fruit desserts

Strawberry Shortcakes with Basil-Infused Whipped Cream

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It’s June! This is my absolute favorite month of the year. Beautiful weather, an open pool, baseball, strawberries, birthdays… oh the birthdays. More on that soon.

Not long after my last post, a professional opportunity presented itself that I simply could not turn down. The Gatsby and I packed up the Jeep and drove to Nebraska for a 7-week adventure (or, in The Gatsby’s case, a 7-week vacation at Grandpa’s house). There was some cooking, but mostly working and eating, little recipe-testing, and no blogging.

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The Gatsby spent part of our drive on my lap.

We’ve been back in Virginia for about two weeks and are settling in nicely after a lovely and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. I’m back at the gym, and I’ve been to the pool six times already. And I made these delicious shortcakes for an office shindig.

I LOVE whipped cream infused with herbs such as basil or mint. It’s unexpected and fun, and just a bit fancy without being over the top. These were easy to bring to the office. The night before, I infused the cream and made the shortcakes. In the morning, I whipped the cream and packed up the container along with a package of strawberries, the shortcakes, a few basil leaves, and a paring knife. At party time, I sliced the berries and set up a make-your-own assembly line.

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Strawberry Shortcakes with Basil-Infused Whipped Cream

Shortcakes from Bon Appetit
Serves 8

2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
15 large basil leaves, plus small or torn leaves
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups flour
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 lb strawberries, sliced

Infuse the cream: Bring 1 1/2 cups cream to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bruise large basil leaves by hitting repeatedly with the dull side of a knife; stir into cream. Remove from heat, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let steep for 25 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl, pressing solids to extract liquid. Refrigerate until very cold, at least 5 hours.

Make the shortcakes: Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt, and flour in a large bowl. Using your fingers, work in butter until the texture of coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces of butter remaining. Add remaining 1 cup cream and mix until dough just comes together (it will be sticky). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a rectangle, about 12 x 4″, 3/4″ thick. Cut rounds using a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps to make 8 rounds. Transfer cakes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Whisk egg and water in a small bowl. Brush tops of cakes with egg wash. Bake until tops are golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Make ahead: Shortcakes are best served fresh but can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

Assemble: Beat the basil-infused cream and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Split shortcakes and fill with berries and whipped cream. Top with additional whipped cream and basil leaves.

Suggestions and alternatives:
If you like your strawberries saucy, increase to 1 1/4 pounds berries and toss with 1/4 cup sugar (and a few torn basil leaves if you like). Macerate for an hour or more, tossing occasionally.

Substitute angel food cake for the shortcakes. If you’re grilling out, try lightly grilling slices of angel food cake before serving.

Classic Apple Pie

My boss’ birthday was a couple weeks ago, and unlike most of my coworkers, he doesn’t really care for cake or cookies. (Say whaaaaat?) He does, however, like pie — in particular, fruit pie.

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Fruit pies are best when the fruit is in season… which is hard to do in the middle of winter. Fortunately, good apples are available year-round, and apple pie is pretty easy. I used pre-made pie crusts this time, but we’ll save a pie crust lesson for a future post.

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Classic Apple Pie

2 pie crusts
5 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (about 2 pounds)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
Cooking spray
1 TBS unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 TBS milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit one crust into a standard 9″ pie crust coated with cooking spray.

Place apples in a large bowl. Combine sugar, flour and spices and sprinkle over apples, tossing to coat. Spoon over prepared pie plate. Dot with butter and drizzle with vanilla. Top with remaining pie crust. Press edges together, fold excess crust under, and flute the edges. Brush surface with milk. Cut three one-inch slits into the crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour until apples are tender.

Apple Crisp

It’s eleven days until Christmas. Eleven. AAA! Where did the time go? In the last six weeks, I’ve been cooking, baking, decorating, celebrating the holidays… but apparently not blogging.

I have several recipes lined up to compensate for my absence, starting with this apple crisp. I know it’s not  Christmasy per se, and if I’m honest it’s not the most beautiful dessert I’ve ever made, but this baby is a workhorse. It’s understated, simple, and a great finish to any meal. Serve with ice cream, a splash of cream, or just by itself. Or as leftovers for breakfast.

Use at least a couple kinds of apples — tender apples cook down and make a bubbly sauce, while firm apples give a pie filling consistency.

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Apple Crisp

Adapted from The Apple Lovers’ Cookbook, by Amy Traverso

Serves 8-10

5 large tender-tart apples (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4″ slices (try McIntosh or Jonathan)
5 large firm-sweet apples (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4″ slices (try Jazz, Jonagold, Pink Lady, or Honeycrisp)
2 tsp cinnamon, divided
2 cups (290 g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (210 g) sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Toss apples with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and arrange in a 9×13 baking dish (no need to grease); set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour baking powder, salt, sugar and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Add beaten eggs and use a fork, pastry cutter, or your fingers to work the batter until crumbly. The mixture should look like streusel (don’t worry, it’s not too dry!).

Spread topping evenly over the apples. Drizzle all over with melted butter. Bake until the topping is golden brown and apple juices are bubbling, 45-55 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes. Serve warm.