Our Birthday Strawberry Shortcake / by Marisa Dobson

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Marisa’s Memory

My little brother and I are born on the same day, six years apart. It was (and is) the best birthday present I’ve ever received! Since our Dad is a chef (now chef instructor), our birthday traditions centered a good deal around our favorite foods. We were allowed to dictate the family meals for the day. Banned sugary cereals and silver dollar pancakes for breakfast, tender ribs and mac & cheese, bulgogi on the tabletop propane grill with bowls of white Kokuho Rose rice, cream of crab soup, sushi, apple strudel, Kahlua trifle — all these were on regular birthday rotation. We were “gourmet babies,” as my Dad says. On our 12th and 6th birthday, we celebrated by going to an O’s game and stuffed ourselves with hot dogs, Old Bay fries, and ice cream. The O’s won that day. Fast forward to last year, when we continued the tradition by having a glorious kamayan spread in our backyard in Baltimore! (Thank you, my darling Jamie.)

Our birthday is in April, right when the first berries of the season start making an appearance. I have a very clear memory of shopping in a rural Food Lion with my Mom and being totally taken in by the display of pre-made Yellow Sponge Cake Dessert Cups, Reddi Wip, and quart containers of unnaturally giant strawberries. I remember begging my Mom to buy the whole setup for my birthday, but my organic-gardening, vitamin-pushing Mom was not about that life. As a kid regularly denied Oreos, there was something sinfully alluring about those perfectly uniform yellow cups. (I also remember she did give in and buy them for me one time, and they were pretty awful.)

Instead, we were treated to homemade strawberry shortcakes! Mom, the designated baker in the family, would make the crumbly shortcake biscuits. Dad would throw the metal beaters and bowl into the freezer for a few moments, before whipping heavy cream with fine white sugar and a dash of vanilla. The slightly unripe, early strawberries would be soft and limp from sitting in sugar for a few hours, a natural red syrup forming at the bottom of the bowl. Every time our birthday nears, I start to crave this simple dessert.

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I am decidedly not a baker (as I mentioned here in Bmore Art). At a family dinner this week, it took all my willpower not to ask Mom for a few tips before embarking on this! I resisted, and I’m sorry to say, the biscuits were a disaster. My guess is I added way too much butter, and I now know the oven temperature was way too low. The biscuits were raw in the middle but too brown on the bottom to continue baking, tasting a little too much of baking powder and not even a hint of sweetness (I added 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar? Maybe I should’ve used regular sugar??). There will be no recipe to follow this week, as I didn’t want anyone out there in internet-land to mistakenly recreate these. Frowny face.

I managed to not screw up the whipped cream, however! I might’ve improved on that a little with this fragrant Penzey’s Mexican Vanilla. I also decided to add a bit of lemon zest to my macerated strawberries, which I will definitely be doing in the future. And let’s be real folks, anything with a big dollop of freshly made whipped cream is going to be delicious. After the first couple of disappointed and angsty bites, I started to genuinely enjoy it and I cleaned the whole plate. I mean, how could I not? The remainder of the failed biscuits are now going to be reincarnated as croutons. Nothing that a good olive oil and sea salt can’t fix.

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Jamie’s review

I first tried strawberry shortcake when I was a vegan about seven years ago. If I recall correctly, the filling was a strawberry-infused cream and not the macerated strawberries like Marisa produced. I couldn’t enjoy this shortcake since I am sadly allergic to strawberries. Boo. I, nevertheless, enjoyed my rendition of blackberry short cake. Thanks for accommodating me, Marisa.

The biscuit wasn’t worth the calories but it didn’t bother me that it wasn’t fully baked. I have no reference. I’ll gladly take some fruit, whipped cream, and simple carbs anytime.

This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph.