First things first: you guys? You’re the best. Your excitement and support and nuggets of wisdom from when I shared our news were exactly what I needed. Thank you. It’s really been a wild ride so far, and I know we’ve only just begun.
I’m toeing a thin line between total, rock-hard pragmatism and instinctive, uncontrollable emotion. One moment, I’m all “why are the randos on the bus touching my belly?” and the next, I’m crying at a J&J commercial. It the pregnancy? Partly. But it’s also been a very newsy few weeks for my family and my loved ones, and not all the news is good. Some is worrisome, some is frustrating, some is downright scary. Life suddenly sped up, and I can’t seem to slow it down. My due date feels like the first steep drop in a roller-coaster that’s just begun its initial climb, and everything along the way — including life and health events from many others in our lives — has taken on a similar inevitability. We’re drinking life from the fire hose.
Summer is also bursting forth at unstoppable speed. Soon, we’ll be heading to the market for one last haul of strawberries. I’ll be scrambling to macerate and cook and can as many as I can so that when life gets a whole lot busier, at least I’ll have some jam. Asparagus are in full bloom, likely only a few weeks from burrowing away until next year. The weather’s unmistakably warmer, and the fruits and vegetables and herbs are paying close attention, blooming on command. With such sudden abundance, I catch myself wondering whether it wouldn’t be a little better if things could grow slightly less quickly, extending the bountiful season a bit longer, staving off the end.
But in truth, the only thing to do is to seize plenty when it manifests, make the best of it that we can, and stow away those feelings of abundance and fullness and sheer luck so that when the seasons turn and the strawberries are gone, we’ll remember how good it all was. And maybe we’ll even have a bag of strawberries in the freezer or a jar of jam in the pantry that can help extend that taste for a little bit longer.
This is a recipe for a fleeting season. It’s something to make right now, while strawberries are at their prime and it’s not too hot to light the oven. The black pepper is subtle, paired with vanilla and a bit of sugar, but it adds depth to an otherwise very agreeable dessert.
The biscuits happened because I’m not a fan of shortcakes, but buttery cakes layered with macerated strawberries and whipped cream is as perfect a combination as they come, and you’d be nuts not to embrace it one way or another. Marion Cunningham’s cream biscuits cannot be improved one iota, so that’s the template I chose. For the cream, I combined a bit of quark with whipping cream; creme fraiche also works great. You want a thick, slightly tangy cream to compliment the biscuits and strawbs. And about the berries: Use the best ones you can find. If they’re bad, ehh. If they’re great, they’ll sing.
The strawberries are red and ripe and sweet: it’s time.
Black Pepper Biscuit Strawberry Shortcakes
Built on a biscuit recipe from Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book, one of my favorites
Makes 12 smallish shortcakes
For the biscuits:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons black pepper
1-1.5 cups cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup butter, melted
For the strawberries:
2 pints strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
1.5 tablespoons sugar
For the cream:
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup creme fraiche or quark
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Macerate the strawberries: In a medium bowl, toss cut strawberries with sugar until fully coated. Set aside while you prepare the biscuits.
Make the biscuits: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and set out an unlined, ungreased baking sheet.
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and black pepper until fully incorporated. Add 1 cup of cream in a slow drizzle, stirring frequently, until the flour starts to come together. Add vanilla. If many dry bits of flour remain, add up to 1/2 cup additional cream, just until there are no large dry clumps.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times, until the dough comes together. Pat the dough into a square about 1/2-inch thick. Then cut into 12 small squares.
Dip each square into the melted butter so the butter coats all sides; then transfer squares to the unlined baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Meanwhile, make the cream: In a very large bowl, combine creme fraiche/quark and 1/4 cup of the cream. Whip with a beater or fork until fully incorporated. Then add the remainder of the cream, the sugar, and the black pepper, and beat by hand (or in a machine) until the mixture forms soft peaks. Because the quark is so thick, I found that this took less than a minute. That said. you can also follow Nancy Silverton’s technique of adding the creme fraiche/quark last. That’s here.
To serve: Slice two biscuits in half and set bottom halves on a plate. Spoon a big dollop of cream on each, and top with a big spoonful of macerated berries on the cream. Top with the top half of the biscuit; eat immediately.