There is a wonderful Norwegain book that I read with my children about three sisters who go out to pick strawberries for their mother. The girls run, giggling, out into the meadow; a picnic basket swinging from one child’s arm, two large tin buckets for the berries swaying from the handles clenched by the hands of another.
If only life were that idyllic. Even though the berries are being picked for jam in this book, I can’t help but think of strawberry shortcake each time I read it. Maybe it’s the picnic basket with the red and white checkered cloth that invites the image to my head and elicits the memory of an old friend sharing this dessert each year at the peak of strawberry season.
Berry-picking is a weekly summer event for us, mostly because we have always had our own bushes from which to gather blackberries and raspberries. Strawberry-picking even involves a bit of yoga, which is a bonus for a busy parent. When you are frog squatting for long periods of time, desperately foraging to overcome the rate at which your lovely kin are eating, you can be thankful for the built-in strengthening exercise. This is all part of the parental multi-tasking madness that we invite into our lives.
Dribbles of juice run down their little chins, streak their shirts and match each red mosquito bite. Oh, and don’t forget the bellyache groans.
I just find myself hoping on the way home, that after the kids’ excessive grazing, I have at least enough berries to throw into a pie or batch of ice cream. If their tummies hurt, no problem. More dessert for mom.
I worked for a Vermont inn many years ago whose menus changed multiple times per season according to what was fresh in the gardens and from the farm premises. The pastry chef I was working for had enlisted me to develop a strawberry-themed menu and wanted strawberry shortcake to be included. I could hardly bear the thought of offering this peasant dessert on a fine dining menu, it having no more business there than a burger and fries.
My vision of strawberry shortcake being scarfed down from a bowl by children in the grass, bare-footed and hands grubby, did not include those of the quiet and sophisticated cloth napkin persuasion.
I ended up using a small biscuit cutter for a petite, more elegant look and made a lemon curd to go with our locally grown strawberries. The dish was finished with a spoonful of soft whipped cream for our inn guests.
Enough of my nostalgic blather already, let’s create yet another version of summery shortcake and let’s make it gluten free.
I don’t have a lot going for me as far as the fruit is concerned since it’s a little early for berries in Vermont, so I will be using a medley of berries in this gluten free recipe to make a heated compote which will draw out the juices and concentrate the flavors. We will first make the shortcake biscuits.
My initial attempt at the gluten free biscuit was a converted wheat-based recipe that yielded disastrous results, so I was relieved when Susan Reid offered me her confident and tested gluten free honey biscuit recipe from the Baking Sheet. To it, I added Hi-Maize Fiber and lemon zest and thankfully found immediate success.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour, 1/4 cup Hi-Maize Fiber, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon Xanthan Gum, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 2 tablespoons lemon zest.
Cut the 1/2 cup of butter into smallish oneish inchish cubes using a bench knife if you have one just because it is so much fun. This knife is my true kitchen companion- a tool I couldn’t live without in my kitchen that can cut, scrape, measure, divide and sweep like nothing else. We affectionately call it the Countertop Zamboni in my house (influenced by the 7-year-old hockey player in my life).
Using a pastry blender or two forks, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a coarse crumb mixture where the butter pieces are the size of peas.
Avoid contacting the butter with your hands as it will become too warm which will both affect the texture of your biscuits and create an uncooperative dough.
Marry the 2 tablespoons of honey to the 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Sweet and sour. Opposites attract and work well together here.
Add the liquids to the dry ingredients. I usually dig a well for the big pour which allows the liquid to fall neatly into one place and then I pull the dry mixture into the wet from the sides of the bowl inward using a pastry fork. I’m just now realizing that this blog is making me look like a gadget junkie. The pastry forks are great because they are larger and therefore more efficient than dining forks. In the interest of promoting the “less is more” theme with biscuit dough mixing, I think this particular tool is right for the job.
Do as I say, and not as I do. I scrambled around the test kitchen looking for two pastry forks without luck, so I swiped the largest forks I could find from the employee kitchen and tossed the dough ingredients, like a salad, until they were mostly together. There’s no need to force the last few crumbs of dry mix that may be shy at first, they will jump into the game in the end.
Turn your dough out of the bowl and onto your work surface or you can use a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap that has been dusted with cornstarch or flour. You can use the wrap to pull the dough together the rest of the way which I find very handy. Carefully fold the dough over on itself up to eight times and press it to a 1/2″ thickness in between each fold. This will help to create those wonderful flaky layers we all strive for when making biscuits.
Using a 2 or 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter, cut the biscuits and press the scraps of dough together to repeat the process until the dough is about fully used.
Place the cut biscuits on a lightly greased parchment-lined sheet pan and throw them into a freezer “time out” while the oven preheats to 425°. In general, we have found in our trials and errors that biscuits and scones bake beautifully from a chilled or frozen state. Just before they go into the oven, brush the biscuit tops with buttermilk or heavy cream and sprinkle them with sugar.
I am using one of my very favorite products, the sparkling white sugar. I am like a fairy with dust when I have a bag of this in my hands. I throw it around like a line cook with salt and pepper; should I ever forget to use it, my young people are there to grab it from the pantry shelf and remind me.It’s a happy ending finish to muffins and quick breads, cookies and cakes and I love the way it makes frosting crunchy. Just for the legal record, the sparkling sugar is not a certified gluten free item for those who may need to observe such cautions.
Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden. For a moment, it seems a shame that their beauty will eventually be covered in sweet, saucy fruit compote and rich whipped cream . . . and then that moment’s gone.
Time for chapter two of Lessons in Shortcaking.
Add 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice to a large shallow saucepan.
To that lucky pan, add 1 quart of quartered strawberries, 1 pint of blueberries, and 1 pint of raspberries or blackberries (or a combination of the two) and heat, stirring, over a medium burner until you see the juices release from the berries. The fruit will soften, but not become mushy and the juices will thicken during the cooling process. I added two teaspoons of King Arthur pure vanilla extract to the cooling compote and was very pleased with the perfect flavor nudge it lended.
Please check out our recipe and blog for a quick lemon curd or if you are in a real scurry, you could try our prepared lemon curd. Again, to avoid unwanted policing, I must note that our prepared curd is not a certified gluten free product. One of the greatest things about lemon curd is it’s versatility. You can blend cold butter into it when it’s still warm and have a rich, dense lemon cream, or fold in whipped cream for a lightened option. The fat in the cream and the butter will cause the curd to become firmer in texture and will soften and round out the citrus tang for those who prefer less acidity.
The biscuits that just came from your oven will provide the perfect canvas for both the sassy, tart lemon goodness and the harmonious fruit blend in the compote. In fact, they could be a candidate for dressing with any kind of fruit that may be in season, be it berries, peaches or a combination of mango and pineapple. A tropical compote with a coconut lime curd perhaps?
The future experiment possibilities are plentiful and you can make this dessert as elegant or as rustic as you wish. It can fit nicely into your weekend potluck or outdoor barbeque, but also could dazzle the end of a quiet, more intimate meal. Go ahead and assemble this creation by pulling or slicing the biscuit into two halves, sandwiching the lemon curd between them, and topping with a generous amount of compote and whipped cream. Happy summer fruit harvesting to you all.
Please read, bake, and review our recipe for gluten-free lemon-berry shortcakes.
Print just the recipe.