Dorie Greenspan is a baking evangelist. She’ll tell you so herself: “If I can get someone in the kitchen baking and know that they’re having as much fun as I am, I’m a happy woman,” she said. “It’s my job to get you into the kitchen.” She’s been successful in doing just that, thanks to cookbooks like Baking with Julia, the tome she wrote alongside Julia Child; Desserts by Pierre Hermé, for which she collaborated with the eponymous pastry chef; and on books of her own, including Baking: From My Home to Yours and Around My French Table. If you don’t have at least one of the above on your cookbook shelf, some of your friends probably do.
For a woman with a formidable career as a cookbook writer, her prowess has evolved from admittedly shaky culinary footing. Her mother “used her oven as a breadbox; she didn’t cook, didn’t want to cook and certainly didn’t bake,” said Dorie; and at 13, in a first foray into culinary arts, Dorie burned down her family’s kitchen. When her interest in baking really crystallized, in her early 20s, it was only out of necessity. “No one would have guessed that food was going to be what I ended up in,” she said. “I started cooking and baking because I got married very young, and my husband had a job, so I cooked because we needed to eat.”
Her cooking primers were a copy each of The New York Times Cookbook and The Settlement Cook Book, and then she baked and scribbled her way through Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts. “I learned to cook from [those] books and discovered that it made me so happy,” she said. “Everything about cooking and baking — shopping for the ingredients, holding the ingredients, the process of cooking, having people around the table.” So moved was she by her time in the kitchen and around the table that, following the birth of her son, she decided not to return to graduate school (“I’m all but dissertation for a doctorate in gerontology.”) and to devote her time to cooking and baking.
“It was impossible to think of food as a career when I was learning how to cook,” she said, “and certainly impossible as a woman,” though later she would get a position in a restaurant helmed by two women. Instead, she began writing about food, and in the ’70s, took her first trip to Paris. “The first day I was there, my husband and I split this teeny tiny wild strawberry tartlet. That was the tart that changed my life,” she said. “I had never had anything that tasted quite like that. I fell in love with the food, and I would get this physical longing to return. I studied French, and I studied French pastry. I think France has had the biggest influence on my cooking and on my life.”
The tiny strawberry tart, too, is still present her cooking 40 years later, in one way or another. “That was my first morsel on French soil, and had a big impact on me. It’s that, and that my mother, who certainly didn’t bake… made strawberry shortcake. I mean, it was Reddi-wip, but she made it, and we made it together,” said Dorie. “I have almost no childhood memories of food, except for strawberry shortcake.”
Dorie’s double-strawberry and rose shortcakes are reminiscent of Paris, which has been one of the primary influences on Dorie’s own style of cooking and eating. “When I think about dessert,” she said, “I think about it in a sort of French spirit — about how it might be done in Paris. The strawberry shortcakes I think of as being American, but there’s kind of that French touch: they’re lower [in height] than a usual shortcake; and the idea of putting rose in it came when I realized rose and strawberry are in the same family, and France has been in a sort of rose craze for the last century. So I feel like I get to do something very American, but that I get to play with it in the French style. And I do that a lot when I’m baking.”
The shortcakes are halved buttermilk biscuits — all butter, Dorie said, for both flavor and deep golden color that shortening doesn’t lend — crowned with a strawberry-rose compote, rose-scented whipped cream and sliced fresh strawberries. “I made [the shortcakes] tiny and romantic, but you could make them really voluptuous,” said Dorie. “Spoon the cream over and dribble the compote over that… Deconstruct, reconstruct. It also says summer. Warm days, fun times. It feels like picnics and outdoors.”
The shortcakes — easily adaptable, classic and approachable are very much in line with her philosophy as a baker, one that is central to her forthcoming cookbook, Baking Chez Moi, due out October 28: “What I’ve tried to do in all of my books, and it’s true in Baking Chez Moi, is I’ve tried to simplify recipes — not in terms of changing their flavors or cutting out elements, but simplifying the ways that they’re made so that everyone can be successful,” said Dorie. “I like to think that I’ve made the recipes so doable that even a first-time baker could open it up, see something and think, ‘Ah! I could make this.’ Nothing makes me happier than knowing someone is in the kitchen baking.”
Driscoll’s Double-Strawberry and Rose Shortcakes
By Dorie Greenspan
Makes 12 shortcakes
For the rose petal decoration:
3 unsprayed roses
1 to 2 very fresh organic egg whites
Store bought candied rose petals
For the strawberry compote:
3/4 pound (about 3 cups) strawberries, hulled
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure rose extract
For the lemon-buttermilk biscuits:
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup cold buttermilk
For the whipped cream:
1 cup very cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon pure rose extract
1 tablespoon cold sour cream, optional
Red or pink food coloring
For the topping:
1/2 to 3/4 pound (about 2 to 3 cups) strawberries, hulled
To make the rose petal decoration:
Several hours ahead or the day before, separate the rose petals, rinse them quickly in cold water and pat them dry. Put one egg white in a small bowl and whisk until it’s foamy. (You may or may not need the second white.) Put the sugar in another small bowl and place a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat on the counter. One at a time, dip a petal into the white and let the excess drip back into the bowl. Drag the petal through the sugar to coat both sides very lightly. Dry the petals on the paper or mat in a cool, non-humid place for at least 6 hours or for as long as overnight.
To make the strawberry compote:
Coarsely chop the berries and toss them into a small saucepan with the sugar. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the juices are slightly thickened and syrupy. Scrape the berries and syrup into a bowl, stir in the rose extract and cool to room temperature. (You can make the compote up to 3 days ahead and keep it covered in the refrigerator.)
To make the biscuits:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl and, working with your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the rest of the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk to combine. Drop in the pieces of cold butter and, again using your fingertips, crush, rub and blend the butter in. You’ll have flakes of butter and small pieces and this is just right. Pour the cold buttermilk over the mixture, switch to a fork and toss and stir everything together until the milk is absorbed — your dough might look like curds, but that’s fine. Don’t stir too much, too vigorously or for too long, and if there are a few dry spots in the bottom of the bowl, ignore them. Reach into the bowl and knead the dough gently, folding it over on itself and turning it over 6 to 8 times.
Dust a work surface lightly with flour, turn out the dough and, still using your hands, pat the dough out until it is 1/2 inch thick. (The thickness is what’s important here.) Using a high-sided 2 inch cutter, cut out biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Pat the scraps together until they’re 1/2 inch thick and cut out as many more biscuits as you can. (The leftover dough can be cut into biscuits, but they won’t rise as high or as evenly as the others — you can keep them as your baker’s treat).
Bake for 15 to18 minutes, or until the biscuits have risen gloriously and their tops and bottoms are golden brown. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow the biscuits to cool until they reach room temperature. (The biscuits can be made up to 6 hours ahead; keep them uncovered at room temperature.)
To make the whipped cream:
Working with an electric mixer, beat the cream just until it mounds softly. Still beating, add the sugar, followed by the vanilla and rose extracts. When the cream is fully whipped and holds firm peaks, quickly beat in the sour cream, if you’re using it. To tint the cream, beat in just one drop of coloring; continuing adding coloring a tiny drop at a time until you get the shade of pink you want. (The whipped cream can be made up to 3 hours ahead and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator; whisk a couple of times before using.)
To make the topping:
Just before you’re ready to put the shortcakes together, stand the berries up and, using a thin-bladed knife, cut each berry into 4 or 5 thin slices.
To assemble the shortcakes:
If you’d like to pipe the whipped cream, either spoon the cream into a pastry bag fitted with an open star or plain tip, or spoon the cream into a zipper-lock plastic bag and snip off a corner. Alternatively, you can simply spoon on the cream.
Slice off the top of the biscuit to create an even surface for piping the cream. Save the tops to nibble on later. Put a teaspoonful of strawberry compote and syrup in the center of each biscuit. Pipe (or spoon) a circle of whipped cream around the compote, leaving a bit of compote uncovered. Finish each shortcake by pressing two or three slices of strawberry together, fanning them out a little and placing them, broad side down, in the center of each cake. Add a rose petal for the finishing touch. (If you have any extra compote and/or cream, cover and keep in the refrigerator to enjoy at another time.)
Arrange the shortcakes on a platter. Scatter the remaining rose petals around the platter and serve immediately.
Photos and video by Jeff Bush. The strawberries for this shoot were provided by Driscoll’s.