In Catholicism, we have a long tradition of Christianizing desserts. Catholics have always bridged together faith and food.
For example, a king cake is shaped like a crown for the Three Kings. A mendiant is a chocolate confection studded withtwo dried fruits and two nuts to symbolize the four mendicant orders. A religieuse is a stack of two cream puffs decorated with chocolate and cream to resemble a Benedictine nun.
In keeping with that tradition, I try to incorporate a connection between my bakes and my faith. I make angel food cake for the feast of the Guardian Angels, I decorate chocolate eclairs with dried rose petals for St. Therese of Lisieux’s feast day and I prepare an array of Italian desserts for St. Francis’ feast day.
For Easter this year, I wanted to create a dessert that celebrated the vibrant produce available in spring. Generally, I design my bakes with whatever is available in the friary. During this time, we have plenty of strawberries and lemons, so I decided to do a strawberry lemon shortcake for Easter.
To Christianize this American classic, I thought this could be a meditation on the triduum. The shortcake symbolizes the bread broken at the Last Supper. Strawberries macerated in sugar represent the Passion. Finally, the whipped cream signifies the Resurrection.
While testing this recipe, I wanted a shortcake that was buttery and tender. A very wet dough creates a light texture and baking them in a muffin tray keeps them uniform in size. Macerating strawberries in sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest brightens and enhance the strawberry flavor.
Last, a touch of sour cream and a heavy dose of vanilla in the whipped cream creates a richer, more complex flavor, and beating your cream with a hand mixer controls the aeration better than a whisk, thus producing a silky-smooth texture that holds shape.
The end result is a strawberry shortcake that is very light but intensely flavorful. I hope this brightens your Easter celebration!
STRAWBERRY LEMON SHORTCAKES
Start to finish: 2 hours
Servings: 6 small shortcakes
1 cup or 120 grams all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt (1/3 teaspoon table salt or coarse kosher salt)
1/2 cup or 110 grams unsalted butter (straight from the fridge)
1/2 cup or 115 grams heavy cream (straight from the fridge)
1 medium or 55-60 grams egg (straight from the fridge)
Mint leaves (optional)
1 pound strawberries (one medium sized container)
1/2 cup or 110 grams sugar
Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
3/4 cup or 170 grams heavy cream (straight from the fridge)
1/3 cup or 80 grams sour cream (straight from the fridge)
3 tablespoons or 40 grams sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (1/8 teaspoon table salt or coarse kosher salt)
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until combined.
Using a cheese grater, grate the butter in medium-sized shreds into the flour mixture.
Using your fingertips, gently coat the butter pieces with the flour
Place the bowl in freezer for at least 30 minutes. (This can be done the night before.)
Meanwhile, heat your oven to 450 F and position a rack in the middle (or the top rack if you only have two levels).
Wash strawberries in cold water, then remove the tops with a paring knife and cut strawberries to about 1/4-inch-thick slices, placing them into a large bowl.
Add the sugar, then add the juice and zest of the lemon.
Using a flexible spatula or wooden spoon, mix until the strawberries are completely coated in the sugar.
Place in the refrigerator while you prep everything else. (This can be done overnight.)
Using a glass measuring cup, measure the heavy cream and crack one medium egg into the measuring cup.
Whisk thoroughly with a fork.
Take out the flour butter mixture from the freezer.
Add about 3/4 of the cream mixture and mix with a fork. Keep adding drops of the cream mixture until the dough comes together in a sticky, shaggy mass; you may not need all the liquid. (The dough should stick to your fingers but not be so wet that it’s spreading out.)
Sprinkle the dough with flour on the top until it’s thoroughly covered with a thin coating of flour and generously flour your hands.
Using your floured hands, flip the dough over onto your work surface and sprinkle the exposed area thoroughly with more flour.
Flatten the dough with your fingertips shaping it into a rough rectangle.
Using a knife, cut the dough into six equal pieces.
Grease the bottoms of a standard-sized muffin tin with nonstick spray.
Generously flour your hands and form one piece of dough into a ball, making sure to coat each ball in a light coating of flour then pat it into the muffin tin.
Repeat for each dough ball, making sure to flour your hands. (You must work quickly.)
Bake the shortcakes in the oven at 450 F for about 15 mins on the middle or top rack until the tops are puffy and golden brown and the smell of butter is everywhere.
Let shortcakes cool in the tins for 10 minutes.
Lightly bang the muffin tin on the countertop a few times to loosen them, then invert the shortcakes onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
Place cream, sour cream, sugar, vanilla and salt in large bowl.
Using a hand mixer, beat the mixture until it forms peaks when you lift up the beater. When mixing, make sure to get the sides and bottoms of the bowl so you don’t have any sections that are droopy.
If piping, place it into a piping bag with a large star tip.
When ready to assemble, grab the shortcakes, the strawberries and the cream.
Slice the cooled shortcakes in half widthwise.
Take a spoonful of the macerated juice and pour it onto the bottom half of the shortcake then pile it with some strawberries.
Dollop or pipe the cream and place the other half of the shortcake on top.
Dollop or pipe the cream on top and decorate with a mint leaf or extra lemon zest for a more potent lemon flavor.
Repeat for each shortcake.
Serve with extra strawberries and cream on the side.
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Brother Andrew Corriente is a Capuchin Franciscan friar currently studying for the priesthood. He is the winner of the fifth season of ABC’s “The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition.”