And I repeat: Strawberries!

May 11, 2016

Strawberry shortcake with creme fraiche on top. Kill me now.

Strawberry shortcake with creme fraiche on top. Kill me now.

This time of year, the strawberry shortcake is just canonical. And there are as many ways to make it as there are cooks who do.

When I was growing up, we generally tended toward the sponge-cake-you-bought-at-the-grocery style of shortcake. You know, the ones with a hollowed-out top you put the berries in.  My former mother-in-law made a killer angel food cake, and was a devotee of using that as a base for berries. More traditional shortcake makers use a sugar-cookie-type cake, or a pie crust dusted with sugar and baked in flat wafers or strips, or something along the order of a sweetened biscuit.

You can even take a page from the esteemed Bulldog Drive In in Bald Knob, and put your strawberries over soft-serve ice cream, with shortbread wafers, whipped topping and peanuts.

I had always been a fan of pound cake as the bottom layer of a shortcake. I have a good pound cake recipe that starts with a box of cake mix and adds extra eggs, sugar, cooking oil and sour cream, and I’ll bake it up in a couple of loaf pans and freeze one and serve the other.

But this time, I had made fresh ricotta cheese, and needed to use it while it was, well, fresh. And I thought of a recipe I saved from the Food 52 website about four or five years ago and never made. And I decided I’d make it.

It’s called Louisa’s Cake, and it’s Italian in origin. It makes a mildly sweet, moist, just-doggoned-good cake that cries out for fresh fruit topping. So I obliged it.

The recipe is here. The only change I made was to use almond flavoring instead of lemon zest, as I did not have a lemon to denude of its zest. Worked.

The making of ricotta, btw, is simplicity in itself. One puts a half-gallon of whole or 2 percent milk in a pot, and heats it to about 110 degrees or so over medium heat. When it hits that level, one takes it off the heat, stirs in 1/4 cup lemon juice or vinegar and a teaspoon or so of salt, and stirs for a minute or two, until it starts to curdle, and one goes away and leaves it alone for 30 minutes or so. Then one returns and pours it through a cheesecloth-lined colander to save the curds and drain off the whey. If you want to be Miss Muffet and save the whey, set the colander over your big mixing bowl. I use the whey in bread-baking; adds protein, and gives it a little added flavor.

You have now made cheese.

Drain the ricotta at least 30-45 minutes; longer if you want a firmer cheese. If you want a crumbly, farmers’ cheese, take your cheese, gathered up in a ball in the cheesecloth, and press it on a rack under a weighted pan overnight in the fridge (with something to catch the drips, obviously). I don’t generally bother.

This stuff is several orders of magnitude better than ricotta you get at the store, because it’s fresh. It’s also several orders of magnitude cheaper. And there ain’t much any easier.

Because the lemon juice and/or vinegar precipitates out the milk solids, including milkfat, the higher the fat content of the milk, the more cheese you’ll get. I used a half-gallon of two percent, and added a cup of heavy cream for good measure; it made a pound and a half of ricotta.

I think dinner tonight will be lasagna, to use up some more of that cheese, with sliced zucchini replacing the noodles. I did that once and it was excellent, but watery, because zucchini is so moist. I’ll either roast the zucchini on a rack first, or drain it between a couple of layers of paper towels to draw some of that out.

And strawberry shortcake for dessert. You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em come on by; I’ve got half a cake left.



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