I am, as always, in love with this time of year. The days are warm but not hot, the long hours of light makes the days seem endless, and I love the thought of having the entire summer before me.
I have no interest in traveling to the beach or anywhere else for Memorial Day weekend. I can't imagine enjoying anywhere else as much as I enjoy being home and taking walks in the neighborhood, puttering around in the kitchen, working on my community garden plot, and -- one of the best things about a long weekend --- spending part of every afternoon reading and napping.
At this time of year the windows in our house are always open. In the bedroom, which is on the third floor of our house, the curtains float on the breeze, and I'm able to see the leaves of the trees outside the window fluttering in the breeze. Above the curtains the sky has been a picture book blue and dotted with big, fluffy clouds. I can hear the birds in the trees and farther away the noises of the city. It's the perfect place to spend an afternoon of reading and napping.
Another of the things that makes this such a perfect time of year is strawberries.
Of course sometimes, and probably more often than not, strawberries disappoint me. It's rare to find a truly sweet and flavorful berry, and wonderful strawberry fragrance does not seem to be an accurate indicator of strawberry taste. There are times the strawberries I buy smell heavenly but turn out to be woody or cottony, or they are simpy without flavor. I try always to pick out baskets of berries that are small and brilliantly red because I think these two things are the best indicator of good flavor, but at my farmers' market, as in most places, often they're a mix of large and small, deep red and not so red strawberries.
None of this ever keeps me from buying strawberries.I am eternally optimistic.
This year, after some problems with the very first berries of the season having poor texture (the result of the enormous amount of rain we've had recently), I've had pretty good berries. Not spectacular, but good none the less.
Strawberry shortcake is a good way to enjoy strawberries. Strawberries are at their best uncooked, and if strawberry shortcake is eaten when the biscuits are still hot from the oven (the best way, by the way) you have the hot biscuit and a nice combination of the hot and almost savory-salty biscuit with the berries and the whipped cream.
This shortcake recipe comes from Cooks' Illustrated.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar for sprinkling
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons), cut in half the long way and then each
1 egg , beaten
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon half-and-half
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 boxes of berries
1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream, whipped with one tablespoon of sugar and one teaspoon of vanilla extract.
1. Preheat the oven to 425
2. Cut the butter in half and then half again the long way. Cut the 4 butter quarters in 1/2 inch slices. Put these on a plate, cover with plastic, and put this in the freezer while you're assembling everything else.
3. Hull the strawberries, that is, remove the stem and leaves and tiny core from the top of the berries. Cut the berries in half or in quarters, depending on the size of the berries. Sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon of sugar and let them stand while you make the biscuits.
4. Put the flour, salt, baking powder, and 3 tablespoons of sugar in the food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Distribute the butter over the top of the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles "coarse meal." The CI people say this will be about 15 1-second pulses but I can't corroborate because I lost count during this process.
5. Dump this into a mixing bowl, mix the lightly beaten egg with the half-and-half, then gently stir it into the flour mixture until clumps form. Flour a work surface, then gently knead the dough until it just comes together. Pat the dough into a rectangle 9 inches by 6 inches that's about 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut out six rounds of dough with a 2 3/4 inch biscuit cutter and place them on a cookie sheet. Brush the tops with the lightly beaten egg white and then sprinkle the tops with one to two tablespoons of sugar.
6. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Cool on a rack for ten minutes. Then split each biscuit in half crosswise. Place a large spoonful or two of berries and the juice they've exuded on top of the bottom biscuit. Be generous with the berries Top with a large dollop of whipped cream. Perch the biscuit top at a rakish angle on top of the whipped cream. Serve with additional whipped cream on the side.