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Summer Strawberries In Yummy Desserts

Sure, strawberries taste great all by themselves. But the popular summer fruit is also the perfect ingredient for lots of tasty desserts.

So cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie shared some recipes Thursday for some scrumptious treats, during The Early Show's "Five-Minute Cooking School" at the flagship store, in Manhattan, of specialty home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma.

She showed how to turn ordinary strawberries into extraordinary desserts.

When choosing strawberries, Ritchie advised, always use the sniff test: They should smell sweet and ripe. Avoid strawberries with white shoulders, which are a sign of being picked when they're not ripe. Also, stay away from strawberries that are shriveled, squishy, or too hard. And, rinse them only before using them.

RECIPES

Classic Strawberry Shortcakes

This recipe features traditional biscuit-style shortcake. When properly mixed, shortcake dough should be rough, even shaggy. You might be tempted to mix it more, but resist, or you won't end up with a flaky biscuit. Work the dough on a lightly-floured work surface, gently pressing and patting it into a thick rectangle. Incorporating too much flour will make the dough tough. Cutting the dough into squares is preferable to rounds, which leave scraps that must be patted back together to form more cakes. The result is overworked dough and a few tough shortcakes. Squares will all turn out equally tender and delicious.

For the shortcakes:

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
3/4 tsp. salt
8 Tbs. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the strawberries:

4 cups strawberries, hulled and cut into slices
1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup sugar

For the whipped cream:

3/4 cup heavy cream, well chilled
2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the shortcakes, preheat an oven to 400°F.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and salt until well blended. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the pieces are no larger than peas. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and gently toss with a fork or rubber spatula until the flour is just moistened and the ingredients are blended.

Turn the shaggy dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently press the dough into a thick rectangle about 6 by 4 inches. Using a large sharp knife, trim the edges even, then cut the dough into 6 equal squares.

Place the squares on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them well apart. Bake until they are puffed and golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly or completely.

Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries: In a bowl, toss together the strawberries and sugar with a fork, lightly crushing some of the berries. Cover the berries and refrigerate until well chilled or until ready to serve.

To make the whipped cream, in a deep bowl, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form and the cream is billowy, about 2 minutes. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve or for up to 2 hours.

To serve, split the warm or cooled shortcakes in half horizontally and place the bottom halves, cut side up, on serving plates. Spoon some of the strawberries, including the juices, over each half and top with a dollop of the whipped cream. Top with the remaining shortcake halves, cut side down. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Dessert, by Abigail Johnson Dodge (Simon & Schuster, 2002 )

For more recipes, go to Page 2

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crisp

More than two centuries ago, English cooks first recognized the culinary potential of rhubarb, until then regarded as an ornamental plant. Although actually a hardy perennial vegetable, rhubarb is generally treated as a fruit and often combined with strawberries, which are also harvested in the spring. Be sure to trim off the toxic leaves from the stalks before using. Serve this sprightly crisp à la mode and garnish with long-stemmed fraises des bois, if you like.

For the crisp topping:

3/4 cup pecan halves
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. grated orange zest
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the fruit filling:

1 1/2 lb. rhubarb
2 cups strawberries, stems removed, halved lengthwise
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or as needed

To make the topping, preheat an oven to 350°F. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and place in the oven until lightly toasted and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Increase the oven temperature to 375°F.

Place the nuts in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse several times to form
1/4-inch pieces. Transfer the nuts to a small bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, orange zest and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture and the butter to the food processor and pulse until the mixture just begins to hold together. Add the nuts and pulse 3 or 4 more times until evenly distributed.

To make the filling, trim the tough ends and the leaves from the rhubarb stalks, then cut the stalks crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Place in a bowl with the strawberries, flour and 1/2 cup granulated sugar, adding more sugar if the strawberries are not particularly sweet. Toss until well mixed. Place the fruit in a 2 to 2 1/2-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish and sprinkle the topping evenly over the surface.

Bake until a skewer inserted into the center enters without any resistance and the top is golden and bubbling around the edges, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes before serving.

To serve, spoon the crisp into individual dishes. Serves 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Spring, by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997)

Strawberries in Red Wine With Vanilla Bean

Sweet and juicy on their own, fresh strawberries take on another flavor dimension in this simple, yet elegant French dessert. The vanilla bean can be omitted, if desired.

2 pints (1 lb.) small or medium strawberries
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups dry red wine, such as Merlot or Zinfandel
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

Hull the strawberries. Then, if any have a white core, cut it away with the tip of a sharp knife. Slice some of the larger berries in half but leave most of the berries whole.

Combine all the berries in a non-aluminum bowl, sprinkle with the sugar, to taste, and add the wine and vanilla bean. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

Spoon into 6 glass bowls, sprinkle lightly with sugar, if desired, and serve cold. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Casual Outdoor Dining, by Georgeanne Brennan (Time-Life Books, 1998)

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