Ideas in Food vs. Strawberry Shortcake: Reconsidering the Cream

Editor's Note: Please welcome Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, the great minds behind the influential blog Ideas in Food, and the cookbooks Ideas in Food and Maximum Flavor. Aki and Alex will be sharing their wisdom and clever cooking ideas here on Serious Eats, as they reinvent classic dishes with the aim of getting the most flavor out of them. For their first week, they'll be tackling strawberry shortcake.

Light and refreshing buttermilk granita stands in for whipped cream in this reinvented strawberry shortcake. [Photographs: Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot]

All week, we've been reinventing strawberry shortcake. So far, we've amped up the strawberries and reinvented the biscuit. We've infused flavors and highlighted textures. But something was missing: the sweet, soft whipped cream and the experience of eating it with juicy strawberries.

Our first thoughts leaned toward making a sweet-cream ice cream. It would be a nice foil to the various strawberry textures and flavors we'd already produced. But ice cream is rich. It coats the tongue, numbing it slightly. What we really wanted was something that would harmonize with the dessert's other elements and function to tie everything together. We wanted to lighten things up. And then it dawned on us: We didn't need rich. We needed light, crisp, clean lactic tanginess.

And so we turned to the idea of buttermilk instead of heavy cream, developing a buttermilk granita. It's light and refreshing, with soft crystals of ice softly melting on your tongue. It's what snowflakes should taste like when we catch them in our mouths.

Buttermilk is a favorite ingredient of ours. We like cooking and baking with it because it adds a subtle tang that balances other flavors without overwhelming them with acidity. We actually already used some buttermilk earlier in this recipe, adding buttermilk powder to the choux pastry to balance the flavor of our lemongrass- and ginger-infused puffs.

The buttermilk granita is light and our marinated strawberries are more intense, but by combining them, we wind up with a whole new take on strawberries and cream. We like to serve the strawberry cream puffs accompanied by small dishes of the strawberries with the buttermilk granita spooned over the top. It's a playful dessert that encourages people to take different bites, try new combinations, and really enjoy the experience.