Berry well: Enjoy the final days of strawberry season making this classic shortcake recipe
We professional chefs can sometimes feel the pressure of having to come up with new, delicious dishes that will get people talking and make them excited about returning to our restaurants. After all, if we served just the same old familiar recipes, their attention might turn elsewhere.
But sometimes, as the saying goes, the oldies are the goodies. Especially when you want to show off a main ingredient that is at its peak of season, the simplest, most classic treatment can be the best way of all to prepare it -- and your guests will rave about the results.
Take strawberries, for example. We've entered the last few weeks of strawberry season, when the heart-shaped red fruit is full of unbelievably sweet juice that tastes like it has soaked up every drop of summer sunshine. What should you do with berries like that, beyond just eating them straight out of the box as you walk or drive home from the farmers' market? Do you make strawberry ice cream, compote, souffles or preserves? Those all sound delicious, of course, but anything that involves crushing strawberries can seem like an insult to perfect specimens right now.
The best answer to me is to showcase the berries in a classic dessert that's almost synonymous with the fruit: strawberry shortcake. Freshly baked, tender, sweet biscuits made with butter, cream and eggs provide a perfect canvas for the berries, highlighting their flavor and soaking up every drop of their juices. Add a dollop of cold, softly whipped cream and you've got a dessert that's perfectly balanced in its tastes and textures, and utterly beautiful in its contrasts of colors and shapes.
You may wonder, though, how a well-known chef and his culinary team make their version of strawberry shortcake different than the rest. What's our twist on the classic in the version from my Wolfgang Puck Catering team? The truth is, our twist is simply that there isn't any. We don't add any special ingredients to the shortbread mixture; it's as straightforward as those made by home cooks a century or more ago. We don't add little strips of citrus zest or a splash of aged balsamic vinegar to the strawberries (though, if they aren't at their sweetest, you could be forgiven for adding just a touch of sugar). We don't even sweeten the whipped cream, because that would compete with the berries.
You might say it's a minimalist dessert. But it's elegant; the culinary equivalent of a man wearing nicely cut tuxedo or a woman in an exquisitely simple black dress.
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I hope you'll try this classic yourself soon, while fresh strawberries are still around. (Or try it with sliced peaches, nectarines or plums!)
CLASSIC STRAWBERRIES-AND-CREAM SHORTCAKE