Friday, March 10, 2006

SHF #17: Strawberry Shortcakes with Mascarpone Cream

This recipe makes the best filling I've had in a long time and certainly the best I can remember on a strawberry shortcake. Generally speaking, I don't go for fillings in cake in a big way. I like them well enough, but I'm content with cake and fruit or jam rather than a big thick layer of frosting. Strawberry shortcakes always sound promising, but end up being disappointing more often than not.
There are many ways to make a strawberry shortcake. You can start with a base of any type of cake you like - sponge cake or butter cake for example - but to me, a biscuit is the best base. With a biscuit, you have added texture in your dessert and it is much less time consuming to make than an actual cake. The biscuit is really a sort of drop scone, with butter rubbed into the flour mixture. Cream is added to bind everything together and the biscuits are baked. I added some poppy seeds for a bit of crunch and because I like the way they look; they don't really add flavor to the biscuit. You can use milk instead of cream in the biscuit, but you'll notice that there is not too much butter in the recipe. This will make a leaner biscuit overall, so take care not to overbake if you do choose to use milk, since they might dry out a little bit. If the resulting biscuit ends up being a bit too dry for you, just make sure you put enough of the cream filling inside!
The biscuit is filled with cream and strawberries. A simple whipped cream is the most popular filling, but the mascarpone cream blows it out of the water. The dairy-based filling also makes this a perfect entry for this month's Sugar High Friday, since Andrew picked dairy as the theme. You can see that I stacked my shortcakes, but these are also very good if you simply split the biscuits, spread them with cream and top with strawberries - no stacking required. This also eliminates the need for a knife to cut into these treats.

Strawberry Shortcakes with Mascarpone Cream
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)
2 tbsp butter, cold
1/2 cup light cream (half & half)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and poppy seeds. Add butter and rub in to flour mixture, creating coarse crumbs.
In a small measuring cup, combine cream, vanilla extract and almond extract. Add to flour mixture and stir with a fork until a ball of dough forms. Add an additional tablespoon of milk, if necessary.
Divide dough into four and place on a baking sheet. It is not crucial to shape the dough, but it's better if your shortcakes are on the round side, for presentation.
Bake at 400F for 15-18 minutes, until lightly golden and somewhat firm to the touch.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Mascarpone Cream Filling
12-ounces mascarpone cheese, cold
1/4 cup light cream (half & half)
4 tbsp powdered sugar, or to taste

Beat all ingredients together with a whisk until soft peaks form. If you want to make the filling sweeter, then add a bit more sugar. You might have to add a little more cream to keep the filling from getting too stiff.

Strawberries, diced

Split cakes horizontally in half and spread on mascarpone filling. Top mascarpone cream with strawberries and, if desired, more cream.

Serves 4