Easier than Pie: Shortcake

This shortcake is a bit of a funny creature. And not just because it looks entirely like a pie and nothing at all like the towering strawberry-and-cream confection that I, and probably many of you, think of as shortcake. 

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But it seems like it’s impossible to mess this one up. And in the world of baking, where precision and exactness and all sorts of other scary synonyms reign supreme, the fact that such a lovely, delicious thing can be so forgiving is remarkable.

You see, I’ve made this cake-pie twice in the past two weeks: first for a picnic dinner on the beach back in Australia, and second for a belated birthday celebration here in Edmonton. And in Australia, I weighed the ingredients and forgot a few; in Edmonton, I measured and remembered. In Australia, my cake was small, rectangular and filled with cooked apples and blueberries; in Edmonton, it was huge, round and filled with fresh plums and nectarines. And finally, in Australia, we ate it cold, after it sat for a few hours on a cool beach; in Edmonton, we ate it straight from the oven, burning our mouths on the hot fruit. 

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And despite my best (accidental) attempts to create two very different and potentially catastrophic desserts, it was consistently a delight. The real winner here is the crust. It’s so simple to put together (rolling, kneading and crack repair = easy, easy and easy) that you can’t imagine it’ll be better than a traditional, finicky pie dough. But it turns out to be this glorious thing, gently rolling over the fruit below, and tasting like a grownup sugar cookie, all buttery and tender in the middle and sweet and crisp at the edges. 

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And the fruit is a treat, too. Unlike with most pie-destined fruits, here they’re barely sugared, giving you a filling that serves, unusually, as a tart contrast to a sweet crust.*

In short, we have a shortcake that’s not a cake. A baked good that fails to act appropriately temperamental. A pie that inverts our traditional understanding of both crusts and fillings. It’s madness. And it’s so worth making.
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Nectarine & Plum Shortcake
Adapted from www.taste.com.au and a cookbook whose name I have yet to track down
Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg 
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

4-5 large, ripe nectarines
1-2 ripe plums
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp granulated sugar

Directions

1. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (a mixer or a wooden spoon will work). Add the egg and beat until the mixture is fluffy once more. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. 

2. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. With your hands, gently knead the dough together until it’s uniformly smooth and holds together (this should only take a minute, and can easily be done in your mixing bowl). Divide the dough into two balls, one using 1/3 of the dough and the other using the remaining 2/3. Flatten each piece into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

3. While the dough is resting, slice each piece of fruit into 12 wedges. You should have 4.5-5 cups of fruit in total. Toss the fruit with the sugar and lemon juice and let sit at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

4. Unwrap the larger portion of chilled dough and, using a floured rolling pin, roll it until it’s slightly larger than the base of an 8.5-10-inch springform pan (you want the dough to go up the sides of your pan by about 2cm). Transfer the dough to the base of your pan.** Spread the sugared fruit evenly overtop the base of the dough. Roll the remaining 1/3 of dough into a round the same size as your cake pan, then place it overtop the fruit. Gently press the edges of the dough together to seal. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

5. Bake the pie for 30-40 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the top is beginning to brown. Remove from the oven, set on a cooling rack and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before serving.

NOTES
* With that in mind, if you choose to substitute other fruit (and my guess is that you can do so with success), choose something with a bit of acidity and keep the added sweetener to a minimum.
** The dough is quite sticky, so I find it’s easiest to roll the dough out directly onto the plastic wrap. From there, you can use the plastic wrap to help you transfer the dough into the cake pan. 

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