One person’s invader is another person’s honored guest.
A friend of mine wages war against the rangy “mountain strawberry” plant that creeps into her Colorado lawn every summer. Despite the cute little berries, she considers this native plant an invasive pest and she works hard to eradicate it from her garden.
But last week, during my visit to Sun Valley, Idaho, my aunt Sandy delightedly pointed out the very same plant in her garden and rejoiced over the many miniature strawberries dotting the vines. “The French call these fraises des bois,” she gushed, “and they’re considered a real delicacy because of their concentrated flavor. One of my French friends couldn’t believe we had them growing wild on our patio!”
That afternoon, Sandy’s gardener harvested a cup or two of the precious berries. I made Sandy’s “best-ever” shortcake recipe, and she whipped up her special version of fresh whipped cream (secret ingredient: sour cream). That night for dessert, we feasted on Mountain Strawberry Shortcake.
Shortcake recipe (originally from Bon Appetit, July 2006):
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 tablespoon whipping cream
- Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk flour, 7 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl to blend. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal (do not overwork or dough will be tough).
- Gradually add buttermilk, tossing with a fork until moist clumps form. Gather dough together; flatten dough on a floured work surface to 3/4- to 1-inch-thick round.
- Using a floured 3-inch round biscuit cutter or cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Gather dough scraps and flatten on work surface to 3/4- to 1-inch thickness; cut out additional rounds for a total of 8. Transfer shortcakes to prepared baking sheet.
- Whisk cream and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl to blend. Brush cream mixture over tops of shortcakes. Bake shortcakes until tops begin to brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 23-25 minutes. Transfer shortcakes to a rack to cool. (Note: These can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature; rewarm in 350-degree oven for 5 minutes before assembling.)
Sandy’s whipped cream:
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup brown sugar (not raw sugar)
Vanilla extract, to taste
1 cup whipping cream
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer on low speed, start mixing until sugar dissolves. Increase mixer speed and whip until mixture is “soft and ploppy,” says Aunt Sandy. (“I’ve never understood why people whip cream until it’s stiff,” she adds.)
- Note: Recipe can be easily doubled; for variation and to enhance different fruits, swap Grand Marnier or other fruit liqueur for the vanilla.
Put it all together: Top the warm shortcakes with a big dollop of whipped cream and as many fresh berries as you like. Just about any kind of luscious summer fruit will work; try it with regular strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, or plums.