Saturday, July 17, 2010

Peaches And Herbs

The Lemon Herb Biscuits I made on a whim the other day, brought on a true "food and brain pairing" moment. My synapses fired in sequence long enough for me to realize that those biscuits were just a few tweaks away from an outstanding shortcake. The light bulb over my head was all aglow and my tummy said "Do it! And do it soon!".

The closest I think my mom ever got to making biscuits was when she would make strawberry shortcake (shortcakes are essentially sweet biscuits), a dessert she made often and one that I've always loved. She always used fresh strawberries when they were in season and always always made real whipped cream. I called to ask her what recipe she used for her shortcakes, and the answer was what I pretty much expected to hear: "It was on the box of Bisquick". Well, that was the era (at least she never used Cool Whip). Never one to leave things alone though, she would always add orange zest to the baking mix which took it from ordinary to extraordinary. Sometimes all it takes is that little something extra.

This dessert that I made has ever so many little somethings extra. Too many? Nah. Sometimes more is more. I think this is one of those times (or should I say "thymes"?). So here is my peachy-herbal twist on that quintessential summer dessert...

Peaches And Herbs Shortcake

Prep The Fruit:
5 peaches
3 Tblsp sugar
1 cup raspberries (reserve a few berries for garnish)

Wash and dry fruit. Peel the peaches and remove the stone (this may get messy). Cut the peaches into thin slices (elegant) or chunks (not as elegant, but just as tasty) and place into a bowl; sprinkle sugar over the top and mix gently. Set aside while you make the shortcakes. Mix the raspberries in just before assembling the dessert.

Make The Whipped Cream:
1 pint heavy or whipping cream
1 Tblsp sugar, or more, to taste
2 tsp rum or Grand Marnier, or bourbon

Do not skimp on (or skip) the whipped cream! It is non-optional. You can make it before baking the shortcakes or while they are cooling. Whip heavy cream using a hand mixer, stand mixer or a stick-blender. When it's almost done, sprinkle the sugar in and continue whipping. Taste and add more sugar if you need to. If at this point a spoonful of liquor should accidentally fall into the cream as you are finishing whipping, well, you'll just have to serve it anyway and suffer the compliments. (wink)

Make The Shortcakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tblsp sugar
1/4 cup cold butter
3 Tablespoons of fresh herbs (thyme, lemon thyme, lime thyme and lavender), minced
Zest from one large lemon or one orange
1 tsp lemon juice
3/4 cup milk, plus 2 Tblsp
1 Tblsp sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat oven to 450°. Sift together the first four ingredients. Do not skip this step! Quickly cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, food processor, or your fingers, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Stir in the chopped herbs and zest. Add the 3/4 cup of the milk and the lemon juice, and stir quickly but gently until a soft dough forms. Do not overmix!  Dump the dough onto a floured board. Don't worry if it's a little crumbly. Knead the dough not more than 10 times. Roll or pat out the dough out until it is 1/2-inch thick. Cut out shapes with a floured biscuit cutter or cut into squares with a pizza wheel. Place shortcakes on a Silpat, or parchment lined baking sheet. Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until golden on top. Let cool for 10 minutes. Makes approximately 6-8 shortcakes depending on size.

Put It All Together:
Gently mix the raspberries in with the peaches if you haven't already done so. Split the shortcakes horizontally and place the bottom half on a desert plate. Ladle some of the fruit over the bottom half, then place the top half of the shortcake over the fruit. Plop a dollop of whipped cream on top or along the side of the dessert and garnish with a raspberry and a few herbs.

*For the person who doesn't keep flour and baking powder in their kitchen (they do exist), but who still wants the occasional biscuit or pancake, a box of baking mix makes sense. For me and my pantry, it's redundant. It is after all just flour, baking soda, salt and fat. "Which fat?" you may well ask. Read the ingredients list on the box before you buy... (not all baking mixes are created equal).

Trivia Time: The singing duo Peaches & Herb first formed in the mid-sixties and went on to record the smash hits "Shake Your Groove Thing" and "Reunited (it feels so good!)". Herb remains the constant element with no less than five different Peaches harmonizing sweetly alongside him over the years. Here is the B-side that made the DJs and the fans first take notice back in 1966... it's a cover of the 1934 standard "Let's Fall In Love". Which just goes to prove that good songs really are timeless. Did you think I was going to say thyme-less? I wouldn't do a thing like that.
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  1. Mmmmmm. I'm planning on winning the lottery day after tomorrow, so please be prepared to come and be my chef. And make this all the time.

    My parents were obsessed with Bisquick, too. Especially the "cheeseburger pie." Sometimes I walk past the Bisquick in the store with tears in my eyes.

    This is better.

  2. Leslie: Oh yeah... this is WAY better than Bisquick. I just made it again last night (with nectarines) and I suspect that it may become a weekly thing for the rest of this summer. It is so good though that it's dangerous to make it for just the two of us as we're liable to eat it all in one sitting and just skip dinner altogether!


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