be: light, fluffy, tender – literally melting in your mouth. I would recommend assembling the dessert as soon as possible after you bake the biscuits to capture as much of their perfection as possible – also because if you leave them around they’ll probably get scarfed up before you can do anything else with them!
from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming
1 2/3 cups flour
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
6 sprigs fresh tarragon
2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
To make the biscuits: In an electric mixer combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and mix together until it resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and mix just until the dough comes together (it will be wet and soft). Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a 6 inch square, about 1 inch high. Wrap up the square and chill for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the dough into 9 biscuits (you can simply cut into squares or use a round cutter – remember the biscuits will expand in the oven). Brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with cream and sprinkle the turbinado sugar over them.
Place the biscuits about 2 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or the biscuits are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To make the tarragon cream: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Prepare a second bowl full of ice water. Put the tarragon leaves into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain and plunge into the ice water. Drain and dry off the leaves. Put the leaves and corn syrup into a food processor and puree. Set the syrup aside while you are doing the strawberries.
To prepare the strawberries: twist the leaves or chop them roughly. Combine the strawberries, leaves, and sugar in a bowl and let macerate for about 20 minutes. You can taste the strawberries to make sure the tarragon flavor does not become too strong. Remove the tarragon and discard.
To finish: Strain the tarragon syrup through a sieve to get rid of any solids. Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar until it starts to thicken, then add the syrup and continue whipping until soft peaks form.
Split 8 of the shortcake biscuits in half and place the bottoms on plates. Put some of the strawberries on top and then cover with the cream. Cover with the tops of the shortcakes and serve immediately.
Claudia Fleming also suggests serving these with some strawberry sorbet; however, I found the shortcakes on their own a completely adequate and satisfying dessert.
Strawberries – Yerena Farms, Watsonville
Cream, Butter – Clover Farms, Marin County