`For Julia Child's birthday dinner [this summer] we made one large, round shortcake with fresh peaches, apricots, raspberries, blackberries, and wild blueberries,' says Boston restaurateur Jasper White of Jasper's. `All were native berries at the peak of ripeness - and she loved it.... It's a very simple recipe but a really nice dessert any time of year and can be made with pears, apples - any nice fresh fruit. It doesn't have to be strawberries.
`Shortcake is the epitome of simple country cooking and depends on the quality of the ingredients, not on the expertise of the cook,' he explains. This recipe is based on one in Mr. White's `Cooking From New England' (Harper & Row, 1989). 2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour 1/4 cup granulated sugar 4 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter 1 egg, beaten l/3 cup milk 3 to 4 pints fresh berries (or substitute any fresh fruit; see note above) Granulated sugar (for berries) Simple syrup (recipe follows) 4 cups sweetened whipped cream (recipe follows) Confectioners sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Generously butter a 7-to-8-inch ovenproof skillet or round 8-inch cake pan; set aside.
Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces, about the size of a hazelnut, and add to the flour mixture; mix gently. Add egg and milk and mix until dough sticks together. Knead gently.
Transfer dough to the prepared skillet or pan and shape it, patting gently; bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Time the baking so the shortcake will be still warm when served.
While shortcake is baking, prepare the fruit, setting aside a few of the best ones to put on top. Cut the rest of the berries in half if they are very large. Sprinkle with sugar to taste, if desired, or a few drops of simple syrup; set aside. Whip cream; refrigerate it until ready to assemble the cake.
To assemble: Split shortcake while still warm. Cover the bottom half with berries and add a bit of whipped cream. Add top half of cake and cover with whipped cream. Decorate with berries that were set aside and serve immediately. Dust with sifted confectioners sugar. Serves 8. SWEETENED WHIPPED CREAM
Thick, farm-fresh, non-homogenized cream is best for whipping. If not available, buy heavy or extra-heavy cream, not so-called whipping cream, which has the bare minimum of butterfat needed. 1 cup heavy cream 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Combine cream and vanilla in chilled bowl. Beat until cream begins to thicken. Add sugar and continue beating until desired consistency is reached. I like soft whipped cream for most uses and it should be only very lightly flavored with vanilla and sweetened with a little sugar. SIMPLE SYRUP
Most professionals use simple syrup for sorbets and for macerating fruit and moistening cakes.
For 4 cups of syrup, combine 2 cups sugar with 3 1/2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling, uncovered, 3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator. It keeps indefinitely.