May 8, 2008

Strawberry Margarita Shortcakes

Sometimes recipes come together over months and weeks of trying new things and pulling different components together, but sometimes you get a bit of inspiration and the recipe flows outward from your idea to an edible dish in just a few days.

Last week I was visiting Sugarlaws and saw a recipe for balsamic whipped cream. I have to admit that I wasn't too excited to try that particular recipe, but it got me thinking about what else I might add to some whipped cream. Somehow I ended up thinking about cream and tequila, despite my normal avoidance of tequila and tequila-heavy adult beverages. I realized that I hadn't given tequila a chance since early in college and perhaps my palate, or at least my budget, had changed since then.

However, tequila whipped cream seemed incomplete, so thought about what would pair well and I realized that lime and strawberry would work really well here and then strawberry shortcake was only a small hop away. I am not a fan of traditional strawberry shortcake - I want a moist, tender cake, not something crumbly. I experimented with an almond sponge cake, and found that it fit the bill. The strawberry/lime combo is nothing exciting and new, but after an appearance last year on a yogurt cheese cake, a couple friends have requested its reappearance.

I whipped it all up and served it at a Cinco de Mayo themed dinner this week to rave reviews. I found that the strawberries and whipped cream are very simple (If you want an easy preparation of this recipe, make the whipped cream and stawberries and serve over store-bought cake), but the cake benefits from a heavy-duty stand mixer. The amounts of sugar and tequila are dependent on personal taste and the natural sweetness of the strawberries, so consider these amounts suggestions and taste each part as you make it and right before serving. Adjust as necessary.

Strawberry Margarita Shortcakes

Serves 6

1 lb fresh strawberries
2 key limes
tequila (I suggest a high quality aged tequila)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Clean and quarter the strawberries. Place in a bowl and then using a microplane, zest the one whole lime into the strawberries. Juice the lime and add that to the strawberries. Add about a 1/4 cup of sugar and two tablespoons tequila. Stir gently and refrigerate until ready to use - at least 30 minutes.

Pour the cream into a bowl and zest one lime into the cream (you can add the juice of that lime to the strawberries as well). Add 1/4 cup of sugar and stir for a minute with a whisk. Add 3 tbs tequila and start whipping the cream. You want to reach soft peaks - any further and you'll start to make butter. This should be done no more than 15 minutes before serving.

The Cake:
6 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 almond flour (sometimes called almond meal)
3/4 cup sifted flour
3 ounces melted butter, slightly cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place a pan of water on the stove on medium high. Prepare a sheet pan by buttering it, lining it with parchment paper, and buttering the parchment.

Whisk the eggs and 1/4 cup of sugar together in a metal bowl. Continue whisking as you place the bowl over the boiling water and make sure that the bowl doesn't touch the water. Whisk the eggs until they start to foam and are hot to the touch (be careful to not let the egg get too hot, if they start to curdle, remove from the heat immediately and whisk vigorously until slightly cooled).

When the eggs are hot, transfer to the stand mixer with a whisk attachment and whip at high speed for about 3-4 minutes. You want the eggs to become creamy and whip up to soft peaks.

In the meantime, sift the remaining dry ingredients together into a bowl. The almond flour probably won't all fit through the sifter, but some will and the process of trying to push it through will break up any clumps. Add what doesn't fit through to the bowl and whisk it together.

Add the extracts to the melted butter and mix. Now you're going to mix the three parts together. The goal is to deflate the eggs as little as possible. You want to be quick, but gentle. Start by gently folding a third of the eggs into half of the dry ingredients. Add the butter and gently fold together. Add another third of the eggs and the rest of the dry ingredients and fold together. Fold the last of the eggs into the batter and spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Place in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes. You want the cake to spring back when you press your finger into it. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Cool for 15 minutes. Gently remove the parchment (I leave a few inches of parchment sticking up from both ends to serve as handles) and move the cake and parchment directly to a rack. Allow to cool completely.

Cut the sheet cake into 12 evenly sized squares. You could then use a large round can or cutter to make circles out of each square (like in my pictures), serve two whole squares to each person, or break each square into two rectangles. Lay one piece of cake on a dessert plate and top with a large dollop of cream. Spoon some strawberries and juice over the whipped cream. Repeat with another layer. Serve and enjoy with extra whipped cream and strawberries.

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