Ideas in Food vs. Strawberry Shortcake: Reinventing the Berries

To enhance the fruity flavor of strawberries, we macerate them with a strawberry sugar made from freeze-dried strawberries. Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot

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.

To enhance the fruity flavor of strawberries, we macerate them with a strawberry sugar made from freeze-dried strawberries. Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot

As you know, we're rethinking strawberry shortcake this week. Yesterday, we came up with an entirely new approach to the biscuit by creating choux puffs infused with ginger and lemongrass, and topped with crispy cornflake craquelin. Today, we're going to focus on the strawberries.

In-season strawberries should be fragrant and sweet, juicy and tender, and an absolutely delight. Sadly, most of the strawberries available in stores (and even sometimes the farmer's market) promise more than they can deliver. Since getting great strawberries is far from guaranteed, we decided to address the problem by supplementing fresh berries with a strawberry sugar that explodes with the concentrated flavor of freeze-dried strawberries.

Modern technology has made freeze-dried fruits and vegetables widely available. They're completely dry and intensely flavored—perfect for our needs. Once we made the strawberry sugar (an incredibly simple process that involves pulverizing the freeze-dried berries with sugar in a blender), we used it to macerate the fresh fruit, bumping up its flavor. We also used more freeze-dried strawberries to make a rich pudding that can be piped into our choux puffs for a creamy filling.

Freeze-dried strawberries tend to break up in the packages and can be all shapes and sizes, so we recommend that you weigh them for these recipes. (On the subject of scales: A good digital scale costs less than $20 and is available at most home goods stores and supermarkets. They are easy to use, more accurate than volume measurements of dry goods, and will drastically cut down on the number of dishes you need to wash. Once you try working with a scale, you'll wonder how you ever lived without one. Enough said.)

Even if you don't feel like making the full strawberry shortcake recipe, the strawberry sugar alone is worth making; just stir into milk for the best-tasting strawberry milk you can imagine.

If you're not up for making the entire strawberry shortcake recipe, the pudding and strawberries can be eaten together, or each on their own. As an added bonus, once you make the strawberry sugar, you're just one step away from strawberry milk. Alex likes to add 15% strawberry sugar by weight to his milk, but if you don't have a scale, you can add the sugar to taste. The powdered sugar thickens the milk just enough to hold a good froth...and everybody knows that bubbles make things taste better.

Stay tuned for the next installment, when we take on the whipped-cream component of strawberry shortcake. After that, it's in your hands to go nuts...berry, berry nuts.