As May carries on and we approach Memorial Day, I am always drawn back to memories of my home town, Port Chester, NY. Around this time of year days were getting warmer, school was coming to an end, and the various summer festivals were starting to be planned. Lyon Park always had something going on.
One of my favorite festivals, one that my grandmother participated in, was the DAR Strawberry festival. It wasn't that much, it wasn't that big, but all of the older ladies from the DAR would dress up in white bonnets and set up tables by the Bush-Lyon Homestead (George Washington slept there!). The ladies would serve various strawberry themed dishes, including horrible strawberry-rhubarb pie.
The best dish of them all, though, was Strawberry Shortcake.
Now, you've heard me talk down about the completely overused chocolate cakes. You've heard me rhapsodize the virtues of the yellow cakes (so many frostings!). I've even pondered the true enigma and value of the red velvets. Strawberry Shortcake, though, is a cake that falls well outside your usual cake types.
Let us start with the actual cake. Quite the surprise, your typical shortcake is actually a savory - much more along the lines of a biscuit, maybe approaching a scone, than a sweet and fluffy cake. I do truly enjoy my shortcake to be somewhat dry and crusty on the outside, moist and crumbly inside. If done right, the shortcake will be sufficiently porous to absorb some of the strawberry syrup without becoming soggy or breaking apart.
Obviously, you don't take the strawberries and just toss them on top of the shortcake. I highly recommend slightly treating the strawberries with a small amount of sugar before adding them to mix. Do not overpower them with sugar! Just mix in a little in a bowl, leave them overnight in the fridge. It should do just the trick to remove the tartness of the strawberries. An extra word of caution - do not think you are adding anything by mixing in other berries! Keep it to strawberries and keep it pure.
Of course, we cannot forget the syrup. Critical, crucial, it must be made with a delicate hand. Chefs! Study your reductions. Delicacy is the operational word here - do not overdo the sugar. Make certain that it is fluid enough to absorb into the shortcake but thick enough to be syrup, not liquid. Not too sweet, retain a strawberry taste. The strawberry syrup is the glue that holds the strawberry shortcake together.
As an outlier cake, the strawberry shortcake does not have frosting, per se. It cannot be served without whipped creme, though. Many novice bakers will err towards over sweetening, please don't make that mistake! The lactic sugars in the creme and the natural fats will provide all the sweetness and body that is necessary. If you cannot whip by hand, use a high speed mixer. It's ok, no one will judge you. Honestly, you should really hold off on whipping the creme until the last minute. There is something about the texture and flavor of freshly whipped creme that can be lost after even an hour or two.
Strawberry shortcake, a true summer treat. A combination of the delicate and the firm, a sensation for the eyes and mouth. Maybe those DAR ladies still hold the Strawberry Festival. Maybe it's time for another trip back to Port Chester.