Whole Wheat Strawberry Shortcake with Basil Macerated Strawberries

So here's a confession: I've never liked strawberry shortcake.

If I see it on a dessert menu, I skip right over it. If someone pulls it out at a birthday party or after a weekend barbecue, I get really disappointed. I've got very particular tastes when it comes to dessert, and items involving fresh berries and cream tend to fall right to the bottom of the list. (Unless said berries and cream are on top of a chocolate torte, because then they go right to the top!).

So it was with a sigh of resignation that I served myself a bowl of strawberry shortcake at a friend's party a few weeks ago. She had set out a basket of biscuits, a bowl of fresh berries, and some vanilla ice cream and urged us each to assemble our desserts. Eugene was thrilled as this is totally his thing. (The man often prefers fruit to cake. Weirdo.)

I'm not one to turn down dessert (surprise!) so I went with it, and as I'm sure you can now guess, I ended up loving it. Like really, really loving it.

It helped that the berries were in kick-ass peak season, but it was really the biscuits that sang to me.

Until then, the strawberry shortcakes I'd had were pretty bad. There were the kinds made with those funny little round golden "dessert shells" they sell in the grocery store near the berries. When I was little I found them adorable and would poke and squeeze them whenever I saw them, much to my mother's chagrin.

(I admit that I still totally get the urge to squeeze them when I see them. And sometimes I just do it. I also like to poke and squeeze Sno Balls.)

I finally got my mom to buy a package of those shells once (probably out of guilt since I'd destroyed so many over the years) and I remember how excited I was to finally taste them, only to end up disappointed that the flavor did not live up to their looks.

The other kind of strawberry shortcake I grew up with is that North Jersey bakery variety--basically a sweet yellow cake layered with pastry cream or overly sweetened whipped cream (or both), and lackluster berries; a cloying combination that completely defeats the potential awesomeness of this dish.

The difference here was all in the shortcake itself, which was really just a biscuit--light, barely sweet, with even a tiny hint of salty butter in each bite. Instead of mushy cake, it had a great flaky texture and just enough bite, softened a little bit by the natural juices of the berries. In a word, perfection.

I was totally impressed and went home determined to recreate the dish (I think I should rename this blog "Recreating that Dish" as that seems to be where all my recipe ideas come from lately.)

Our friend told us that she had purchased the biscuits from a local bakery (I think it was either Amy's or Sarabeth's), so I hunted around online until I found this Russ Parsons/LA Times recipe on Smitten Kitchen that looked like a great start. I changed it up a bit, increasing the butter, using raw egg yolks, and most importantly, swapping in whole wheat flour for a nutty, whole grain result. I also had the idea to macerate the berries with some summery fresh basil. (Because strawberries and basil are AWESOME together!)

I layered this with two shortcakes instead of splitting one (because I'm decadent like that) and topped it off with a generous dollop of unsweetened freshly whipped cream. The final dessert was brilliant! I also found that the leftovers kept well until the second day (although they were definitely best on the first.) If you don't like or want whipped cream, you can also use plain Greek yogurt or vanilla ice cream.

(The remaining shortcakes actually were quite fun for snacking on for a few days. They developed a soft, almost cornbread like texture that I found incredibly addictive.)

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Whole Wheat Strawberry Shortcake with Basil Macerated Strawberries
Adapted from Russ Parsons via Smitten Kitchen
Print this Recipe
1 2/3 cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 egg yolks, cold
1 pinch Kosher salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
zest of 1 whole lemon
2/3 cup heavy cream, cold
1 tablespoon Turbinado sugar ("Sugar in the Raw")
1 pound strawberries, washed, hulled, and quartered
2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar ("Sugar in the Raw")
6 large basil leaves, julienned
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Add the butter and use your fingers or a pastry cutter to work the butter into the dough until it resembles course crumbs.
Whisk together the egg yolks and heavy cream in a separate bowl and pour into the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.
Turn out onto a flour-dusted surface and knead briefly before shaping into a large circle. Use a rolling pin to roll it out until it is about 1" thick. Use 3" cookie cutters to cut out circles of dough, transferring each to the prepared baking pan. Reroll any additional dough and cut until all dough is used.
Brush each round with heavy cream or water and sprinkle generously with the Turbinado sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving.

While the shortcakes bake, combine the strawberries with the sugar, julienned basil, and lemon juice. Let stand at room temperature until the berries soften and release their juices, at least 20 minutes.
To assemble, whip the remaining cold heavy cream until soft peaks form. Place one shortcake in a bowl, top with several spoonfuls of the berries and juice. Add a large scoop of the freshly whipped cream and top with a second shortcake. Garnish with a little more whipped cream and a fresh basil leaf. Serve immediately.

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