This week happens to be prime strawberry picking week here in Indy. A group of my girlfriends are all getting together to go pick some berries and enjoy the day together. It’s an event. I’m sad to be missing the time with them (I’m out of town for a beach wedding!)-I love being out there in the sun and picking my own berries. The smell is heavenly, the atmosphere relaxes me, and the berries somehow taste a billion times better than the ones that are already packaged.
I also love the combination of cooked rhubarb with the berries. When I was growing up, my mom had a huge rhubarb plant in her vegetable garden out back. I loved the bright red stalks and giant green leaves, but I never quite understood where the edible part was. I thought it was like one of her zucchini or pumpkin plants, and I always looked for the flowering part. It didn’t occur to me that rhubarb is very similar to celery, and the stalk is the actual part of the plant that we can eat. All I know is that we would go strawberry picking, mom would get her rhubarb from the garden, and then she would make this heavenly strawberry-rhubarb jam that we would eat year-round. (I’m hunting down that recipe before I leave so maybe one day I can share it with you, too!)
And, I am admitting to you now that this is another recipe adapted from the June/July issue of Fine Cooking. I was drawn to the biscuits in this recipe because of the buttermilk-I had never made strawberry shortcake before with buttermilk, and I was tempted to try it. I ended up cooking down some rhubarb and adding it into the mix as a tribute to that strawberry-rhubarb jam from my childhood. I had a leftover vanilla bean, so I added that into the whipped cream and biscuits to make it a little more special (everything tastes better with real vanilla bean, in my opinion), but you could simply substitute in a teaspoon or two (to taste) of vanilla extract if you like a little more flavor to your whipped cream.
Servings: approximately 6
For the strawberry-rhubarb mixture:
1 pound ripe strawberries, about 4 cups, cleaned
1 to about 1 and 1/2 pounds of rhubarb (about 7 stalks), leaves removed, stalks chopped into about 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
For the biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg
1/2 vanilla bean**Slice it open and then pull your knife across the opening to remove about 1/2 the seeds. Save the other half for the whipped cream!
1/4 cup heavy cream; plus more for brushing the tops of the biscuits
1/4 cup buttermilk
For the whipped cream:***Chill your mixing bowl, if possible first.
1 and 1/2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1. For the strawberry-rhubarb mixture: In a large sauté pan over low heat, combine the chopped rhubarb and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.
2. Stir to coat the rhubarb thoroughly with the sugar, and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb breaks down and becomes sticky and stringy, about 40 minutes to one hour.
3. Put 1/3 of the strawberries into a medium bowl and mash them until they are crushed.
4. Add the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the bowl.
5. Slice the rest of the strawberries into your desired thickness and add them to the crushed strawberry mixture. Set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
6. Once the rhubarb is cooked, add this to the strawberry mixture and set aside.
7. For the biscuits: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
8. In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/3 cup of the sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
9. Add the pieces of cold butter, and using a pastry cutter or your fingers, crush the butter into the dough until it is crumbly and resembles coarse sand.
10. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg and the heavy cream.
11. Add the buttermilk to the mixture and whisk to combine.
12. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the egg mixture into the center.
13. Mix the dough with a fork until just combined (**it will look shaggy).
14. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until softened and cohesive, adding more cream if necessary.
15. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 3/4-inch, and using a biscuit cutter (I used a 2 and 1/2-inch diameter round cookie cutter), cut out the biscuits and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, re-rolling and cutting the dough as needed. Fine Cooking stresses not to twist the biscuit cutter when making your cuts-simply push down and pull up the cutter vertically. I did this, and it seemed to work like a charm!
16. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with cream and sprinkle the tops with the remaining granulated sugar.
17. Bake the biscuits until lightly golden brown, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking process, about 10-15 minutes total.
18. For the whipped cream: In your mixing bowl, combine the cream, sugar, and 1/2 vanilla bean seeds. Mix on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.
19. Assemble the shortcakes with the biscuits, strawberry-rhubarb mixture, and top with the whipped cream.
Source: Adapted from Fine Cooking, June/July 2011 issue.