Last Sunday I was perusing CraigsList as usual when I stumbled upon a listing for a piece of furniture that immediately grabbed my attention. There, labeled vaguely as an "antique dough table," was exactly what I had been searching for: an antique, glass-doored baker's cabinet. I didn't waste any time emailing the seller and setting up an appointment to look at it the next day. However, the picture in the listing didn't quite tell the whole story. This lovely piece of American furniture history was resting underneath umpteen layers of grime in a dark, creepy crawler-filled shed. Even as I gingerly investigated the structural integrity of the doors and drawers -- creepy crawlers seriously not being my thing -- a mommy opossum poked her head out of her nest to watch. This sort of situation would probably send most people packing, but under all that dirt I could see there were things about this cabinet to love -- original hardware and wavy glass, in particular -- so I gladly handed over $125 and whisked it away. (What? The seller didn't really know what she had and I sure wasn't going to tell her!) One can of Pledge and some very dirty towels later, it's now the most prominent piece of furniture in my apartment. But do you know what the best part is? I feel like I saved it!
What classic summer dessert could possibly do justice to a post about a classic piece of kitchen furniture? Strawberry shortcake, of course. Can't you just picture an apron-clad wife standing in front of this baker's cabinet 100 years ago, scooping flour from the bin and rolling out dough?* I can, and I might have done it, too, if it wouldn't be such a pain to clean flour out of the rough patches now present on the work surface. No matter. I got plenty of enjoyment just out of making my shortcakes near the old cabinet. Yes, I could talk about my newly acquired piece of home cooking history all day, which I'm sure you find irritating since all you probably want to know is whether or not this strawberry shortcake is any good. Well, the recipe is from Tom Douglas. What do you think?
Strawberry Cornmeal Shortcakes
A Tom Douglas recipe, via Star Palate: Celebrity Cookbook for a Cure
Makes 6 shortcakes
2 cups flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Sanding sugar for sprinkling
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1 quart strawberries, hulled, sliced, and lightly sugared
Sweetened whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and baking powder. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is in pea-size chunks, 7-10 times. Stir together the vanilla and the cream and then add to the butter mixture, pulsing until just combined. (If you don't have a food processor, you can do all the mixing the old-fashioned way: with a pastry blender.)
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll dough about 3/4" thick. With a round cutter, cut the dough into shortcakes about 3 1/2" in diameter.
Place the shortcakes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Set that baking sheet in or on top of another baking sheet. (This double-pan method slows the browning of the bottoms until the shortcakes are cooked through.) Brush each shortcake with a little beaten egg white and sprinkle lightly with sanding sugar. Bake until golden and cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, transfer about 1 cup of the sweetened berries to a blender or food processor and puree. Mix the pureee back into the sliced berries.
When the shortcakes have finished baking, cut them in half horizontally. Fill each of the 6 shortcake bottoms with strawberries and whipped cream. Replace the tops and serve immediately.