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.
S. B. Hadley says
This is my favorite post of yours so far but I'm biased. Reading about your weekend at P&G's cabin (or as I like to call it their "country house") and the mention of the French Laundry reminds me of our time last Labor weekend at both; imaging Peter saying that he's been to Paris too many times is just so … him; but the clincher for me is when I saw the words "rhubarb strawberry." When we summered in Maine every year my grandmother made us strawberry rhubarb pie, so it's a family favorite on the Wilson side. We also used to pick wild blueberries in front of our cottage but that's another story. Anyhow, thanks for sharing (and congrats to Karen & Ben!). I loved this post!
Mr. Jackhonky says
Ah what a Bucolic childhood you had! I would love to summer in Maine and pick wild blueberries. They are one of my absolute FAVORITE fruit. EVER.
And I have some rhubarb sitting in the fridge right now, that I bought before my business trip. I haven't figured out what I'm going to do with it yet, but it's just sitting there, waiting. It was so bright red I had to buy it!
Thanks for the love!
Hi Irvin, I just checked out your new blog for the first time yesterday! Thanks again for inviting us up to the "cabin." (And thanks to P&G for allowing you to invite us up!) We had a lot of fun that day, and I love the photos that you posted with this entry. I think the strawberry shortcake worked out perfectly for Rob's birthday cake. It was delicious (as were the chocolate chip cookies and the brownie bites)!
Re: Peter's comment about being "tired of Paris": Hilarious. My thoughts on that is that you, however, would never tire of Paris, as it has so many great restaurants to try out, and you, loving food, would never run out of options. I hope that you and AJ get to go someday soon – B and I had a fantastic time there last year, and well, you know what resulted.
@S.B. Hadley – thanks for the congrats!
Argh – grammar goes out the window with sleep! "My thoughts on that ARE…"
Ironically enough, strawberry shortcake DOES come to mind when I think of birthday cake, since my firstborn requested it for both his 2nd and 3rd birthdays! (I did it more along the lines of your first photo, though.)
Great post, great pics of your friends and family (love the Paul Frank-clad girl!), and the biscuit recipe looks delicious, if un-Southern.
Btw, this week I made your olive oil cake for my own last-minute, need-a-birthday-cake experience, and blogged it and linked back to you. THANK YOU!
(And I don't know who this S.B. Hadley person is, but I'm from Maine and also spent summers picking strawberries and wild blueberries with the Wilson side of my family . . . hmmm.)
wish i could have been there!!! great post…and can i say that i just love sydney's expression in the pic where rob is holding her over the shortcake? 'what exactly do you want me to do here?' LOL. she is too hilarious! and of course she had on the cutest outfit to boot…=D
Mr. Jackhonky says
@Karen, it was SO great to have you up there with us! I wish I had more pictures of you (actually I realized after I posted, I only pics of the boys. You, Anjana and Melissa didn't make it! Sorry! We'll have to host another dinner party and get photos of babies with the mom's holding them!
@Tara. I totally read your post! It was great, and I was SUPER pleased that you made it…for a birthday cake too! It's a great cake isn't? I'm glad your sister liked it!
And it's funny, right after I wrote those first few lines about "strawberry shortcake not being a traditional birthday cake" I realized that I had made strawberry shortcake for a bunch of friends of mine when we were in Hawaii. My friend Steve was smitten with it that he went home and made it for his daughter's two year birthday the following month! So I guess it's actually something that people DO make for birthday cakes.
And yes, that's is my lovely niece in the Paul Frank onesie. She's SO adorable, it's ridiculous. The entire day was utter cute overload, with all the babies!
Also what part of Maine are you from? I have many friends from Maine and they always tell such ridiculously amusing stories from there. Such a different life than my childhood, growing up in the suburbs of the midwest…
@feiwenfoodie. Sydney has the best expressions. THE. BEST. and the Paul Frank outfit! Totally fantastic. Though Kiran's totally rocked his Puma track pants!!!
Best strawberry shortcake I've ever had! Thanks, Irvin! =)
To answer your question, I'm currently living in the Midcoast (Camden-Rockport-Rockland) region of Maine, although I grew up in central Maine (near Bangor) and most of my relatives were/are in southern Maine (Portland and Brunswick). I know much of the state fairly well, although I haven't had much experience with far northern Maine (what we call The County) – it's a whole other state up there!
Mr. Jackhonky says
@Cantoben. Yay! Thanks!
@Tara. I have many friends who are from Maine. A couple of them are actually from Bangor (one has an amusing story about running to Stephen King while working at a McDonald's). A couple others are from the Portland area (Saco to be exact) and a few went to school up there
I hear it's beautiful there! I keep on meaning to visit. Especially Acadia National Park. Ahhh… One of these days…
So happy. The people, the photos, the love. And the fact I have eaten this strawberry shortcake many times–which made that Hawaii trip extra magical.
I find the "…issues" part of this post suspect, but that's because I have fears. I love the idea of you MacGuyvering together a fancy dessert out in the woods, because that's what you do! Whip up amazing desserts without any of the original ingredients or pans, and it becomes a day to remember.
Mmmmmm, such a great way to use all the lovely strawberries being sold in SF right now! I haven't had a good strawberry shortcake, and I don't think I've EVER made one. Clearly, this goes at the top of the list!
Mr. Jackhonky says
@Katie. YAY! I LOVE all the strawberries all over the place here in SF! I can't stop myself from buying them everytime I see them, even though I already have some in the fridge. They are so enticing…
You MUST experience good strawberry shortcake. Bad strawberry shortcake is just a waste of strawberries in my opinion. I'd rather just eat them plain. But GOOD strawberry shortcake…mmmm…. let me know what you think of them if you make it!
Nicole Nared says
So, I bought the Taste of Home Edition of Master Chef, and at this very moment, I am reading the article about you. No kidding! Im at work at my desk looking over your blog and article completely moved by your success. I feel that I have miles ahead of me to catch up to what you have done when it comes to baking, but I must say, that it is truly inspring.
Cooking and baking has always been relevant in my family for as long as I can remember. That gene just decided to become active within me, about a year ago. Not to mention, it came when I was extremely bored. I have to say, ever since I started baking and cooking more, I feel that I missed my calling in life, but at the same time, because I love it so much I don’t want to do it because I have to, I want to do it because I love to! Do you know what I mean? Well anyway, I don’t know where this newly unveiled skill of mine would take me, but I decided to start my own blog as well. Or create a website. I liked to do things differently from others. I would love for you to see it! Now, I just started working on this website like 2 weeks ago so I have so much more that I want to add and do. I prefaced that statement so you don’t make fun of me. But I would love to hear your story that you got you to this point and what are some ways that you made your blog known and got the word out about what your doing. I look forward to hearing from you!