Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blackberry Shortcake

Earlier this week I made strawberry shortcake, using genoise for the base instead of a biscuit.  I've never been that crazy about biscuits, and you can't really make them ahead.  I usually use poundcake as the base, but I thought it might be nice to have something lighter.  While the strawberries were delicious, the cake was too light, and didn't have enough texture once the dessert was assembled.  So I was going to make strawberry shortcake again this weekend, until I came across the most beautiful local blackberries at my local Earthfare store.  Some of them were as large as my thumb, and sweet sweet sweet...

Instead of going back to the genoise, I decided to try biscuits again.  I think I'm always trying to lower the fat in them, and that's probably why they aren't at the top of my list for dessert.  This time around, I decided to go for it.  I tried two recipes: 1 with buttermilk and the other with half & half, and I used 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter - that's not the most butter I've ever seen in a biscuit recipe, but it is up near the top.  I like my biscuits sweet, too, so I chose the higher end for the sugar ingredient.  Both the buttermilk and the cream biscuits came out great.  They were toothly enough to stand up to the juicy fruit topping, and they had a delicious crunchy exterior. Yay for butter!

Shortbread biscuits are just about one of the easiest pastries you'll ever make.  There's very little prep, very little worktime, and very quick cleanup.  When paired with simple sugared fruit, it comes together in way less than 1 hour. I prefer  blackberries to be quite well macerated so that they aren't as tough in the middle and so that the sweetness permiates the berry.  If you like them like this too, and you want to serve the shortbreads within 1 hour of making them, you might want to start the berries first, otherwise you can start the berries while the shortbreads are cooling.  If serving them for company, you might want to make and refrigerate the dough, and then shape and bake them just before sitting down to dinner.  More details follow.

Serves 4-5
Shortbread Biscuits
2 cups (260 grams) bleached all-purpose flour, fluffed scooped and levelled into measuring cups
3- 4 tablespoons sugar (to taste)
1 tablespoon baking powder if using cream, (2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder +1/2 ts.baking soda, if using buttermilk)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup buttermilk or half & half (have 1 TB extra just in case)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Blackberry Topping
5 cups blackberries
2/3 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. with a rack in the middle of the oven.  Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder (and baking soda if you are using it) and salt in a medium-not too deep bowl.  Sift, or stir it well to distribute the ingredients. 

You need to get the butter "cut" into the flour mixture.  You can do this with 2 knives, with a pastry blender, in a processor, or my favorite method, by rubbing the bar of butter against the coarse holes of a box grater.
(I hope you have one - the only reason I do, is that I have a friend who has given me several graters.  Thanks, Ann!)

For this method:
Unwrap the stick of butter so that the bar is exposed, except for the last 2 tablespoons of the stick. Rub the stick of butter against the grater until you are right down to the covered part.

 You now have 6 tablespoons of grated butter that you want to gently toss into the flour mixture.

Make a well in the center of this flour/butter mixture, and pour in the buttermilk or cream and the vanilla. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula push the flour from the outside of the bowl towards the center, gently combining the liquid and dry ingredients until you have a rough mass.

To finish, use your hands to gently push the dough together.  Add a tiny bit of reserved liquid if you can't get the dough to completely pick up all of the flour.  The dough will be very rough looking, but all of the flour should stick to it.  Use a tiny bit of flour to prevent sticking on your work board, and turn the dough onto it.

Press the dough down gently to create a square or rectangular shape.  The size will depend on how you want your finished biscuit.  I like to pat the dough to about 3/4-inch thick.  You could make it thinner if you plan to slice the biscuits in half and then layer fruit and cream between and on top of the biscuit. 

Cut the dough into squares or rounds, whichever you prefer.  The rounds can be 3 to 3-1/2-inches in diameter.  If you want to use the tops, I would go with the smaller size.  You should be able to get 5 -6 biscuits out of the dough, depending on how thick you make them.

Place the biscuits on the baking sheet and bake for 10-14 minutes, until they are golden brown, and a tester stuck into the middle of a biscuit comes out with no crumbs attached.

Slide the biscuits onto a cooling rack and let cool at least 1 hour before eating. 

If you want to make them ahead, make the dough, up until the cutting instruction ( Use buttermilk for the make-ahead dough).  At this point, wrap the dough square in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.  Cut the biscuits as desired, and bake for 12-17 minutes until they are nicely browned and test done.

I prefer to serve only the bottoms of the biscuits because otherwise it seems like too much cake to fruit, it's harder to eat and the top biscuit doesn't get to soak up the juice the way the bottom one does.  You could slice the biscuits in half, and make double the portions, but it's hard to get them even, and then the biscuit seems skimpy. So,  I usually slice off the top 1/4-inch  of the biscuit, and just serve the bottoms, as in the opening photo.  If you prefer to serve top and bottom , here's what they look like .

Blackberry Topping
5 cups blackberries
2/3 cup sugar

Combine 2 cups of blackberries and 1/3 cup sugar in a medium bowl, and set aside for 5 minutes.  Mash the berries with fork or potato masher.  This will release the juice and give you the sauce you need.  Stir in the remaining blackberries and the remaining sugar, to taste.  Let the berries macerate until  they are the texture and sweetness that you like ( I prefer overnight, but no less than 1 hour).

Serve over biscuits or ice cream.
For shortcakes,  plan on 1 cup of berries per person

Whipped Cream
1/2 pint  heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla, or to taste

My daughter recently made whipped cream using farm-fresh cream, and she was surprised that the cream whipped up so fast, that she actually had little bits of butter forming in the cream ( not delicious in a dessert).  This is probably because the cream had a higher fat content than the stuff we normally find in the supermarket, or it's even possible that it wasn't pasteurized.  Ultra-pasteurized cream, the product we often buy, whips up slower and is airier than regular or non-pasteurized cream.  The extra butterfat in farm-fresh or "European"-style cream also makes for a denser whipped cream.  It can be quite delicious if it isn't overbeaten.  So take care when you start beating your whipped cream and don't walk away unless you know that your cream is ultra-pasteurized and will take a little longer to whip.

Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl.  Beat on high until the cream thickens, and stands in peaks.  If there is any doubt, finish the cream with a hand-held whisk.  You'll get a much better feel for whether the whipped cream is done, or if it needs a few more whisks.

Refrigerate until ready to use.  Whipped cream will "water-out"  after a few hours.  If making it ahead, you can place it in a filter-lined basket, or you can just skim the whipped cream from the top, leaving the watery residue behind. Or you can use a product called Whip-it, which will prevent the whipped cream from getting watery. Buy it in the  supermarket on the baking aisle, and follow the package directions for use.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just happened upon your blog. Love the great recipes.