Black Pepper and Honey Strawberry Shortcakes
There are ideas which slither their way in through my ear and then bang around in an empty skull for the next 10 years. I get fixated on a thought, taste or action which either grows into an addiction or lies fallow and degrading in my garden of abandoned thoughts. Eventually, when it’s been so long since I last thought about it that I’ve almost forgotten how it started, I’ll scratch my head and consider my “new” idea, which was actually a bastardized recollection. Oh, the vagaries of my questionable memory skills.
Here is an example of my tenacious clay-fist of memory in action. When I was in my late teens or early twenties, my parents and my brothers went on a tour of Niagara wineries….without me. I imagine that I couldn’t get the time off work (once again, I shake my fist at the hospitality industry as a whole and particularly at my former employers) because it wouldn’t have been a deliberate exclusion, but the fact of the matter remains that they were gallivanting around Ontario, sipping, sniffing and supping, and I wasn’t. Apparently I’m still harboring a grudge.
When they got back on Sunday night, I was regaled with stories of the different vineyards and some of the food and wine pairings that they had enjoyed. I’m sure that there was something to do with cheese, likely a few crackers along the way, but the only pairing that I remember hearing about was a musky and sharp Pinot Noir which was paired with pepper dipped strawberries. Strawberries and black pepper, living happily ever after, is a combination that I have now officially been mulling and pushing about in my mind for 1/3 of my life.
Strawberries and black pepper are certainly a judicious pairing. One of my favorite appetizers is a simple canape of dense brown bread smothered in tangy goat’s cheese and topped by slices of fresh strawberry and cracked black pepper. If you haven’t had a peppered strawberry dacquiri, well, you should. In this dessert, which is essentially an AA (note: I meant that to be “Adult Accompaniment” and not “Alcoholics Anonymous”, although either would certainly suffice) version of strawberry short cake, a peppered scone provides some companionship to the sweet drunken strawberries, rather than smothering them with spicy love. A dollop of Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche is the perfect topper to add some creaminess while mimicking the tang of the buttermilk in the biscuits.
Black Pepper and Honey Strawberry Shortcakes
Black Pepper and Honey Scones
- 2.25 cups all purpose flour
- 1.5 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup ice cold salted butter *
- 1 egg
Grand Marnier Soaked Strawberries
- 1 generous pint of small strawberries **
- 2 tbsp honey
- 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
- pinch of salt
- Thick Greek yoghurt, creme fraiche or clotted cream
- Pine nuts
* Keeping your butter as cold as possible will produce tender, flakier biscuits. I often tuck mine in the freezer for 30 minutes or so before use to really get it as cold as possible.
** You know those delicious looking but unnaturally large genetically modified strawberries in the grocery store? Leave them be. If you can, buy fresh strawberries from the market or organically grown natural strawberries which will have more natural sweetness and that distinctive strawberry taste…..as opposed to the former, which just taste, um, ‘red’.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
Put the honey and buttermilk in a heat proof bowl and microwave on high for about 30 seconds and then stir it to combine. Although liquid honey should incorporate easily into dairy or other liquids, a bit of heat just speeds along the process. Let this cool completely (tucking it in the fridge for 10 minutes won’t hurt) before you use it, because warm liquid will actually start to melt the butter in your scones and they won’t rise as well.
In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, black pepper and baking powder. Now I’ll freely admit that I’m lazy when it comes to sifting, so….I usually don’t unless I absolutely have to. I would much prefer to either shake the ingredients through a mesh strainer, which essentially does exactly the same thing as using your hand cranked sifter tool, or I’ll just whisk the flour in a bowl.
Grate your ice cold butter straight into the flour, and gently toss it with your fingertips until it’s well coated and powdery-white.
Pour on the cooled honey and buttermilk and stir gently with a spoon or your fingertips, just until the dough is moist and starts to come together. Try to remember that a lighter touch yields lighter biscuits, and if you overmix the dough or squeeze it too much with your hot little hands you’ll have a tough and dense end product.
Oh, and yes I *am* lazy and I *do* despise doing dishes, but hold onto the buttermilk bowl because it’s perfect to use when you beat your egg.
If you’re making 12 smaller scones and serving 2 per person, measure out half the dough. Mound the dough onto a lightly floured flat surface and knead it gently no more than 2-3 times. Pat the dough into a disk which is about 1″ thick and 5-6″ in diameter. Cut the dough into 6 wedges and place them on a well greased baking sheet. Repeat with the second portion of dough.
If you wanted to make 6-8 larger scones, mound the full amount of the dough on your floured board. Knead it gently 2-3 times and pat it into a disk which is about 8″ in diameter and about 1.5″ thick. Cut the dough into 6-8 larger wedges and place them on a well greased baking sheet.
Don’t over crowd the scones as they will spread slightly and puff up as they bake.
Beat the egg well in the bowl that previously housed honey and buttermilk. The residual fluids will add just a touch of sweetness and thin the egg ever so slightly. Brush the top of each scone lightly with the beaten egg so that they’ll brown up with a nice gloss in the oven. Discard any unused egg.
Bake the scones in the center of your oven for 13-15 minutes for the smaller scones (15-18 for the larger), or until they have puffed up and the tops are golden brown.
Although they’re best when fresh, like most baked goods, the scones can be stored in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 days. When they’re re-warmed in a toaster oven and slathered with butter and home made fruit preserves, they’re just as sweet and peppery as the rest of your day-to-day life.
These scones walk the line between sweet and savory through the tangy flavor of buttermilk and the slow, sneaking and quiet heat of the black pepper. The honey tempers the scones just enough to make them applicable for breakfast or a vehicle for fruity desserts, but if truth be told I was just as happy to eat leftover scones with a sharp and bitter Irish whisky soaked white cheddar cheese. And that, my friends, is how I roll (out of bed for breakfast).
Now then, not to neglect the booze-soaked strawberries! These are about as simple as it gets. You have strawberries, you have booze, and you have a sweetener.
A simple macerated strawberry for shortcake is usually just the hulled berries with some white sugar. I prefer the subtle complexity of honey which echoes the gentle barely sweet flavor of the scones. An added bonus is that technically honey is “sweeter” than many sugars, but it saves this dessert from reaching that saccharine state where my teeth feel like they’re tingling away in pre-cavity panic.
Slice the tops off of the strawberries and cut them into quarters or ‘same size’ pieces. Drizzle on the honey and Grand Marnier, and stir until they’re well coated. Leave the strawberries to soak up the flavor and soften slightly by letting them stew away in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
To serve the short cakes split your scone in half with your hands, which gives it that nice rustic look. Pile a few spoonfuls of strawberries in their juice onto the bottom and top with a dollop of tangy Greek yoghurt, creme fraiche, or clotted cream. A light sprinkling of pine nuts wouldn’t be amiss while you’re at it.
If the thought of tangy dairy doesn’t appeal to you and you’re just jonesing for a hit of good old fashioned whipped, well, who am I to stop you? But please, if nothing else, at least spike the cream with a bit of Grand Marnier while it’s whipping. You know that I’ll support anything which is laced.
I feel silly saying this, but my favorite picture is the one below. You know, the one where it looks like the pterodactyl scone beak is saying, “FEED ME!! FEED ME DRUNKEN STRAWBERRIES!!!” Because, apparently I like to live my life like it’s one big Rorschach experiment gone wrong.
It looks like Strawberry Shortcake has finally hung up her training bra once and for all. With black pepper, honey, and a good shot of Grand Marnier, it’s just like our favorite foodie-toon says, “Life is delicious.”