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I loved Strawberry Shortcake as a kid. I mean, I loved it. And I'm not talking about the simple dessert of biscuits layered with macerated strawberries and whipped cream. I'm talking about the cartoon character with the cat named Custard. I had a well-worn cassette tape with Strawberry Shortcake episodes, my favorite of which was the housewarming episode which ends with a rousing dance number called International Party. I'd play it on repeat, dancing out the routines with the characters on-screen. I'm pretty sure I also dressed up as Strawberry Shortcake for Halloween several years in a row.
There are a few things the cartoon Strawberry Shortcake has in common with real strawberry shortcake. Most importantly, it offers a lot of pleasure in a very short amount of time with minimal effort. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that you could throw together excellent strawberry shortcake from scratch during the commercial breaks, not miss a single second of the action, and have dessert ready by the time the show is over.
This strawberry shortcake recipe falls squarely into the maximum-return-for-minimum-investment category. Five ingredients and only five to 10 minutes of actual work for a simple dessert that will be better than most of the stuff you can get at the store.
It starts out with a standard 2-ingredient biscuit recipe: stir together equal parts heavy cream and self-rising flour (along with a dash of sugar), scoop out with a cookie scoop, and bake.
Because the cream has just the right ratio of fat to water, it allows you to make a moist, workable dough with very minimal gluten formation. The result is light, tender, buttery-tasting biscuits even though the recipe calls for no actual butter. This, by the way, is where shortbread and shortcake get their name: gluten strands are kept "short" during dough formation.
You've already got the sugar and the cream out, which makes the rest of the recipe a snap. First, I toss sliced strawberries with a little bit of that sugar. As the strawberries rest, the sugar draws out their liquid through the process of osmosis, which in turn forms a sweet, strawberry-flavored syrup to soak into your biscuits. Drawing liquid out from the strawberries also tenderizes them, very much like letting some of the air out of an air-mattress will make it softer and squishier.
(I took a bunch of photos of myself tossing strawberries with a flash set on an intervalometer and discovered that when frozen in time in mid-air, macerated strawberries a) look much wetter than they do when sitting still and b) always look like they're going to splat all over the counter.)
The same macerating method will work with other juicy fruits, by the way. Ripe apricots, peaches, and plums all make for fantastic shortcake desserts, as do all manner of berry.
All that's left to do is whip some cream with a dash of vanilla and sugar while the biscuits bake, then layer everything together once they've had a chance to cool slightly. Wasn't that easy?
Now dig in and pretend that you've done enough hard work to deserve a dessert this good, then consider perhaps serving strawberry shortcake at your next international party. (You can skip the dancing.)
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