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Shortcake for all of the fruit seasons

My sweetie had just taken a bite from one of my precious homemade biscuits, and I leaned in for his appraisal. Not that I doubted his reaction. I just wanted to hear the words.

“Wow. These are remarkable.”

“I know.”

Then we broke into laughter.

They were remarkable. Remarkably bad. Amazingly awful. So not biscuity in taste, texture and appearance, they would win the blue ribbon of Yuck. Top Dog at a Most Pathetic Pooch competition.

That bad.

Memo to me: lay-in a fresh supply of baking soda and baking powder. And the next time you’re tempted to substitute sour cream for buttermilk? Don’t.

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue the ultimate experience in shortcake construction. With the local strawberry harvest underway, this is when the whole idea of layering fresh, sweet, summer fruit with mildly sweet pastry, fresh whipped cream and perhaps a drizzle or two of an appropriate liqueur comes to the forefront. After all, a well tuned shortcake is one of our most treasured vehicles for transporting fresh fruit from bowl to mouth.

Indeed, nothing is quite as splendid as strawberry shortcake when the berries are juicy-ripe and locally grown. Or as my Pendleton-bred hubbie would say: Boy-howdy!

But strawberries are only the beginning. Shortcake construction can take place throughout the entire summer-into-fall fruit harvests, from all the other berries to peaches, pears and apricots.

I thought we should get all the shortcake-styled recipes on the table now so there’s no fooling around when that next shortcake attack hits. So I’ve assembled a collection of tried-and-true treatments for your consideration.

They run the gamut from classic shortcake maneuvers to slightly-quirky-but-delicious variations. And even though we are today celebrating the fruit du jour, strawberries, remember to bring them out later this summer for other fruity offerings, because they are all packed with plenty of flavor to celebrate shortcake season.

James Beard’s Favorite Fruit Shortcake

Makes 6 to 8 shortcakes.

Was this really the favorite shortcake recipe of our beloved James Beard? That’s what the authors of “The Tastes of Washington” claim. I do know it’s delicious and worth the slightly greater effort required beyond the usual packaged biscuit mix preparations.

3 to 4 pints strawberries, hulled, sliced and sweetened to taste (or other berries or fruits)

4 cups flour

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3½ teaspoons cream of tartar

1¾ teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

¾ cup butter, chilled and cut into bits

1½ cups whipping cream

4 hard-cooked egg yolks, mashed

4 tablespoons melted butter

Whipping cream, sweetened to taste and whipped to desired thickness

Combine the flour with the sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Cut in the chilled butter with knives or pastry cutter. Stir in the cream and egg yolks quickly until a “shaggy” (slightly lumpy) dough forms.

Knead dough on floured surface a few times, pat out to ¾-inch thickness. Cut out 6 to 8 rounds, 3 inches in diameter, with cookie cutter or sharp-edged glass. Cut out an equal number of 2½-inch rounds.

Place the larger rounds on a lightly oiled baking sheet, brush with melted butter, then place the smaller rounds in the centers of the larger rounds. Bake in 375-degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until the biscuits are firm and golden.

Lift off the tops from the cakes, spoon sliced and sweetened berries over the bottoms, replace the tops and spoon more berries over the top. Serve with the whipped cream.

— Recipe from “The Tastes of Washington,” by Fred Brack and Tina Bell.

Banana Split Cake

I’ve been making this wonderful little cake for decades. It is quick and easy to assemble, producing a dramatic deviation from the usual shortcake base one would use during strawberry season. Don’t panic over the amount of sugar and butter; it’s accurate and delicious, resulting in a tender-but-dense cake that is moist and flavorful.

1¼ cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed bananas

½ cup butter or margarine

¼ cup milk

2 eggs

1 cup toasted hazelnuts or walnuts (optional)

For strawberry (or other fruit) shortcake:

Sliced or chopped fresh strawberries, marionberries or peaches

Sugar to taste

Mascarpone

Lightly sweetened whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, butter, banana, butter, milk and eggs. Blend on low speed in mixer until moistened, then 3 minutes at medium speed. Stir in nuts if desired. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until done when a cake-tester comes out clean when inserted in center of cake.

Let cool before slicing.

Meanwhile combine the prepared fruit with plenty of sugar to taste at least 30 minutes before serving to encourage the juices to flow.

To serve, cut into squares; split each square horizontally, and spread a generous amount of mascarpone on the cut surface. Place the top half over the bottom layer, then spoon a serving of the berries (along with plenty of juice) over the top of each square. Top with the whipped cream and serve.

Wildwood's Strawberry-Citrus Shortcake

Makes 8 shortcakes.

The key to a good shortcake (other than starting with great strawberries) is the biscuits themselves, which are best when taken warm from the oven and immediately split open to receive the strawberry compote. If you prefer your shortcake without lemon and orange, just omit them and prepare the rest of the recipe as shown.

Sugared Strawberries with Grand Marnier:

8 cups fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced

¼ to 1/3 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of berries

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

3 tablespoons Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or orange juice

Shortcakes:

2½ cups flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ cup yellow cornmeal

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1½ cups heavy cream

4 teaspoons grated lemon zest

4 teaspoons grated orange zest

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Sugar for coating (about 1/3 cup)

Whipping Cream:

1 cup cold heavy cream

1 teaspoon sugar or honey

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

To prepare the strawberries: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

To make the shortcake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cornmeal, sugar and salt. Stir in the cream, lemon zest and orange zest until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Form into a ball and knead 8 to 12 times, or until the ball holds its shape. Cut the dough into 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Roll the dough in the melted butter, then the sugar. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through. Let cool slightly on a wire rack.

To whip the cream: Chill a large, deep bowl. Pour the cream into the bowl and add the sugar or honey and vanilla. Whip by hand with a whisk or with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. The finished consistency of the whipped cream should just hang from the edge of the whisk. The whipped cream is best if used immediately, but it can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours.

To serve: Cut each shortcake in half. Top the bottom halves with fruit and whipped cream. Place the top halves on top and serve.

— Recipe adapted from "Wildwood — Cooking from the Source in the Pacific Northwest," by Cory Schreiber.

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.