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A new take on shortcake

(article, Robert Reynolds)

[%pageBreakSettings nobreak=true][%adInjectionSettings noInject=true]Last week I ran into a friend who'd found the first of the season's local strawberries at the farmers’ market. 

"How can it be they're here so early when we've had so little sun?" I asked. 

"They tented the crop," he answered, offering me one with a smile that suggested I was in for a surprise.

The fruit was a beautiful red, the little, spiky leaf collar a lovely, fresh green. I smelled and waited. Sure enough, its scent suggested a ripe, sweet berry. I gazed at it in appreciation, then put the whole thing in my mouth. It burst with flavor. 

[%image feature-image width=350 float=left caption="A slice of sponge cake before the strawberry juices are spooned around the base." credit="Photo © Culinate"]

This wasn't one of those engineered berries of underripe white flesh with an external red reminiscent of printer's ink. The fruit gave when I bit. It released juice. The skin was thin, as I'd expect in cool weather, but the berry had lovely acidity, gentle and provoking in a mouthwatering way.

"They're coming. The berries are en route!" the strawberry seemed to say. Fresh, local fruit is making its seasonal return. Knowing that strawberries are not just on their way, but here, made my day. And I knew that I would be making my idea of strawberry shortcake.

In my cooking classes, I teach students to knock out perfect sponge cake in less than five minutes. The cake bakes in eighteen minutes to golden perfection. While the cake bakes, I slice strawberries and feed them a couple of tablespoons of honey to draw out their juice, as one does with sugar. Sometimes I add a little more orange marmalade to the honey; after all, it's sugar too. Out of the oven, I roll the cake up with orange marmalade. 


h1. Easy as — cake!

Watch Robert bake, roll, and slice spongecake into a delicious strawberry dessert on YouTube.


Once the rolled cake is cool, I cut it into inch-thick slices, the height of a biscuit, and place each slice in a flat soup bowl. Five minutes before serving, I add red wine to the berries to leach out more juice. If I don't want to add wine, I can add any other liquid — fruit juice or  sugar water — in sufficient amount to make the berry juice into sauce. Then I whip cream into soft peaks, adding a bit of sugar, or not. 

I spoon strawberries and juices around the base of the cake. The cake will absorb those juices, so I remember to add lots. I plop a generous spoonful of whipped cream onto the cake, admire this homage to early summer, and dig in.

h4.Robert’s Strawberry Shortcake

6 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
Tiny pinch of salt
1 cup flour, twice sifted

Butter for the cake pan
2 tablespoons orange marmalade

2 pints of strawberries
2 or 3 tablespoons honey or 2 or 3 tablespoons sugar
1 or 2 tablespoons orange marmalade (optional)
1 1/2 to 2 cups red wine, or real fruit juice
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks, sweetened with sugar if desired

Butter a 11-inch-by-17-inch cake pan. Place a piece of parchment in the pan and spread it flat to coat the paper with butter. Invert the paper so it's buttered on the cake side, and line the pan with the buttered side up.

Beat the eggs, sugar, and a pinch of salt until the eggs increase in volume two and a half times. 

Sift a third of the flour on top of the egg/sugar base, and fold gently to incorporate the flour. Try to make it happen in a dozen folds so you don't over-fold. Add the next third, and fold again. Add the final third of sifted flour, and fold once more. (The person incorporating the flour with the least number of strokes gets the highest and lightest cake and wins the church bakeoff.)

Once you're sure the flour is incorporated, pour the batter carefully into the cake pan, and tilt the pan to get the batter to the corners, rather than spreading with a spatula. The spatula will only flatten all the air bubbles you made by beating the eggs and sugar, and those bubbles are what gives the cake its lift. 

Bake the cake in a 350-degree oven for 18 minutes until golden. When you touch your finger to the top of the cake, it should spring back without leaving an impression of your finger. If it doesn't spring back, return the cake to the oven for a few more minutes. 

While the cake bakes, slice the strawberries. Add the honey and the orange marmalade if you wish, and stir. Let the berries sit for 30 minutes. 

Take the cake out of the oven and run a knife around the edge of the cake pan. Lift a corner of the cake and grab hold of the paper. Hold the other end of the cake pan and pull the cake onto the counter. Spread orange marmalade evenly and lightly over the entire surface of the cake. 

With the long side of the cake parallel to you, grab the paper under the top of the cake, then tug and fold an inch of the cake over the top of the cake. Then, pulling on the paper, roll the cake into what you'd recognize as a jelly roll. Re-wrap in the paper and set on a cake rack to cool. Take a deep breath and open the red wine. Sample if necessary, just to see if it's drinkable.

Five minutes before serving, add the wine to the strawberries and juice. Whip the cream into soft peaks. Add sugar to the cream as desired, or sprinkle that same amount of sugar over the top of the cream once it has been dolloped onto the strawberries.

To prepare the dish, slice an inch-thick piece of cake and set it in a flat soup bowl. Spoon a generous amount of strawberries and juice (there is no point in having leftovers) around and over the cake, and top it all off with whipped cream. 

p(bio). Robert Reynolds teaches cooking classes at his Chef’s Studio in Portland, Oregon. A version of this piece originally appeared in his e-newsletter.

*Also on Culinate: Reviews of books on vegan cupcakes, desserts, baking, and the Bundt cake.

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