Modena – Strawberry – Cocoa Nib – Shortcake
When you make something that has varied textures and aromas and it tastes delicious, it is rewarding. When that something is also a feast of color, shape and texture and appeals to the tongue’s want for variety of notes from sweet to acidic, it is amazing. When that SAME something happens to have a variety of healthy benefits as well… it is a guiltless bliss. Well, maybe I am going a bit far on healthy, but let’s go with it.
The whole wheat flour in these shortcake biscuits not only adds substance and a nice nutty flavor that balances the cocoa nibs and also adds additional fiber. Cocoa nibs are considered a ‘super food’ with dozens of health benefits, most particularly their antioxidant strength, and they also add a chocolaty crunch. And the honey…. oh the honey! Where to begin? Rare Volcano Island Honey has long been one of my favorites, harvested by my friend Richard Spiegel and his team, following his unique process. As for Manuka Honey from New Zealand, it has natural antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. Most honey has enzymes that create hydrogen peroxide. However, Manuka Honey has a second antibacterial component, which has become known as the Unique Manuka Factor or UMF. Manuka Honey is used for digestion, on burns and cuts. In some places, it is even used as skincare, reducing wrinkles and making skin glow. So go ahead, give yourself a honey facial, just smooth all over your face and décolleté, while creating this summertime dessert!
Modena Strawberry Cocoa Nib Shortcake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tbsp butter, unsalted chilled, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream plus additional for brushing
1 tbsp turbinado sugar such as Sugar in the Raw
3 oz dark chocolate chips, optional
2 pints of strawberries, washed and sliced in half
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cocoa nibs
1 tsp orange flower water, optional
8 oz mascarpone cream
2 tbsp volcano island or manuka honey
1/2 tsp Meyer lemon zest (no white yellow only)
Balsamic Must Garnish
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar – I recommend Academia Barilla from Emilia Romaga region (OPTIONAL)
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the chilled butter in with a fork or pastry creamer into butter until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Stir in cream just until dough forms. Gather dough into a ball with your hands and gently knead together once or twice on a lightly floured surface.
Get out your ruler! Roll or pat out dough into a 6-inch square (at least 1/2 inch thick – be precise for a tall lovely biscuit). Brush dough with a bit of cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. THEN cut into 4 squares. Bake on a parchment paper lined baking sheet until golden, 17 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Transfer biscuits to a rack to cool.
While biscuits bake, blend strawberries, sugar, cocoa nibs and orange flower water in a bowl, cover and let fruit macerate at room temperature for an hour to make a delicious strawberry juice. These can be made the morning of the event.
Mix mascarpone cream with honey and meyer lemon zest. Cover and keep in refrigerator until ready to serve. Mascarpone can be made the night before.
When shortcakes are cooked and slightly warm. Slice biscuits with a serrated knife. Shortcakes can be made 2 days ahead of time, just be sure to seal in an air tight container
Plate the bottom half of shortcake and put a generous spoon of the strawberry juice on the cake, followed by the strawberries and a drizzle of balsamic must, if you are using. Top with a large dollop (about 2 tbsp) of mascarpone cream and follow with top half of the shortcake.
Tips: Pastry blender utensil will help you cut the butter into the flour a bit easier than a fork. But both methods are fine.
Always confirm the temperature of the oven with a thermometer. Your oven may run hot or cold and this could cause variation in recipe outcome. You can buy a decent oven thermometer at a hardware store for less than $10.00. You can make sure it is reading correctly (calibrate the thermometer) by hanging it on the edge inside of a pan with one inch of water at a full boil. Let the thermometer steam for a minute and then read it (without touching it!- its hot!). It should read as 100C/212F
And finally, never use baking soda instead of baking powder or your shortcakes will be overly bitter and salty. I made the mistake by accident and boy was I sorry.