Seasonality is one of the most important things to me when writing a menu. That’s why I was a bit thrown off when a client wanted strawberry shortcake for the dessert course at their dinner party last December. While I wouldn’t put it on a dinner party menu that I was hosting, it was her decision. I could make her strawberry shortcake in Winter if that was what she truly wanted. (I’ll leave the story about desperately searching for plums in winter for another post) I kept that simple: pound cake, fresh whipped cream, macerated strawberries, and a little strawberry sauce.
Today, I am working on the dessert for a Spring menu that I am hosting. I’m thinking I’ll elevate and refine the traditional strawberry shortcake to my liking and then have another nice dessert up my sleeve for future events. The thing with strawberry shortcake is that yes, it technically should be a “shortcake”, but over the years people have mixed it up. You often see it with pound cake, biscuits, and even angel food cake (especially with those “semi-homemade” types that like to buy items, assemble them and call it cooking. Let me say this now: If you have anything resembling that hydrogenated oil substance they call “Cool-Whip” in your fridge or freezer, we can’t be friends).
I’m opting for the biscuit this time. I’ll pull from the French Laundry Cookbook for that recipe. I also saw a cream of blueberry soup recipe in there. I’ll switch it to strawberries and adapt the recipe a bit. For a creaminess, I’m thinking a basil vanilla panna cotta which will add a nice herb note along with a pretty color. You can’t have a strawberry shortcake without whipped cream so that is a given. I’ll add a crunch with an almond tuile, scoop some parisiennes for garnish and there you have it: “Strawberry Shortcake”. My recipe for the panna cotta and adapted soup recipe is below. I’m sure you can figure out the whipped cream, biscuit, and garnish as you please.
Basil Vanilla Yogurt Panna Cotta
¼ C warm water
1 envelope powdered gelatin
2 C heavy cream
1 C whole milk yogurt
1 vanilla bean, split
1/2 C sugar
1 C loosely packed basil leaves
Sprinkle the gelatin over the warm water and allow to bloom for about 15 minutes. Heat 1 cup of the cream, the sugar, and the vanilla bean (scrape the seeds into the pot as well) in a medium sauce pot. Let simmer until sugar is dissolved and vanilla infuses into cream (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture. Place remaining cream, yogurt, and basil leaves into a blender. Blend until the leaves are so fine that it turns the mixture light green. Slowly add the warm cream and gelatin mixture to the blender while running until thoroughly combined. Pour the panna cotta into desired molds and refrigerate overnight to set. When releasing from the molds, some loosening of the sides and/or a quick dip in warm water may be necessary depending on what type of molds you use.
Cream of Strawberry Soup
1 vanilla bean, split
1 C heavy cream
1 C milk
½ C sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 C dry white wine (sauvignon blanc recommended)
Juice and Zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ P strawberries
½ C sugar
1 C Simple Syrup (Equal parts water and sugar dissolved)
Make Crème Anglaise: Scrape the insides of the vanilla bean into a medium saucepot and bring the pod, cream, milk, and ¼ C sugar to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining sugar until they are light and pale yellow. Temper the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture by constantly whisking a little at a time until both are fully combined. Return the custard to the pot and cook until thickened (coats the back of a spoon like a thick sauce). Pour the custard into a metal bowl placed in an ice water bath. Let cool completely, strain, and reserve in the fridge.
Make the soup: Reduce the wine, lemon zest, and juice until about 1.4 C remain. Strain and return to pot. Add Strawberries and sugar and let simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add the simple syrup and simmer for 15 minutes. Blend the soup using a hand or stand blender. Add enough could water to the soup so that it makes 4 cups. Cool completely using an ice water bath. Add 1 C of the crème anglaise to the soup to finish.
*This recipe creates more crème anglaise than needed, but it can be stored and used for other purposes. The soup yields about 5 cups. Serving sizes vary based on how you wish to use and present the soup.