There is nothing quite like the English strawberry. It truly marks the beginning of summer, conjuring up images of sunshine, picnics in the park, Wimbledon, Pimms, and lazy afternoons. The sweet little heart-shaped fruits are adorable to look at, never mind their candy taste. But I happen to like the knobbled, gnarled, straight-from-the-farm berries. For some reason, they taste better, as if they've just been plucked from the ground, still warm from the sun. A quick rinse and a slice of the knife and they become just as beautiful as the perfectly rounded ones you find in your local Sainsburys. And why not show off these seriously British berries with a whimsical American recipe? The strawberry shortcake has become a bit lazy in recent years. Step into any Stateside supermarket during the summer and you're bound to see a towering display of ready-made mini angel-food cakes sitting next to the strawberries. You might also find that weird chemical dessert, cool whip, nearby as well. Those three ingredients are what passes for a timeless classic recipe these days. But with a little extra effort, why not make the real thing? The result is something bordering on a scone (or a biscuit), but not quite as crumbly, and a sweet red sauce with tumbling bites of strawberry. When served with some plain cream, or maybe vanilla ice cream, it could pass for a meal in itself.
My favorite part about strawberry shortcake is how easily it can be adapted to suit an allergy-free diet. As the cake part doesn't include eggs to begin with, all that remains is to substitute a different type of butter (maybe goat's butter, or vegan margarine) and a non-dairy milk. You may also want to experiment with gluten-free flours - although I used plain spelt flour in the version below and it worked out really well. One further alteration I made lies in the strawberry topping - I used agave nectar instead of sugar. The sweetness still lingers, while tipping slightly farther to the healthy side of the scale. This recipe is a summer treat that would be a great addition to any barbecue, picnic, or rainy day dinner.
Strawberry Spelt Shortcake
Makes 6-7 cakes
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1/3 cup agave nectar
- 24 medium strawberries, hulled and chopped
- 1 3/4 cups plain spelt flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup goat butter (or vegan margarine)
- 1/2 cup rice milk (or other non-dairy milk)
- Prepare the strawberry sauce first. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, agave nectar, and strawberry pieces. Stir until fully coated and combined, until the liquid in the bowl is slightly red. Set aside until ready to serve or refrigerate.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Then cut in the butter with two knives (or cheat by using a food processor). Continue cutting until the mixture resembles small peas. Add the milk a little bit at a time and mix the dough with your hands to combine.
- Spread a piece of plastic wrap on your work surface and transfer the dough on top. Roll into a log, about 2-3 inches in diameter. Wrap the dough in the plastic wrap and place in the fridge for about 20 minutes to cool.
- Heat the oven to 425F and grease a baking tray.
- Take the dough out of the fridge, unwrap, and slice into 3/4-inch rounds. Place onto the greased baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cakes are slightly browned.
- To serve, slice a cake in half and place in a bowl or plate. Spoon some of the strawberry mixture on top and allow the juice to soak into the cake. You may also wish to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of heavy cream. (Goat or oat cream work well if you can find them!)