Hey you…you like-a the berries? Come closer, I give you a berry.
I was not in Whole Foods today to buy strawberries, I was there to buy a pork product for this Thursday. No, I will not specify beyond that; I’ve already said too much and will now have to reach through the internet and kill you. But as I was walking through the produce section, the berries launched a full-on nasal assault with their sweet fragrance to which I succumbed instantly. Because strawberries are the shit.
I knew immediately that I wanted to make a quick but grown-up strawberry shortcake: black-pepper buttermilk biscuits, strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar and honey-sweetened mascarpone. Can I get a hell yeah?
It’s like strawberries in heaven. I have no idea how I managed to produce this photo.
I started in on the strawberries as soon as I got home so they would have enough time to macerate (despite not having any plans for actual dinner). I sliced them up and tossed them with a bit of lime juice, some sugar and a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. If I’d planned ahead or had more time – we were in a frenzy of cleaning in preparation for a condo association meeting (exciting!) – I would have reduced the balsamic on the stove top to thicken it and deepen the sweetness.
I need not have worried about the berries having time to soften and sweeten, because the condo association took THREE HOURS. It made me long for the days when I threw my money into the black hole of a leased apartment, because then I could call the landlord to re-point my brick instead of trying to collect a $25,000 special assessment. What the fuck is brick re-pointing anyway? And why does it cost $25,000 dollars? I’ve made it through 30 years of life without shelling out 25 grand to re-point my brick, and things have turned out pretty well so far.
Seriously, 25 thousand dollars? Do they re-point them with diamond chips?
Anyway, I mostly sat there and tried not to have a heart attack because I spent all my money buying the condo. Then I thought about strawberry shortcake, and about how badly I wanted all these people to get the hell out of my apartment so I could bake my damn biscuits already and have some shortcake. And I like most of these people. But I like shortcake more.*
Just so I’m clear: 25 thousand, like with 3 zeros? Really?
The apartment finally emptied around 10:30. Normal people would just order a pizza and call it a night, but I’m not a normal person. I threw together some black pepper buttermilk biscuit dough – flour, butter, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and plenty of black pepper – in the food processor. I debated sweetening them up or using different flavorings, but I thought the bite of the black pepper would be a nice foil to the sweet berries and creamy cheese.
*If you were one of the people at the meeting: I’m not talking about YOU. I’m talking about the other people.
Maybe “re-point brick” is code for “buy a boat”?
While they baked, I mixed the mascarpone left over from the fava, pea and mint stuffed shells with some honey. Honeyed mascarpone might be one of my favorite things, and I can’t really keep it in the house or I’ll eat the whole tub with a spoon. I especially urge you to try it on some french toast. You’re welcome.
How does the boat thing work, I wonder? Maybe all the unit owners reserve it via sign-up sheet?
I pulled the berries out and gave them a stir to coat them with the juices that they bled during their maceration. A taste-test revealed not as much balsamic-y punch as I’d wanted – the vinegar mixed with the exuded strawberry juice, which sweetened it up – so I added a last-minute splash of vinegar to bring the flavor more to the foreground.
Brian was making a last-minute dinner for himself – cheeseburger scrambled eggs to go along with the biscuits – but I decided to skip the formal meal and just go with the strawberries.
Maybe I can sell these to make the re-pointing money? I’d only have to sell 10 or 12 thousand.
I split a biscuit while it was still warmed, spooned on mascarpone, heaped on the berries and drizzled extra balsamic berry juice over the whole thing. Then I ate it, and built another one, and ate that one.*
The biscuit was flaky and multi-layered, and combined buttery sweetness and peppery crunch that created little bursts of surprise among the sweetness. It absorbed the juice from the fruit but still held its form. The mascarpone was rich and creamy and sweet, and just the slightest bit soft and runny where it came into contact with the hot biscuit. The berries were richly colored and fragrant, and the balsamic emphasized both their natural sweetness and natural tang. Every flavor made itself known in every bite, with no one predominating.
It was a sophisticated take on a strawberry shortcake, and the most time-consuming part was cleaning and slicing the berries. In fact, some rough calculations reveal that this dessert takes about 1/15th the time of the average condo association meeting and is approximately 400% more delicious. Best of all, you could do this with whatever fresh, ripe fruit you have on hand – omit the pepper if it doesn’t go, but ripe fruit + biscuit + sweet cream is an unbeatable combo.
*The first one was dinner, the second one was dessert.
Balsamic Strawberries with Honeyed Mascarpone and Black-Pepper Biscuits
For the berries:
32 oz. ripe strawberries
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 tbsp. + 1 tbsp. good balsamic vinegar
sugar to taste
Taste a berry. Core and slice each strawberry into 3 or 4 slices. Toss with the lime juice, 2 tablespoons of the balsamic and sugar – anywhere from 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup, depending on the sweetness of the berries.
Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the berries are soft and sweet and have given up their juice. Just before serving, stir in the remaining tablespoon of balsamic.
For the mascarpone:
16 oz. mascarpone
1/4 c. honey
Beat the mascarpone and honey together. Can be done in advance, refrigerate until needed.
For the biscuits:
2 c. AP flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
7 tbsp. butter, cut into cubes
3/4 c. buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 400.
Put the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper into a food processor; pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse to incorporate until the mix looks crumbly. Add the buttermilk and mix just until the dough pulls together into a mass.
Flour your work surface and dump out the dough. Knead it for a few seconds into a smooth mass, then roll it out to 1/2 inch thick. Cut out 8 biscuits with a 4-inch cutter.
Put the biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Beat the egg and brush it over the tops. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.
Split a warm biscuit. Dollop approximately 1 tablespoon of mascarpone on each half. Top with berries, drizzling additional juice over the plate. Serve immediately.