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The Shortcake in Winter

Why wait for strawberries? Winter fruits like cranberries, pears, and pomegranates shine in shortcake desserts, too.

February/March 2015 Issue
Photos: Scott Phillips
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I wish I had some kind of quaint and heartfelt strawberry shortcake story to share, but I don’t. I just really, really love shortcake, from the tender, buttery, on-the-verge-of-being-cake biscuit to the way the juice from summer-sweet berries soaks into the crumb to that tuft of whipped cream on top. Unfortunately, here in New York City, where I live, strawberry season peaks in early June and fades in the blink of an eye. So what’s a shortcake lover like me to do the rest of the year? Get creative, that’s what. The desserts I’m sharing here revel in fruits not normally associated with shortcakes, from tart cranberries and sweet pears to bright mangoes and fun-to-eat pomegranates, all of which make for exciting, unexpected takes on a classic treat.

A little heat helps soften firm fruit. Making a shortcake in the summer is a no-brainer since ripe, juicy berries and stone fruits practically come with a built-in sauce. As I played with different fruits, I found that poaching, roasting, or sautéing them helps a lot. The heat encourages soft textures, coaxes out juices, and rounds flavor. Heating the fruit also provides opportunities to add spices, from cardamom in a syrup to spice fresh mangoes to ginger and cloves simmered with cranberries until they burst and become jammy.

The cakes themselves also take well to flavoring. By not using berries, I was already taking creative liberties with shortcake, so I decided to try adding extra ingredients, like almond flour (so decadent), cornmeal (sweet and homey), and cocoa powder (chocolate, yum!).

The secret ingredient: hard-cooked eggs. No matter which extra ingredient I used, I kept the same basic dough, which includes butter (lots), sour cream, and two hard-cooked egg yolks. The yolk may sound weird, but it’s a tried-and-true trick made popular by James Beard, the forefather of American cuisine, who got the idea from his mother. Pastry chefs in Europe also are known to add hard-cooked egg yolks to doughs to introduce more fat without contributing potentially toughening moisture. It works like a charm. (For the easiest way to hard-cook your eggs, see our “boil-and-walk-away” method, but you can even use the pre-cooked eggs from the supermarket.)

A creamy topping takes the cake. I also got creative with the usual whipped cream topping in some of these shortcakes, like pairing oozy blue cheese butter with caramelized pears and creamy-tangy yogurt with sweet mangoes. Strawberry shortcakes will always have a special spot in my heart, but these winter shortcakes make me very happy in the meantime. I hope they make you happy, too.

What does the “short” in shortcake mean?

A shortcake is not called a shortcake because it’s short in stature. It’s because the interior is “short.” This means it contains lots of fat to keep gluten strands short, which in turn creates a tender, cakey biscuit.


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