I think the last time I posted I lamented the sluggishness of the oncoming spring weather here in Omaha. Well, surprise surprise, it’s still not here. We’ve had freezing rain, snow, rain, clouds, wind, and pretty much everything else you can think of that isn’t spring weather. To top off the disappointing weather, I have been deep in finals for this semester at school.
With this easy version of strawberry shortcake, I hoped to usher in the sun, the budding trees, and the singing birds. For the moment, it lifted our spirits, but ultimately, spring has yet to be sprung here in my lovely city.
This isn’t so much a shortcake as it is a sponge cake. It’s light and airy due to the whipped egg whites, but it retains a tender cake texture because of the egg yolks, sugar, and small amount of flour.
What I love so much about strawberry shortcake is that there are many variations or additions one can make. For instance, one could add Cointreau or Grand Marnier to the strawberries as they macerate. Instead of a liqueur, one could add a splash of balsamic vinegar or even the seeds from a vanilla pod.
As for the cake, I could see orange zest as being a nice addition to the batter. Or perhaps a dash of cardamom for a floral note? I enjoy adding fresh herbs to my desserts and I think a little fresh thyme would be lovely in the batter!
I’m going to continue wishing for sunny spring weather. It’ll arrive, I know it. In the meantime, I’ll bake as though it’s already here.
Special equipment: Two 18 x 13-inch rimmed baking sheets, parchment paper, wire cooling rack, large offset spatula
2 pounds strawberries, washed, hulled, and cut into quarters (or half, depending on their size)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau, Grand Mariner, or balsamic vinegar (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or the seeds from one vanilla pod (optional)
For the cake:
Unsalted butter or Pam for Baking spray for coating the baking sheet (I use the spray; it’s easier)
7 large egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
10 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced (optional)
2 teaspoon fresh orange zest (optional)
For the whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the strawberries:
Combine berries and sugar (and any additions) in a medium bowl. Allow to sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, while you make the cake.
For the cake:
Heat oven to 350ºF and arrange rack in the middle of the oven. Cut 2 (18-inch) pieces of parchment paper. Trim 1 of the pieces to 18 by 13 inches; set both aside. Coat an 18 x 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with Pam for Baking spray (or unsalted butter), line it with the trimmed piece of parchment paper, spray the top of the paper with more Pam for Baking spray; set aside.
Place the egg yolks, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the vanilla (as well as thyme or zest, if using) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until pale yellow and thickened. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour and mix until just combined. Transfer the mixture to a large (as big as you have, really) mixing bowl and set aside.
Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl, return it to the mixer, and fit it with the whisk attachment. You don’t want any residual egg yolk (protein) in the mixer bowl, as it will not allow your egg whites to fluff up appropriately.
Place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl and whisk on high speed until soft peaks form (think of soft-serve ice cream). Gradually add the remaining 1/3 sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula, fold a quart of the egg whites into the reserved yolk-flour mixture until evenly incorporated. Gently and slowly, fold in the remaining egg whites until just combined and no large white streaks remain. Take your time with this.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Using an offset spatula, spread it into a very even layer, smoothing the top.
Bake until the cake is starting to pull away from the edges of the pan, the top springs back when pressed with your finger, and it’s no longer sticky to the touch, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place a large, clean metal or glass bowl and clean beaters (or a whisk) in the freezer to chill for the whipped cream.
Here’s where it might get tricky. Just be gentle and deliberate with your movements. Remove the cake from the baking sheet by placing the second piece of parchment over the top of it. Place an upside down rimmed baking sheet over the parchment. Flip the baking sheet over (be careful while handling a hot pan) and gently peel off the bottom piece of the parchment; discard parchment. Slide the cake off the second baking sheet onto a wire rack. Allow it to cool while you make the whipped cream.
For the whipped cream and assembly of the cake:
Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the chilled bowl and beat with hand mixer or whisk until medium peaks form. Place bowl in refrigerator.
Transfer the cooled cake with the parchment to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, trim the edges of the cake to make a 16- x 11-inch rectangle. Cut the longer side of the rectangle in to 4 (4-inch) strips. Cut each strip into 4 equal rectangles. Variation: using a round biscuit cutter, cut rounds out of the large rectangle.
Place one cake portion on plate, top with strawberries and whipped cream, add another cake portion and repeat with strawberries and cream.