California has a long growing season, so even in years when the crops are delayed, when fresh corn does not show up until after Fourth of July, when we are still pining for the first tomatoes, when we have a cold spring, we have certain foods longer than you have them in other parts of the country. Case in point: strawberries. In mid-October the strawberries from Lucero Farm are sweeter than they were in June and July. Go figure.
I know many of you have moved onto apples, pumpkins and grapes for your desserts, but my friend Margit presented me with a basket of those strawberries this Saturday and we did not eat them immediately. In our refrigerator (which I have not yet discussed) there languished an unopened pound container of mascarpone cheese that Mom bought at Canned Foods Grocery Outlet and never used because she didn’t have any recipes containing it.
I hunted around through my saved blogs folder and found some lovely recipes, none of which called for more than a quarter cup of mascarpone. I eliminated other wonderful recipes requiring me to mix the mascarpone with whipping cream and line tins with ladyfingers (no tiramisu). I went to my favorite site of all things Italian, In the Bartolini Kitchens, and still found nothing I wanted to make tonight. I looked up a Joyce Goldstein recipe for a rum mascarpone mousse but could not find the lone packet of unflavored gelatin which I swear has been lurking in our kitchen for years.
Then I read somewhere about sweetened, whipped mascarpone. Aha! We would have strawberry shortcake again, this time with mascarpone rather than whipped cream. I would use the occasion to get out my sourdough starter and make biscuits for the shortcake base.
First I had to taste the mascarpone. Undeterred by the expiration date of August 2012 (our refrigerator is cold), I broke the plastic seal and dipped a teaspoon into the cheese. My tongue told me it was fine — it reminds me of the clotted cream they eat in England. I put it back in the refrigerator while I washed and hulled the strawberries, fed my starter some fresh flour and a little water to invigorate it, left it on the counter to get warm and put a steel bowl and beaters in the fridge to chill.
At 5:00 I began to assemble the shortbread dough, aka sourdough “cowboy” biscuits with extra sugar. You can find a recipe for sourdough starter here. I keep a jar of starter in the back of the refrigerator and use it indiscriminately to make waffles, biscuits and, pizza and bread.
I have adapted the recipe for cowboy sourdough biscuits (which the authors call “Rocky Mountain Sourdough Biscuits,” but their story features a cowboy cook who bakes them) from The Book Lovers’ Cookbook.
Sourdough “Cowboy” Biscuits for Shortcake
Preheat oven to 425.
1 cup unbleached flour*
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp sugar
Cut in 1/4 cup unsalted butter or shortening.
Stir in 1 cup sourdough starter.
A soft dough should form. Gather dough together and knead lightly, adding more flour by the tablespoon if it is really sticky.
Lightly flour a bread board, marble slab or other work surface. Roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness
Cut dough with biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass. I like to use two cutters, one medium-sized and one small to make top hats. Roll together scraps to form more biscuits, handling dough as little as possible. Repeat until all scraps have become biscuits or top hats, forming the last scraps into a hat with your hands if necessary.
Transfer biscuits to ungreased baking sheet.
Melt 1 Tbsp unsalted butter and brush biscuit tops with it. Sprinkle with sugar (raw sugar is good) as desired. Let biscuits rest for fifteen minutes before baking them for ten to twelve minutes.
Split biscuits and top with prepared berries. Dollop with whipped, sweetened mascarpone.
Oh, I didn’t tell you how to make that? I told you to chill the bowl and beaters. Then beat your mascarpone with some sugar (suggested ratio: 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of sugar to one pound mascarpone), and vanilla extract as desired. I plan to eat the leftover mascarpone on biscuits after the strawberries are gone, perhaps with a nice cup of tea in the afternoons, unless Mom gets to it first — she says she will use it in pastry of some kind: sounds like a win-win to me.