Friday, June 6, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake: The pound cake version

Ah, strawberry shortcake...

I was an adult before I knew there was a specific thing called strawberry shortcake. When I was a kid, it was cake - usually pound cake, because those were easy for mom to buy, topped with some cut berries and whipped topping.

On occasion, there might have been pudding involved. With or without cake. Maybe with graham cracker crumbs.

Imagine my confusion when I found out that some versions of strawberry shortcake were made with sweet biscuits instead of with cake.

But, since I didn't have any set-in-stone notions of what strawberry shortcake was supposed to be, I embraced all the versions. It didn't matter if they should have been called a trifle or a parfait. If the berries were there, I was on board.

But still, if I want that childhood nostalgia, pound cake needs to come to the party. So, this time I invited it.

Pound cake is notoriously finicky up here at high altitude. Much of the time, it turns out more like sponge cake. Or it rises up and out of the pan. Or it rises then falls. Or ... just ugh.

So, I messed around with the original pound cake ratio of 1 pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. And I changed the technique completely. While the final shape of this cake wasn't perfect (did I mention that pound cake behaves oddly at high altitude?), the texture had the denseness I was looking for.

If you try the cake at sea level, let me know how it works.

The cake and glaze can be made a day (or more) ahead of time, but I suggest making the whipped cream right before serving. You can make it earlier in the day, and give it a little whisk before serving, if that works better for you. It will last a day or two, refrigerated, but it's simple enough to make that there's no need to make a lot more than you actually need.

Speaking of whipped cream, the addition of the sour cream gives it a little hint of cheesecake like flavor. Give it a try!

Besides using the berry glaze on this shortcake, try it drizzled on waffles, pancakes, or ice cream. Or swirl it into yogurt ... or make a yogurt parfait with Greek-style yogurt, fresh strawberries, and the glaze.

Strawberry Shortcake: The Pound Cake version
Makes 1 9x5 poundcake, about 1 1/4 cups glaze, about 1 cup whipped cream

For the cake:
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla
6 large eggs
2 cups (9 ounces) all purpose flour

For the berry glaze:
1 cup strawberries
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the whipped cream:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sour cream

To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and spray a loaf pan with baking spray. I used a metal loaf pan, but I think my ceramic one might have worked a little better. Your choice, though.

Cream the butter, sugar, salt, and baking powder until light. (I used a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; you can use an electric hand mixer.) Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. You might need to pause and scrape down the bowl to make sure the butter/sugar mixture isn't clinging to the sides of the bowl.

Add the flour and beat well. This isn't the time to be all gently and foldy. Beat it for a minute or two, until the batter is smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees until a toothpick poked into the center of the cake comes out clean - about 70 minutes.

Remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on a rack.

To make the berry glaze:
Wash, core, and halve the berries and put them in a saucepan with the water and salt. Heat on medium (or med/high, depending on your stove) to boiling and let them cook for a few minutes until the berries look pale and are soft, but they haven't complete disintegrated.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Press out as much liquid as possible from the berries - but if you want a mostly-clear glaze, avoid getting pulp into the liquid. Discard the berries.

Put the liquid back into the saucepan.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cornstarch (this will keep the cornstarch from clumping) then add the sugar/cornstarch mixture to the berry juice in the pan. Heat to boiling, stirring as needed. At first, the mixture will be cloudy, but it will become clear as it boils.

Turn the heat off and taste for sweetness. Add more sugar, if desired, and stir until dissolved. The glaze will be fairly thick, depending on how much liquid evaporated during boiling. Add more water if you prefer it thinner. And keep in mind that it will thicken even more as it cools.

Let cool to room temperature. Check the thickness, and add more water, if needed. The goal for this is to be pourable. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the whipped cream:
Pour the cream into a medium bowl. Whisk until it begins to thicken - you'll feel it.

Add the salt and powdered sugar. Stir them in with the whisk, then continue beating until the mixture is the consistency of sour cream or thick yogurt. Add the vanilla and sour cream, and continue whisking until the cream reaches the soft peak stage.

To assemble the shortcake:
Cut a slice of cake and lay it on a plate. If you want a layered look, you can cut the slice in half or quarters. Or, for big appetites, use two slices of cake, and make two layers.

Top the cake with sliced strawberries, then drizzle the glaze on top. Finish with a dollop of whipped cream and serve.

If you like, pass the extra glaze and the whipped cream at the table for those who want to indulge.