I’ll be honest…strawberry shortcake isn’t necessarily the first thing you think of when you think of a birthday cake. And though it’s true that I’ve made a pretty fancy strawberry shortcake like desert before for my dessert party (an adaptation of Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the Yard – it’s a white chocolate buttermilk cake with layers of whipped marscarpone cream and fresh strawberries – one of these days I’ll blog about the fancy version on the left there as it really is one of my favorite cakes), I just didn’t have the time nor the cookware available for me to make something that fancy.
Let’s back up. See AJ was on spring break this past week. And that meant we had an excellent window of opportunity for us to go on a vacation (I haven’t taken a real vacation for two years. Which means I have a LOT of vacation time accumulated). But AJ’s also taking a photography class on Tuesday and Thursday nights, which means we either had to go away for the first part of the week or the last part. We had an awesome birthday party to go to last weekend (I’ll be posting about that soon) so we opted for the last half of the week and I asked for the Friday off, got it, and then (of course) all sorts of stuff went down at work.
Turned out I had to go in and work the morning on the Friday that I asked off. Which ended up me going in an extra 45 minutes early (which, of course, meant I woke up an extra hour early). And then I ended up staying an extra hour later than I said I was originally going to. With all the “overtime” I actually had from working late earlier in the week, I ended up logging “1 hour” of vacation time.
But we were finally able to successfully get away from the city. With the insanity at work, I never had the forethought to think about what we were going to do when we did get away. Because, as per usual in the “Irvin and AJ Show” we didn’t just make our trip a little three day weekend trip away from home. Nope, we ended up hosting a dinner party in Sonoma for friends and family.
Let’s back up some more. So my friends Peter and Grant actually own a place up in Sonoma. Just a little background on Peter and Grant…they are the “fanciest” friends we have. Sure we’ve met fancier people, but we aren’t personal friends with them. But Peter and Grant, well, they are fancy!
They used to rent a fabulous apartment up in Telegraph Hill with an amazing view of Coit Tower (yeah, that’s the view on the right, from their rooftop deck in the old apartment) and the Bay Bridge. They would host fantastic parties for Fourth of July where we could go up to their rooftop deck and watch the fireworks, as well as amazing parties for the Blue Angels air show, where the airplanes would fly so close that when they were inverted you could see what the pilot looked like in the cockpit.
Now they live on the 19th floor of a gorgeous high rise building South of Market, with floor to ceiling windows and a view of city. It has the feeling of living in Manhattan or some other major metropolitan city (which, I guess now that I think of it, is what San Francisco is, but still, it feels like a different San Francisco than what I live in).
They were the friends I went with to French Laundry (well the second time I went, but that’s another story for another time). Peter can eat an entire roast chicken without ever touching it with his fingers. Grant owns not one, but TWO tuxedos (who needs more than one tuxedo? Apparently fancy people do). Peter has told me he is tired of going to Paris because he’s been there so many times. TIRED OF PARIS (and somehow, Peter can say this without sound totally pretentious too, it’s a gift). Currently Grant is in Switzerland on a business trip and Peter is flying out to meet him and then they are going to spend a week in Europe traveling about.
I’ve never been to Paris.
But that’s neither here nor there. I love them dearly and thankfully they love us enough to let AJ and I borrow their “cabin” up in Sonoma for the long weekend, which was all sorts of awesome. And since the “cabin” (which of course, is absolutely gorgeous and the reason I use the quotes around the word cabin, is when I think cabin, I think rustic roughing it sort of abode, not a fancy decorated home with a deck and windows overlooking the Russian River that looks straight out of a spread in Architecture Magazine) has three bedrooms we thought we would invite some friends up as well to hang out with us as well.
We hadn’t seen our friends Karen and Ben in AGES and they just had a baby, so we figured they might appreciate a trip away from home. My brother and sister-in-law also just had a baby last November, and I had been wanting to spend more time with my adorable niece so we invited them over from Sacramento. And since they both said they were going to come up but not spend the night, we invited our friends Anjana and Steve who also just had a baby (Um yes. Pretty much ALL my friends are currently having babies. It’s actually a little ridiculous). It was going to be a day of friends and family and babies.
So somehow, what was suppose to a fabulous little weekend getaway for AJ and I ended up with us hosting a dinner party for eight, plus three newborns. But we live for this sort of stuff!
And, of course, we hadn’t prepared ANYTHING for it.
That’s ok. I had made some semi-unsuccessful caramel brownies the other day (note to self. Do not tinker with a Thomas Keller recipe) and I had some frozen chocolate chip cookie dough so I threw those in a bag at the last minute along with the leftover caramel sauce I had mistakenly made for a Seder (see previous entry). I figured we could buy some decent vanilla ice cream, and I would make chocolate chip cookie sundaes (fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, vanilla ice cream on top, caramel sauce and crumbled brownie bits on top) for dessert. Done.
But in the end I realized that if people were driving two hours to get to Sonoma and then two hour back AFTER dinner, with newborns (age range between 3 to 6 months) they probably wouldn’t be the most alert after an ice cream sundae. See, I put my friend safety first! Plus, I dunno, I was feeling like I wanted to bake something from scratch, not thrown together. We were in the country! It didn’t feel ice cream sundae. It felt like it was time for something more rustic.
So I decided against the cookie sundae. Going to the grocery store I looked around, and they did not have any rhubarb (I was contemplating a rhubarb strawberry crumble or crisp) but they had what looked like one decent box of strawberries. Strawberry Shortcake it is! Sold!
I baked the biscuits in the morning (so AJ could have one for breakfast with honey which he loves). I ended up baking the cookies for a post lunch snack for everyone, cut up the brownies and put them out as well (which I warned everyone about as being semi-unsuccessful, but they seemed happy to ignore me as there were only a few left from the full batch, the leftovers AJ scarfed down the following day).
And then halfway through trying to figure out what to make for dinner (burgers or chicken?) I realized that it was my brother’s birthday.
Well dang it. Had I known, I would have made him a birthday cake! But I’m pretty horrible when it comes to remembering birthdays, and so, I had not.
Besides which, Peter and Grant have an AMAZINGLY well stocked kitchen (for a second home), but they didn’t have cake pans that would be appropriate to make a layer cake. I guess I could have made a 9 x 13 sheet cake or figured out how bake a couple of layers with the cast iron skillet they had, but I just wasn’t feeling that MacGuyver.
Not to mention that they cabin didn’t have internet or a telephone. Luckily I had my iPhone and access to Epicurious.com’s database of recipes.
We decided on doing a quick Mexican inspired adobo rubbed chicken as well as some vegetable kabobs and a salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. There was some drama with the grill (apparently it hadn’t been used for while, and there were some…issues that we had to resolve before dinner could be cooked). But in the end it all worked out. Dinner was delicious and I decided that my original idea of strawberry shortcake would just have to do. Stick a candle in pretty much any dessert and it works as a birthday cake doesn’t it?
Well I heard no complaints from my brother… lets just hope my little niece is able to fulfill my brother’s birthday wish that she sleep throughout the night without waking up her mommy or daddy. That would probably be the best birthday present ever for my brother…
Note: Whilst baking I listened to Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. Utterly classic, Daniel Lanois’ production brought Emmylou’s plaintive voice to new depths. Highly recommended.
Emergency Strawberry Shortcake Birthday Cake
adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe
for sweet biscuits
1 egg yolk plus 1 Tbls water
for sweet strawberry filling
2 pints of strawberries (1 lb)
2 tablespoons of white granulated sugar
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
Zest from 2 medium meyer lemons.
Juice from 2 medium meyer lemons
for whipped cream
2 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream (try not to get ultra pasteurized)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
4. Whip the cream until you get soft peaks.
1. Take the cooled biscuits and sliced them horizontally carefully.
2. Spoon some whipped cream on to the bottom of the biscuit
3. Spoon some strawberry filling onto the whipped cream. Be sure to get some of the juices that are at the bottom.
4. Spoon some more whipped cream on top of the strawberries.
5. Place the top of the biscuit on top. Serve with a single candle on top if it is someone’s birthday.
Note 1. These biscuits are spread out really flat because they are made with so much liquid. I personally like it this way because it gets more strawberry & cream to biscuit ratio. But if you like more biscuit, use 1/4 cup less buttermilk. You’ll get a firmer biscuit and it won’t spread as much, which means it’ll have less surface area and you’ll end up with less strawberries and less whipped cream.
Note 2. As always, if you don’t have buttermilk, use 1 cup of regular milk and add 1 Tbls of vinegar (preferably apple cider) or lemon juice. Stir and let it curdle for 10 minutes before using.
Note 3. Turbinado or demerara sugar are sometimes is called by their brand name “Sugar in the Raw”. If you can’t find, just sprinkle some regular granulated or some brown sugar on top.