I have the most intensely wonderful memories of summer evenings at my parents’ house. The sun sank, the porch lights flicked on, the smell of hot charcoals scented the air, the crickets built to a slow crescendo. Hours earlier, the action was in the front yards that lined the winding street, where kids pranced through sprinklers, pedaled down the sidewalk and played game after game, while their parents mowed the grass and weeded the flower beds. When night fell, though, the action shifted to the backyards, where families had retreated for dinner on their patios and decks. Burgers, grilled chicken, kabobs, corn on the cob, salt-and-peppered slices of tomatoes, steamed green beans: simple food, most of it cooked fast on the hot grill.
I can’t point to any real connection between this strawberry shortcake and those summer nights. I don’t remember ever eating strawberry shortcake like this growing up and I happen to know that my mother harbors a deep fear of biscuit baking due to an unfortunate omission of baking powder in her maiden attempt, which scars her still, decades later. So I’m quite certain that none of those evenings involved strawberry shortcake. The aforementioned bowls of ice cream, sure. Or maybe a root beer float, fresh split peaches, or, if we were very lucky, a trip to the Dairy Queen.
But, even so, this strawberry shortcake conjures those evenings. Just like those summer night memories, there’s something nostalgic about this recipe, something happy and comforting, something almost too all-American. Does this make any sense? Do you ever connect a food with a memory, to a time or a place, even though you never actually ate the food in that time or place? You do, right? It’s not just me, is it?
Or maybe I’m just strange. Either way, a few days ago, I did my very best to establish a link—a real, historically accurate link—between this shortcake and those suburban summer nights. I made a platter of the shortcakes last Saturday, when Kevin and I were in Minnesota visiting my family. The weather was cold, so we were huddled around the dining table, rather than out on the back deck, but we hardly cared because there were still burgers and these strawberry shortcakes.
Adapted from various Bon Appetit and Gourmet recipes
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt, divided
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, chilled
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mascarone cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Pat chilled dough into a round about an inch thick. Using a lightly-floured 3-inch biscuit cutter, stamp out rounds. Repeat with scraps. Place rounds on prepared sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool completely.
Make strawberries: Combine strawberries, 1/2 cup sugar and balsamic vinegar. Set aside, allowing the flavors to develop for at least 1 hour.
Make mascarone cream: Whisk together sour cream, mascarone, remaining sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and remaining salt in a medium bowl. Chill.
Assemble: Slice the biscuits in half horizontally. Divide the strawberries and mascarpone creams among the biscuit bottoms. Top with the biscuit tops and serve.