Buttermilk Biscuit Strawberry Shortcake
I went to college in a small town called Hammond, Louisiana. The town and the school both are nondescript except that the school doubled in size while I was there, from 7,000 students to 14,000 students, and the town size was about 14,000 at the time as well so the town changed a lot when school was in session. I moved there when I was 17 and stayed for 4 really fantastic years. I flourished under the independence that college offered. I remember sitting on the floor of my dorm room during the first few days, flipping through my course catalog and thinking, “Wow. I really can do anything in the world that I want to do.” How I ended up with a 15 year career in restaurants is another story for another day, but the freedom and joy of self-accountability is still with me today.
The other neat thing about Hammond, La is that it is only 15-minutes away from Ponchatoula, La, the self-described Strawberry Capital of the World!
While Louisiana may fall down a bit on education, poverty, and sensible politics, it is hell on wheels when it comes to festivals, fairs and fêtes. You’ve probably heard of Jazz Fest (officially known as The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival) and maybe a little thing called Mardi Gras but there are more. Oh yes. So many more.
Scattered around the state you’ll find the Shrimp & Petroleum Festival (no joke), The Catfish Festival, The Greek Festival, The Acadian Festival, The Gumbo Festival (a few of those actually), The Peach Festival, The Wooden Boat Festival, The Black Heritage Festival, The Rabbit Festival, The Louisiana Hot Sauce Festival, The Sicilian Heritage Festival, The Louisiana Fur & Wildlife Festival, The Watermelon Festival, The Meat Pie Festival (yum), The Cotton Festival, The Alligator Festival, The Pecan Festival and Swamp Fest. This is just scratching the surface.
These festivals are a study of small town culture. They generally feature bands, carnival rides, beer trucks and cart after cart of food made with the specialty of the fêtes. Another tradition of many of these festivals is that the local big-wigs roll out their royalty for the year. Traditionally the Queen of the festival is a young woman graduating from high school, or perhaps in college, and usually someone with a well established family who does exceedingly well in school while also holding down an absurd number of extra curriculars. Laugh if you must but this is serious business down here in the bayou. One of my best friends, from college of course, was crowned Oyster Queen a few years before we met and she takes that incredibly seriously, to this day (kidding, of course, however she was mentioned on the first season of MTV’s Road Rules).
So, back to Ponchatoula: In one short week Ponchatoula will host a three-day Strawberry Festival. Royalty has been announced, vendors and music procured and now it is just a waiting game to see if the weather will be nice enough to offer up the first sunburns of the season. It has been a long, hard, slog of a winter in New Orleans and Strawberry Festival is the official welcoming in of spring.
Ponchatoula makes it official: Broccoli rabe, parsnips, sweet potatoes, citrus, kale, carrots and butternut squash are OUT. Artichokes, asparagus, baby lettuce, fennel, and, of course, strawberries are in. Yes, indeed! Spring has sprung!
I see strawberries and I think one thing: Strawberry Margaritas. Then I think, oh, right, I have three children. How about strawberry shortcake? Not the classic version with Angel Food Cake, which, by the way, has always been a bit bizarre to me. It’s a beautifully white cake that smells heavenly but tastes chemically and has that really weird spongy texture. Am I alone in this one? Anyway, no. That won’t do.
I like good, old-fashioned, small-town, eat-it-on-a-yellow-formica-countertop Buttermilk Biscuit Strawberry Shortcake. I want super fresh and slightly sweet buttermilk biscuits. Strawberries macerating in light brown sugar to make their own syrup. Fresh whipped creme with a touch of vanilla and sugar. I want it all piled up on a plate….and maybe with a glass of Champagne on the side. And that’s me in a nutshell: I am proud of the small towns that made me who I am but I still take advantage of the big city sensibilities I’ve acquired. Like an intense affinity for Champagne.
- 3 quarts (about 2 kilos) of strawberries, stems removed and washed and quartered
- 1 cup (220 g)of light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) of salt
- 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon (2 g) baking soda
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) baking powder
- 6 tablespoons (85 g) of butter, cold and cut into 12
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) of sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon (4 g) of salt
- 3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk
- 1 cup (235 ml) of whipping creme
- 1 heaping tablespoon (10g) of powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of vanilla
- Put the cleaned and quartered strawberries in a large glass bowl. Pour the sugar and salt evenly over entire bowl and mix briefly and gently with a large wooden spoon. Cover with cling film and set aside somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight for at least one hour but up to six.
- Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Drop in the cold butter and rub the butter pieces together with the flour until the entire mixture looks like course sand. It is okay if some pieces are the size of small peas.
- Pour the buttermilk over the mixture and stir until it all comes together. Dump it out onto a lightly floured work area or a lightly floured silpat mat. Knead 3-4 times. Roll out until dough is about 1" thick. DO NOT OVERWORK.
- Place biscuits on a greased baking pan and cook for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool.
- Pour whipping creme into a standing mixer and mix on 8 for about 60 seconds. Add sugar by sprinkling over the entire surface area and then add vanilla. Turn mixer back onto 8 and mix for 60 to 120 seconds until the creme turns into whipped creme.
- Break one biscuit in half and place the bottom half on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Top with one cup of the macerated strawberries in their juice. Place the top of the biscuit on top of the strawberries and then add a huge dollop of fresh whipped creme.
- Serve immediately.
- If you are like me and always, always, ALWAYS, forget to buy buttermilk you can substitute 3/4 cup (175 ml) whole milk plus a scant tablespoon (10 ml) of lemon juice or cider vinegar. Mix milk and lemon juice/vinegar and let stand 10 minutes at room temperature before using.