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The Sweetness of Spring

Two strawberry recipes by Anne de Ravel

Anne de Ravel

From pick-your-own fields to farmers markets and supermarkets with ties to neighborhood farming, few fruits surpass the juicy berry in inspiring us to eat and buy local.

Strawberries don’t need much. Just picked, still warm from the sun, is possibly the most sensuous way to enjoy them, or tossed with a light sprinkling of sugar and a couple of drops of Balsamic vinegar for a simple dessert. The following shortcakes scented with cardamom and lemon zest offer a sophisticated blend of flavors when served with a generous scoop of strawberries marinated with fresh mint and a hint of freshly ground black pepper. The slight spiciness underscores the essence of the sweet berries without overpowering. Another favorite in my house is the more rustic upside down cake, adapted from the classic pineapple version by Rose Levy Beranbaum, author The Cake Bible fame and other highly regarded baking books ( The cake is best prepared few hours ahead and left at room temperature to soak up of the caramelized lemony strawberry syrup.

Whether buying at a farm stand or in a supermarket, choose unblemished strawberries with a deep red hue. They should be firm but not stone-hard. Strawberries are very delicate and should be handled with care. Rinse under cold running water with the stems still attached to prevent absorbing excess moisture. And, they should be washed just before eating or using in a recipe to avoid any spoilage.

Strawberry Shortcakes
Serves 6

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cardamom
Grated zest of a lemon
8 tablespoons cold butter, diced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk, chilled

2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste
1 ½ pounds strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2 tablespoons finely shredded mint leaves
Juice of one lemon
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pint heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cardamom into the bowl of a food processor. Add the lemon zest. Blend in the butter, using to pulse button, until it is the size of peas. Combine the eggs and buttermilk and add to the flour and butter mixture. Pulse until just blended. The dough will be sticky.

Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Pat the dough out 3/4-inch thick.

Cut 6 large biscuits with a cutter or the rim of a glass, and place on the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are crisp and the insides are fully baked. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, quarter the strawberries and combine with the sugar, lemon juice, mint and black pepper. Whip the cream until stiff peaks.

When ready to serve, split the shortcakes crosswise and place the bottom half on a plate. Spoon the strawberries over it and top with the whipped cream and the other half of the shortcake.

Strawberry Upside-down Cake
Serves 8

1 lb strawberries
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup granulated brown sugar or sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Cake Batter:
3 egg yolks
½ cup buttermilk or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1½ cups unbleached cake flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt

Rinse and hull the strawberries. Slice them crosswise and set aside.

Heat the sugar, butter and lemon juice in a saucepan. Simmer, stirring once in a while, until the sugar is dissolved and turns into a golden caramel, 4 to 6 minutes. Carefully, pour into a 10-inch round cake pan and tilt the pan back and forth to distribute the caramel evenly. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Layer the strawberry slices on top of the caramel in a decorative pattern

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with ½ of the sour cream or buttermilk and the vanilla extract.

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds just to blend. Add the butter and the remaining sour cream or buttermilk. Mix on low speed to blend. Increase to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides.

Gradually add the egg mixture to the batter in 3 batches, scraping down the sides and beating for 20 seconds after each addition.

Pour the batter into the cake mold, spreading it evenly. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden brown the cake springs back when pressed lightly in center. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.

Run a small knife around the sides and carefully invert at once onto a shallow serving plate. Leave the pan in place one or two minutes before lifting it. Cool at room temperature.

Adapted from