June and July, which is peak strawberry season in Northern New Mexico, it’s entirely possible to spend an entire day (or evening) sampling versions of the venerable strawberry shortcake in many of Santa Fe’s restaurants.
From the most straightforward-yet-delicious renditions, such as the shortcake/whipped-cream/berry tower at Zia Diner, to the scone/whipped-cream/raspberry coulis masterpiece at The Teahouse on Canyon Road, to Coyote Café’s otherworldly organic strawberry-mango shortcake with basil ice cream, mascarpone rum cream and pineapple reduction (call for availability), there’s something for every palate and wallet.
You could, of course, make your own at home, using plump, sweet berries from a local grocer, your home garden or the Santa Fe Farmers Market, which is now open on Tuesdays (8 am–1 pm) and Saturdays (7 am–noon).
Confession: I don’t have a green thumb. To state it mildly, putting a plant in my care is akin to asking a pack of dingoes to look after your baby. Luckily, my better half has the Midas touch in the garden, and using some of his harvest, I cobbled together an Americanized sponge cake–based rendition of June’s most celebrated dessert, one that straddles the divide between simple and elegant. If making sponge cake seems like too much of a hassle, the Swiss Bakery Pastries & Bistro (401 S Guadalupe St., 988-1111) would be happy to hook you up with their fantastic housemade version.
Strawberry Sponge Cake with Lavender Crème Anglaise and Whipped Cream (serves 6–8)
- 1½ pounds strawberries, washed, hulled and quartered
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
Combine berries and sugar in a medium bowl. Refrigerate for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.
- 7 large egg yolks
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
- 10 large egg whites
- ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ⅛ teaspoon fine-grained salt
- Butter for coating pan
Preheat oven to 350° F and place the oven rack in the middle. Coat a parchment-lined, 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with butter. Beat egg yolks, ⅓ cup of the sugar and vanilla in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until pale yellow and thickened. Turn mixer to low and slowly add flour just until well combined. Set aside in a new, large bowl. Using a clean and dry bowl and the whisk attachment, beat cream of tartar, egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk to stiff peaks. Fold a quarter of the beaten egg whites into the yolk until incorporated. Fold the remaining whites into yolk mixture. Pour batter into the pan and even out the top of the batter with a wide spatula. Bake for 20 minutes, or until cake turns slightly golden and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool completely on a rack, and cut cake into desired shapes.
The whipped cream:
- 2 cups cold heavy cream
Whip cream in a dry, chilled bowl with a cold, dry whisk, or use the whisk attachment of a stand mixer or handheld blender. Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, if desired. Cover and refrigerate.
The lavender crème Anglaise:
- 2½ cups low fat milk
- 5 egg yolks
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds, roughly chopped
Heat milk and lavender in a saucepan on medium heat to just before boiling, stirring often. Whisk yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy. Pour ⅓ of hot milk into yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the yolk-milk mixture back into the saucepan and cook on medium, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture just begins to coat the back of the spoon (do not boil!). Remove from heat, and strain into a bowl using a fine-mesh strainer or four layers of cheesecloth. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the surface of the mixture (prevents a “skin” from forming). Refrigerate for at least six hours, strain again and return to refrigerator until ready to use.
Pool some cold crème into a shallow bowl or preferred serving dish. Layer sponge cake pieces, whipped cream and berries to your heart’s content. Garnish with fresh lavender sprigs. Pig out.