It's almost June, and June is all about strawberries. My obsession began long ago at the big Strawberry Festival that my hometown hosts every year, complete with daiquiris, shortcakes and a Strawberry Queen pageant. It was (and is?) the social event of the year for any eleven-year-old with a sweet tooth.
It would be a massive understatement to say that strawberries are my favorite food. They're my lifeblood, signaling the start of long summer days, dripping with memories of home, and begging to be folded into every bowl of yogurt, cereal or ice cream I eat. So you can imagine my excitement when I was assigned the strawberry shortbread dessert for class this week.
How could I show this seemingly simple dessert the proper level of respect? I drew diagrams of the shortbread extravaganzas I wanted to construct. I painstakingly cut out parchment paper stencils into picket fence shapes. And lo and behold, at the end of the day, the simplest way won out.
Behold, the strawberry shortbread garden. Use a round cookie cutter with scalloped edges to stamp out round cookies, then cut them in half after cooling. Using freshly whipped cream as a base, piece together a fence with cookie halves, then pop in thinly slivered strawberries. It's a super cute take on strawberry shortcake. Even better - it only takes 5 ingredients! And very steady hands...
Thanks Ballymaloe for the delicious shortbread recipe.
Strawberry Shortbread Gardens
Yield: About 12 gardens
Prep Time: 30 min Cook Time: 7 min Total Time: 1 hour (includes cooling)
6 oz / 175 g plain white flour
4 oz / 110 g / 1 stick salted buttter (or add a 1/2 tsp salt to recipe with unsalted butter)
2 oz / 50 g castor sugar
heavy cream (and a touch of sugar if you like)
tiny mint leaves or edible flowers like sweet cecily for garnish
Preheat oven to 350F / 180C.
Sift the flour and sugar into a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the butter in to make a sandy dough. Add a touch more butter if the dough won't come together.
Using a rolling pin, on a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to about 1/4" / 7mm thick. Stamp out about 24 cookies, rolling out scraps of dough til you can't make any more cookies.
Bake on your ungreased baking sheet for about 7 minutes. Keep an eye on them - they can burn quickly. Cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, whisk your heavy cream til it reaches a fairly stiff whipped cream consistency. (Or, if you're not building the gardens, leave it at a softer whip). Add a pinch of sugar if you like.
To build the gardens, cut your fully cooled cookies carefully in half. Cut your strawberries into slivers, leaving the tops attached. Pick out the tiniest mint sprigs. Put a blob of whipped cream on your plate. Line each side with a cookie half, then "plant" your berries in the garden. Garnish with mint and flower sprigs.
Voila! Summer on a plate.
For a simpler presentation, just leave the cookies whole and dollop on whipped cream with sliced strawberries.