Everywhere you look in supermarkets and food shops, there is summer's bounty winking back at you: ripe, luscious and tempting.
Mangoes, lychees, cherries, strawberries, peaches and durians make great eating this time of year.
Of course, we get another burst at the end of the year during the fruit season in the Southern Hemisphere, but now is a very good time to indulge.
So I have been enjoying Sein Ta Lone mangoes from Myanmar, strawberries and cherries from the United States, lychees from Taiwan, apricots from Turkey and durians from Malaysia.
The peaches have been okay, but not great. There is time yet, and I am looking forward to what is my favourite stone fruit. This year, I might make a peach cobbler if the prices are sane.
Even though the fruit are in season and the prices are supposed to be reasonable, some, like peaches and durians, can cost the earth.
It is hard to think about making anything with them. Just being able to eat them is reward enough.
How I envy people in countries that have agriculture. Fruit and vegetables are so abundant, they have to think of ways to use them up, by making jams and preserves, pickles and desserts. Then when the bounty dries up, they can open these jars in winter and taste summer long gone.
This week's recipe is one way of enjoying the strawberries that are everywhere in supermarkets now.
I have made strawberry jam for this column, but there are many other ways to enjoy the fruit.
If you have an ice-cream machine, ripe berries make a terrific treat for the heat. If you do not have a conniption when looking at the price of rhubarb, then a strawberry and rhubarb cobbler is great.
But really, when I can get my hands on sweet, ripe strawberries, I just want to have lots of it with just a little something extra to make it look and taste festive.
Enter the strawberry shortcake.
There are many versions of this dessert. The Japanese work strawberries into soft fluffy cake. Others sandwich strawberries and cream between what look like split scones.
I do not want too much fuss in the kitchen, so I dispense with the kneading of scone dough and cookie cutters and make drop biscuits instead.
These are much like scones, but the batter is much stickier and I simply dollop them onto the baking tray, no egg wash needed.
Of course, the obsessive-compulsive in me weighs the finished batter and then I divide it by six and scoop out the precise amount onto the tray. It takes no time at all. Really.
And if you prefer to just eyeball it, go right ahead. The biscuits spread a lot and I like the jagged circumference, which looks homespun and inviting.
A pastry blender, available at kitchenware shops, is indispensable. It cuts the butter into the flour without fuss and I cannot live without mine.
This is not a one-trick pony of a kitchen tool either. I also use it to mash potatoes.
None of the ingredients is difficult to find, even buttermilk. Traditionally, it is the liquid left after churning butter, but these days, cultures are added to milk to make it.
Larger supermarkets carry it, but if you cannot find it, simply add one tablespoon of lemon juice to 250ml full-fat milk, stir and let sit until it curdles, about 10 minutes.
If using store-bought buttermilk, shake it thoroughly before pouring out.
This thick, tangy ingredient gives baked goods a tender crumb and that is what a good shortcake needs.
While the cakes are baking, the strawberries should macerate in sugar and some lemon juice. It sounds like an unnecessary step, but these ingredients enhance the flavour of the strawberries. If there are juices at the bottom of the bowl, spoon them over the shortcakes before piling on the fruit.
The fruit is the centrepiece of this dessert and I follow this mantra: Use in profusion or not at all.
You can make a perfectly good dessert with 600g of strawberries, meaning that each person gets about 100g. But when they are in abundance like they are now, and if you can get a good deal, go for more. Pile them up.
With strawberries, there must be cream and I like mine softly whipped. That is just me. If you prefer a stiffer consistency, go for it, but do not go overboard and end up with butter.
Because there is sugar in the shortcake and in the strawberries, I skip it in the cream, but do add some if you like. Or, in its place, add one tablespoon of Cointreau for dessert that gives a bit of a buzz. Tender biscuit - check. Sweet strawberries - check. Voluptuous whipped cream - check. Bliss - yes, oh, yes.
For the shortcakes:
- 300g plain flour
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 Tbs double-acting baking powder (far right)
- 1/2 tsp baking soda (right)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 125g cold butter
- 1 60g egg
- 250ml buttermilk (right below)
For the strawberries:
- 600g to 1kg strawberries
- 1 to 2 Tbs caster sugar
- Juice of half a lemon
For the cream:
- 500ml whipping cream
- 2-3 Tbs caster sugar (optional)
- Make the shortcakes: Pre-heat oven to 200 deg C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
- Measure flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly with a fork.
- Take the butter out of the fridge, cut into 1cm cubes and scatter over the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender or cool fingertips, work the cold butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
- Whisk the egg into the buttermilk, making sure the egg is well incorporated.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour the buttermilk and egg in. Using a wooden spoon, mix to form a sticky batter.
- Divide the batter into six roughly equal portions. If you want to be precise, place a small bowl on a digital scale and weigh out 135 to 137g of batter for each shortcake. Scrape the batter onto the lined baking tray and repeat with the rest of the batter. Leave plenty of space in between them, so there should be three shortcakes on each baking tray.
- Place in the oven for 18 to 20 minutes, swopping the trays halfway through the baking to brown them evenly. They are ready when golden brown. Leave on the tray for five minutes, then place on a metal rack and let cool completely.
- Macerate the strawberries: While the shortcakes are baking, rinse the strawberries under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Hull the berries and cut into quarters if large or into half if small. Place in a large glass mixing bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit and add the lemon juice. Mix with a spoon and let sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Whip the cream: Just before serving, fit an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, remove cream from the fridge, pour into the bowl and start whisking at low speed, increasing to medium. Add the sugar if using and continue beating at medium high speed until it is the consistency you like. Do not overbeat the cream or it will turn gritty.
- Assemble the shortcakes: Slice the top off a shortcake with a serrated knife and place the bottom part on a serving plate. Spoon the strawberries over the shortcake, top with a large dollop of cream. Replace the top. Repeat with the other shortcakes and serve immediately.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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