It’s strawberry time here in Florida. Every year, from December through March, Florida strawberries dominate the markets throughout the United States. They’re ubiquitous in grocery stores, packed in their plastic containers. We Floridians also find these, plump, juicy, ripe and sweet little red orbs in profusion at our local farmers’ markets and in the roadside stands that dot the landscape along our roads. For the more adventurous, there are numerous U-Pick farms, where you can dive right in and pick bushels of your own ruby red jewels.
For the strawberry farmers in our state, it is a multimillion dollar business. For the home grower, it can be a delicious and rewarding endeavor. Strawberries can be successfully in grown in garden patches as well as in pots and hydroponic containers. There is almost nothing in this world as satisfying to the senses as biting into a just-picked strawberry, still warm from the sun, with rivulets of sweet juice dripping down your chin. I know what I’m talking about. My father used to plant a small strawberry patch in his garden each year. His berries were the sweetest and most succulent I’ve ever had. I remember how he used to laugh as he peeked out of our kitchen window to see all the neighborhood children sneaking into the garden to swipe a few!
Plant City, Florida, is the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.” Over five thousand acres of strawberry crops are planted there annually. It is also the home of the Florida Strawberry Festival. The festival dates all the way back to the early 1930′s, when members of the Plant City Lions Club envisioned an event to celebrate the bountiful harvest of Florida strawberries. This festival features agricultural and horticultural exhibits, crafts, social events, contests, parades, top-name entertainment and of course, lots and lots of strawberries! The Florida Strawberry Festival is held every year from the last week of February through the first week of March. If you ever get the opportunity, you should check it out. It represents Florida history and culture at its finest.
…When Elly, of Elly Says Opa! announced that she was hosting a new blog event called Eat to the Beat, I was intrigued. The theme of the event is to make and post about a food or drink that somehow relates to something musical, such as a song, an album or a band. As a musician with a passion for food, I loved the idea of fusing the two together. As a Floridian, I knew that I had to submit an entry that highlighted the Florida strawberry. I chose a dish that showcases the strawberry in its purest form – Strawberry Shortcake. The song I chose to pair it with was a natural – The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever, by Lennon and McCartney. Have a listen:
“Let me take you down
cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever”
There are more different strawberry shortcake recipes out there than I can possibly count. Google alone lists almost 60,000 of them! The major differences you will find among recipes are the type of “cake” and the kind of creamy filling used in the dish. Some call for an angel food, pound or sponge cake for the base. I prefer the traditional biscuit shortcake. It is firmer, thus, it doesn’t fall apart when you put the berries inside. Also, it isn’t as sweet as a regular cake, allowing the strawberries to be the star of the show. I like to adorn my shortcakes with nothing but pure and rich, freshly whipped cream. This is the kind of shortcake that I grew up on, and I’m sticking with it!
Sometimes, I make individual shortcakes that more closely resemble actual biscuits. Other times, I make one great big shortcake and stuff it with berries and cream until it is overflowing. One year, I did this for my brother’s birthday. My strawberry shortcake is his favorite, so I made him a giant birthday cake version of it. It was incredibly messy, but also incredibly delicious! For this event, I decided to make the individual shortcakes, just because I felt it would be easier to photograph that way. Between you and me, I’d rather have it the other way. You can cut much bigger pieces!
The key to a great shortcake is a light, flaky biscuit base. The key to that, is a recipe that incorporates a substantial amount of butter into the dough. It’s those tiny bits of butter that melt down during baking and give the shortcake its melt-in-your-mouth quality. What elevates a mere strawberry shortcake into a higher realm of greatness is using the freshest, sweetest strawberries that you can get your hands on. Although, they didn’t need it, I added a few teaspoons of orange liqueuer to my berries to give them a little zing.
I like to use White Lily brand flour whenever I make biscuits or shortcakes. It is a “soft” flour that has a lower protein and gluten content, which makes it ideal for this kind of baking. I’ve also used their shortcake recipe this time. There are countless other excellent recipes, but White Lily is synonymous with Southern baking, so I though it was a fitting choice. I must tell you, I often use Bisquick’s recipe for shortcake too. It is fast, easy and produces a really nice result. I know that it’s a shortcut, but sometimes we all need shortcuts. PLEASE DON’T JUDGE ME!
Anyway, I hope the next time you see Florida strawberries in your market, you’ll think of me and hum along to Strawberry Fields Forever, while making some amazing strawberry shortcake!
Florida Strawberry Shortcake
Adapted from the White Lily web site
4 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. orange liqueur
2 cups White Lily Self-Rising Flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into small cubes
1/3 cup half and half plus a little more for brushing tops of shortcakes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
In a medium-sized bowl, combine strawberries with the 1/2 cup of sugar and orange liqueur. Let it sit while you make the shortcakes.
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine flour and sugar. Cut butter or margarine in until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk half and half and egg together until blended. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture to make a stiff dough.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently 8 to 10 strokes. Roll or pat dough to 1/2- to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a biscuit or cookie cutter. Place shortcakes 2 to 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Brush tops lightly with more half and half. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Place shortcakes on individual serving plates. Split shortcakes in half and spoon strawberries and cream between layers. Replace top layer and spoon on additional strawberries.
Top with copious amounts of freshly whipped cream!
Garnish with fresh whole strawberries, if desired.
For more delicious recipes like this, check out:
Strawberry Shortcake at Pinch My Salt
Strawberry Shortcake at Simply Recipes
Strawberry Love Dessert and Its Coconut Cream at La Tartine Gourmande
Strawberry Lime Tartelettes at Tartelette
Strawberry Charlotte at Kitchen Wench
Strawberry Mousse Cake Strata at Use Real Butter