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. Welcome Aki and Alex!
Strawberry shortcake is one of those foods that strike a deep chord with people. Who can resist the combination of softly whipped cream, juicy, strawberries, and sweet biscuits? Not us! But after gorging ourselves on classic shortcake, we began to wonder how we could take those flavors and rework them into something new and even more delicious.
Today, we'll look at the base: the shortcake. Now, we love a good biscuit as much as anybody, but all too often in strawberry shortcake, the ratio of biscuit to fruit and cream feels a little off, with too much biscuit and not enough fruit. In our eyes, strawberry shortcake is a summer dessert, meant to emphasize the berries more than anything. Instead, our idea was to use choux pastry—the same pastry used for sweets like éclairs and cream puffs, and savories like gougères—to make light, crispy puffs that balance the intensely flavorful fruit without overwhelming it.
"we thought it would be cool to infuse the pastry with flavorings that aren't immediately visible, so that the first bite would bring a wonderful surprise."
Once we settled on the choux pastry, we began wondering about flavor. Choux pastry is rarely flavored, and when it is, the additions tend to be savory (herbs, cheese, bacon) rather than sweet. Instead of stuffing the choux with little pieces of flavorful ingredients, we thought it would be cool to infuse the pastry with flavorings that aren't immediately visible, so that the first bite would bring a wonderful surprise. Our solution was to use aromatics like fresh ginger and lemongrass, that complement and enhance the berry's flavor. Basically, a little bit of herb and spice to lend some balance to that sweetness.
But we weren't done quite yet. We also wanted to enhance the texture of the choux pastry, so we decided to add craquelin to the puffs. Craquelin is often used in French pastry shops to add a crunchy topping to their baked sweets. The dough is a blend of butter, sugar, and flour, and resembles cookie dough or streusel. For our craquelin, instead of using all-purpose flour, we went for something even more flavorful: cornflakes. Their distinctive taste and crunchy texture add yet another dimension to these puffs.
In the coming days you'll see how we turned these choux puffs into a strawberry-shortcake-inspired dessert, but if you want to make them today, you can stuff them with vanilla ice cream or custard and they will still be stupendous all by themselves.