Classic Strawberry Shortcake with Rhubarb Compote

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I am often enticed by the cover of the (many) food magazines that I get each month. The photography is impressive and does exactly what it ought to - it draws you in and makes you think that you need to cook that recipe NOW. This reminds me that I still need to make the Spiced Chocolate Torte wrapped in Chocolate Ribbon from the December 2010 cover of Bon App tit. I don't even like cake and still that recipe is calling to me...

When Fine Cooking arrived this month with a gorgeous shot of Classic Strawberry Shortcake on the cover, I knew I had to give it a try. Shortcake is one of my go-to summer desserts... the biscuits are easy to make and can be made ahead of time and you can use whatever fruit is in-season and looks great at your local farmer's market. This week I received rhubarb in my Door to Door Organics delivery and was inspired to add a little something extra to my strawberry shortcake - a layer of rhubarb compote. I think that a fruit shortcake dessert can often be a little dry, and usually you compensate for this dryness with more whipped cream. By adding a layer of compote, you can increase the moistness of the dessert with a healthier (and delicious) fruit layer instead of additional whipped cream (but by all means, still use whipped cream!).

This dish truly takes no more than 45 minutes of total prep time and is a great dessert for making ahead of time. The biscuits and the compote can be made in advance and the fruit can be sliced... then your guests can create their own shortcake masterpiece!

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Classic Strawberry Shortcake with Rhubarb Compote

Adapted from the Classic Strawberry Shortcake recipe from the May 2011 issue of Fine Cooking

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For the strawberries

1 lb. ripe strawberries, hulled (about 4 cups)

For the biscuits

9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. granulated sugar

2-1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

4 oz. (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large egg

1/4 cup heavy cream; more for brushing

1/4 cup buttermilk

For the whipped cream

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

For the rhubarb compote

2 lb rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces

2/3 cup sugar (or additional sugar if you prefer the rhubarb sweeter)

water

Prepare the compote

Simmer rhubarb slices, sugar and 1/2 cup water in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Simmer until rhubarb softens, approximately 5 minutes. Cool mixture to room temperature, gently stirring once or twice, about 30 minutes. Chill, covered, until ready to use.

Prepare the strawberries

Slice the strawberries 1/4 inch thick. Let the berries sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. If you prefer your berries sweeter, add sugar accordingly.

Make the biscuits

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425 F. Line a large heavy-duty baking sheet with parchment.

Sift the flour, 1/3 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, and baking soda into a large bowl. Stir in the salt. Using a pastry blender, a fork, or your fingertips, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. You can also use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment for mixing the biscuit dough but be very careful not to overmix (truthfully, I am lazy and prefer to use my stand mixer whenever possible).

In a small bowl, beat the egg and heavy cream with a fork. Mix in the buttermilk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the cream mixture. Mix with the fork until the dough is evenly moistened and just comes together; it will still look a little shaggy. Gather the dough and gently knead it three or four times. If the dough seems dry and doesn t form a cohesive mass, work in more cream, 1 tsp. at a time.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. If you prefer to have neat, circular biscuits, roll the dough into a 3/4 -inch-thick disk. With a sharp 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, press straight down to cut the dough into rounds and lift straight up to remove (don t twist the cutter or it will seal the sides of the biscuits and interfere with rising). Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheet. Gather the dough scraps, gently knead them together, re-roll, and cut out more biscuits until you have a total of 6.

If you prefer to have free-form biscuits (like I do), simply divide the dough into 6 pieces and flatten each piece to approximately 3/4-inch-thick pieces that are as rounded as you can make them. Handle the dough as little as possible. In my opinion, this is a rustic dessert and perfectly-shaped biscuits are unnecessary.

Lightly brush the biscuit tops with cream (about 1 tbsp) and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tbsp sugar. Bake, rotating the baking sheet once, until the biscuit tops are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Let the biscuits cool slightly while you whip the cream.

Whip the cream

In a large, chilled metal bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks with an electric hand mixer. (Use immediately or refrigerate, covered until ready to serve). If you prefer sweeter whipped cream, add 2 tbsp of granulated sugar.

Assemble the shortcakes

Using a serrated knife, split the warm biscuits in half horizontally and transfer the bottoms to 6 dessert plates. Spoon the berries and their juice evenly over the biscuit bottoms and cover with the rhubarb compote. Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and cover each with a biscuit top. Spoon more berries and cream over each shortcake and serve immediately.

Make ahead tips

The compote can be made up to 48 hours ahead of time. The biscuits can be baked 10 to 12 hours ahead of time and reheated in a 350 F oven before serving. The strawberries can be sliced up to 2 hours ahead and the whipped cream can be made at the same time and refrigerated, covered. If necessary, lightly re-whip before serving.

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