I add a taste of Ireland to the classic American summer dessert of berry shortcakes, by substituting strawberry scones for the usual biscuit style cake. This scone recipe is more cake than bread. The lemon and turbinado sugar topping provides a satisfying crunchy contrast to the sweet, tender cake. Very easy to make, they are beautiful enough for a special occasion brunch (I recommend strawberry shortcakes with mimosas.) In June, when the first, jewel-like strawberries appear in the market, I make them with strawberries alone. For July 4th celebrations, I mix blueberries with strawberries and raspberries for a patriotic red, white and blue dessert.
Recently, they were my contribution to an impromptu barbecue at my friends Denise and Mike’s lovely lakefront home. As the proud and exhausted parents of four month old triplets, Denise and Mike were sticking close to home, so friends brought the party to them. We took turns feeding and changing the beautiful babies before sitting down to a summer potluck feast of grilled chicken and hot dogs, homegrown garden salad, cheese, wine and mixed berry shortcakes.
- ½ cup chopped strawberries
- 4 cups unbleached white flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsps. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 4 oz. unsalted butter cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 cup plain yogurt (not nonfat)
- Shortcake topping:
- 2 tbsp. turbinado sugar
- 1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 4 cups mixed berries, (sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 2 cups chilled heavy cream, preferably organic, whipped
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a bowl, combine the berries with the juice of 1 lemon and 2 tbsp. granulated sugar. Stir gently together until blended. Cover and refrigerate for ½ hour, stirring occasionally.
- Mix together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the egg. Stir in the chopped strawberries. Then fold in the yogurt to make a fairly wet dough.
- Turn out the dough onto a floured surface. With floured hands, shape it into a ½ inch high round. Using a 3 inch biscuit cutter, cut out eight shortcakes.
- Mix turbinado sugar and lemon zest together. Sprinkle over the top of the shortcakes.
- Place shortcakes on a greased baking sheet, bake for 20 minutes in preheated 400 degree oven until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.
- Remove shortcakes from oven, transfer to a cooling rack for about an hour. If not using the shortcakes right away, store in an airtight container.
- To serve, slice each shortcake in half horizontally. Place shortcake bottom halves, sliced side up on a serving platter or individual plates. Top each with some of the berry mixture and whipped cream. Then top with the other half of the shortcake. Serve immediately.
As a young teenager in North County Dublin I rode my bike to school and to visit friends along the aptly named Blackberry Lane. In the waning days of school summer holidays, it was typical for someone’s mother to set bored teenagers to work gathering the wild blackberries for jam. Since blackberries do not contain a lot of pectin, the berries were usually combined with pectin-rich cooking apples to help set the jam. The deep purple jam was a luscious treat on homemade bread or scones with or without Kerrygold butter.
Many of us are intimidated by the idea of making homemade jam because it brings to mind sterilizing jars, copious amounts of boiling water and the fear of botulism. But making ready to eat jam in small quantities is surprisingly quick and easy.
This quick blackberry jam is a delicious filling for mini jam tarts served with afternoon tea. I followed Irish cooking maven Darina Allen’s advice to heat the sugar before adding it to the fruit so it dissolves more quickly. I added lemon balm, a member of the mint family that has an interesting lemony-mint flavor, to the jam at the end for a more complex flavor. The addition of lemon balm is totally optional. Have fun by experimenting with other herbs.
This jam is not shelf stable and should be stored in the refrigerator. If you want to make larger quantities and preserve them follow directions for canning jam. The canning and preserving blog HomePreservingBible.com is a good resource. Darina Allen’s excellent “Forgotten Skills of Cooking” has a detailed section on canning, or bottling as it is called in Ireland.
- 1 small apple
- ¼ cup water
- 3 cups blackberries
- 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon balm , leaves torn into small pieces – optional
- Heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place a small plate in the freezer for testing the firmness of the jam once it is cooked.
- Peel and core the apple. Cut it into slices. Place in saucepan with the water. Heat over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the apple slice have softened. Drain apples and mash with a potato masher. Set aside.
- Spread sugar on rimmed baking sheet. Place in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
- Wash and pick over the berries. Discard any overly soft berries.
- Place them in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat for five minutes until they soften and release their juice. Stir occasionally.
- Stir in warmed sugar and mashed apple.
- Place back on the heat, bring to a boil, let cook for about 15 minutes. Skim any foam off the top. Add lemon balm or other herb if using.
- Test firmness by placing a teaspoon of jam on the chilled plate. It should wrinkle when you touch it. If not, cook jam for a few more minutes. Test on the plate again.
- When the jam is set, take it off the heat. Cool, pour into jars and refrigerate.
Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool
- 3 cups gooseberries
- 3 tbsps. Superfine (Castor) sugar
- ½ cup water
- 2 strips lemon zest
- 3 tbsps. Elderberry syrup (see note)
- 1 cup organic heavy cream
- 1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
- Wash gooseberries, if sieving them for a puree there is no need to top and tail the berries. If you desire a chunkier fool with pieces of fruit, top and tail berries. Place them in a heavy bottomed saucepan with the sugar, lemon zest and water. Heat the fruit over a medium heat for about five minutes until the berries burst. Remove the saucepan from the heat, let cool, then chill in the refridgerator for about an hour.
- When the berries have chilled, pour off any excess liquid, then using a mixing spoon and a sieve, make a fruit puree by pushing the berries through the sieve. Add the elderflower syrup to the puree.
- Beat the heavy cream with a hand mixer until it forms soft peaks, but is not stiff.
- Fold in the yogurt. Then fold in the fruit, swirling the puree through the cream-yogurt mixture. Serve in pretty glasses or bowls with a sprig of mint and thin lemon cookies.
Elderflower syrup is available at European, particularly Eastern European, food stores. You could substitute St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur that is widely available.
Seeing gooseberries at Chicago’s Green City Market this week made me nostalgic for a very old-fashioned dessert, gooseberry fool. Fools are cream and fruit based desserts dating back to the fifteenth century. They are traditionally made with whipped cream, custard and fruit – usually berries. Given the time of year gooseberries are in season in the Midwest, custard seemed awfully heavy for our typically hot, humid days. I lightened up this version calorically and otherwise by substituting Greek-style yogurt for the custard. As a result, this Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool is refreshingly tart and light as air.
Gooseberries are naturally tart and, like cranberries, need to be cooked with sugar to bring out their sweetness. Wine-colored gooseberries seem to be the only variety available at my local farmers’ markets, but this recipe can be prepared with the green variety too. The wine-colored variety are slightly sweeter and turn the fool a delicate pink when mixed with the cream and yogurt. It’s important to use organic heavy cream in this recipe to more closely replicate the rich, yellow cream of Ireland.