With berries, we live in a land of plenty. Think of this as strawberry fields forever.
And I'm not talking about the behemoth varieties from California that are so often hollow, tasteless and soft. Our soil produces those tiny, super-sweet, fragrant, juicy strawberries, nature's candy at its best.
Perfect eaten in the field, they make a remarkable shortcake dish, which seems to be the epitome of summer. The process takes less than half an hour. With such a humble dish, each component must be extraordinary.
Most essential? The shortcake. The term "short" has been used to refer to cakes since the 16th century that are made tender and crumbly with lots of butter (aka shortening). The more butter, the "shorter" or more tender and crumbly, the shortcake becomes, but the recipe is a mix of biscuit and scone.
We've found that the lightest shortcakes are made with low-gluten pastry or cake flour. All-purpose flour works, too, but the dough must be handled very gently, not overworked, or the shortcakes will be tough. Using real cream in the dough makes for an exceptionally rich, delicious shortcake.
As for the whipped cream, we go with good old heavy cream, not the ultrapasteurized product, which is processed at high heats and can taste a little "boiled." Be careful not to over-whip the cream. Use the fine sugar that dissolves quickly and disperses evenly. Once you've whipped the cream to hold soft peaks, blend in a few tablespoons of whole-milk Greek yogurt for a nice tangy flavor and thicker, richer texture. Then fold in a few crushed strawberries for color and flavor.
As for the strawberries, they must be at their peak of freshness. If you have a chance to taste before you buy, please do. It's great if they're even a little overripe and very juicy; you want them to break down a little bit so all the luscious juice will be sopped up by the shortcakes.
This recipe is easily doubled or tripled for a crowd. If you're short on time, simply substitute fresh bakery scones for the shortcakes, and you've got an elegant dessert for a crowd in no time.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.