Dreaming of summertime

strawberryshortcake1

When I went home for a visit a couple weeks ago, I was delighted to see the farm stands were already offering strawberries. I bought a box of them — six baskets for $6 — and ate a bowl of them daily for about a week once I returned to Tahoe. Still, I had about three baskets that needed to be baked into something to keep them from going bad. Good strawberries can’t be left to waste. I settled on strawberry shortcake, something I don’t make often, but enjoy quite a bit when it turns out just right.

I have never been crazy about those packaged shortcakes sold near the strawberries at the grocery store — the spongey ones that have somewhat of a dip at the top for the strawberries to sit in. I hadn’t made my own biscuits in a long time, so I turned to the Joy of Cooking to see what it suggested. It had a couple options, but I settled on cream biscuits this time around. They were, by far, the best ones I had ever made for strawberry shortcake. I am not big on rolling out dough; I prefer to shape it with my hands when I can. I divided the dough into eight pieces and formed them into rounds on a baking sheet. You may also roll out the dough and divide it into more pieces if you’d like. The biscuits were easy and the flavor and texture were just how I hoped they would be. Topped with the macerated strawberries (I added some of Penzeys Vanilla Sugar to the mixture for a bit of extra flavor) and whipped cream, this was the dessert I was craving. I was thrilled. Summer will be here soon enough.

Ingredientsstrawberryshortcake3
4 cups strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (use 2 if at high altitude)
1/2 to 2/3 teaspoon salt (use one teaspoon if at high altitude)
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream

Rinse and quarter the strawberries. Using a potato masher or other tool, partially crush the strawberries. Put them in a bowl with the sugar. Set in fridge.

strawberryshortcake4Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream. Mix with a rubber spatula, wooden spoon or fork until most of the dry ingredients are moistened. Knead until smooth. Divide the dough into eight parts. Shape into 3-inch rounds that are about 3/4-inch thick. Place on a baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes.

Whip the 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream until soft peaks form.

To assemble, cut the biscuits in half so there’s a top and bottom. Spoon generous spoonfuls of the strawberry mixture onto the bottom half of the biscuit. Top with a large dollop of whipped cream. Top with the other half biscuit.

Whipping up dessert in a hurry

banoffeepie4

Every time one of my staff members celebrates a birthday, I bring in a baked good just for them, something they don’t have to share with anyone else. When one of my staff members celebrated her birthday Friday and I knew I didn’t have a ton of time to make and decorate a cake, I instead chose to make a Banoffee Pie.

I first made a Banoffee Pie years ago after seeing Curtis Stone make one on “Take Home Chef.” It looked easy and I was pleased that I found it just as simple to make at home. The pie gets its name because it uses bananas and toffee. Making the toffee sauce is the only part that really takes much effort — and it doesn’t take much if you follow the instructions. The pie is framed by a simple graham cracker crust, filled with a base layer of toffee sauce, then topped with whipped cream with bananas folded into it. The rest of the toffee sauce is drizzled on top. It’s easy as, well, pie.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you get a lot more flavor than you might expect. When I first made it, I was worried about getting a mouthful of whipped cream, but the sliced bananas that are folded into it keep that from happening, and the toffee sauce on the top and bottom add a certain richness to it.

For the record, let me say that this is not a banana cream pie. There are bananas and cream, but they are not blended together as they are in the traditional desert.

Another plus is that you can do this in parts if you’re strapped for time. I made the crust and toffee sauce the night before, then made the whipped cream-and-banana filling the day of so it would be as fresh as possible.

This is a great option if you’re short on time and want to serve a light, flavorful dessert. It was a big hit with the birthday girl.

Ingredientsbanoffeepie1
9 ounces graham crackers, crushed

1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 14-ounce  can sweetened condensed milk

1 stick butter
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
5 small ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

Chop the graham crackers in a food processor until they are finely ground.

Pour the melted butter over the crumbs and process to blend well. The crumbs should stick together when pressed.

Press the crumb mixture over the bottom and 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the springform pan. Refrigerate.

To make the toffee sauce, place a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Combine the sugar and 3 tablespoons of water in a medium heavy saucepan. banoffeepie3

Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil without stirring until the color is deep amber, occasionally swirling the pan and brushing down the sides with a pastry brush dipped into water, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the condensed milk and butter. Continue stirring for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.

Remove the toffee sauce from the heat and spread 1 cup of the sauce over the prepared crust and refrigerate for about 1 hour or until the toffee is semi-firm. This can be refrigerated overnight if you prefer to prepare the rest on the day it will be served.

Keep the remaining toffee sauce at room temperature.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream in a large bowl until thick and very soft billowy peaks form.

Very thinly slice three of the bananas into discs.

Fold the sliced bananas into the softly whipped cream and spoon into the prepared pie crust.

Slice the remaining bananas and arrange them decoratively over the pie.

Re-warm the remaining toffee sauce gently over low heat.

Drizzle some of the sauce decoratively over the pie. If the sauce has thickened too much to drizzle, stir a few tablespoons of milk into the sauce to create a thinner consistency.

Cut the pie into wedges and transfer to plates.

Drizzle each pie wedge with more sauce and serve.