Monday, July 2, 2012

Spiced Cream Cakes with Strawberries


Strawberry shortcake is the most photogenic food. It's all pink and white and fluffy, and there are these berries, and these poofs of cream, and there is this crunchy sugar top. It just looks yummy. It helps that it really is every bit as good to eat as it is to look at. I love strawberry shortcake, it was the ultimate dessert when I was a kid. This recipe was not brought on by a sense of boredom with the original, I just became enamored of the smell of indian spice mixes.Technically these are not shortcakes, 'shortcake' being an abbreviation of 'shortening cake', meaning a cake made with shortening. There isn't any shortening per se in these things, the recipe calls for a great deal of heavy cream instead, but everybody knows what you mean when you say Strawberry Shortcake: a rich, lightly sweetened, somewhat dense but tender cookie/biscuit thing with gobs of strawberries with some type of cream thing, usually either iced or whipped, if not both.

Masala Spices

Mix 1/2 teaspoon each of:
black pepper

and 1/4 teaspoon each of:
star anise or anise seed

Cream Cakes

2 teaspoons masala spice mix
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Melt about 2 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl, and put about a half cup of sugar in another. Set those aside.

In a small dry saucepan, toast the spices for a minute or two at medium-low heat. They will smoke a bit, but you don't want them to do more than change color very slightly. Dump them into a large mixing bowl and shake them around to stop the cooking, or they will get burnt.

Sift all the dry ingredients together into the mixing bowl. Gently stir in the cream, then knead lightly just until the dough comes together in a ball.  Divide the dough into 12 balls. Dip the top of each ball into the butter, then the sugar. Put the balls on a cookie sheet sugar side up. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Cool the cakes, then serve with your favorite decorations.


1.The original recipe (from Rustic Fruit Desserts) said to divide the dough into 8 pieces. I think making them smaller would be better. You can always eat 2 small cakes if you want them, but it is somehow much less satisfying to eat part of a larger cake, even if that is all you want.

2. Next time, I might make these in cupcake tins, with cupcake papers and stuff. Besides looking cute, it would keep the cakes more ball shaped. This would allow me to cook the outsides a little crunchier without drying out the insides too much.

3. I might also use a coarser sugar. More texture than regular old table sugar.

4. You have to use salted butter on the outsides! Otherwise they will just be bland.

5. The measurements given for the spice mix assume that the spices are already ground when you measure them. Spices bought ground up are fine, but I like to do my own. Nutmeg in particular is much  more flavorful if it's freshly ground.

These remind me of gingerbread, but are just slightly more exotic. Garam Masala is used in meat dishes usually, but it is largely composed of things western cooking uses for sweets, with the addition of black pepper and coriander which gives gives the flavor a hotter, earthier punch. I would eat these cakes with any berries, or poached pears or apples, or grilled peaches with walnuts and mascapone, or fresh figs, or greek yogurt, or nothing at all. It's all about the crunchy top. That part is really good.

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