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I suppose my scone anxiety started about 10 years ago when I was doing a stint teaching English in Japan.

My next-door neighbour invited me to a cooking class being hosted by one of the American wives who lived on a nearby U. S. naval base. Every so often they would run these courses and local housewives in my small town would sign up, looking for a chance to learn some foreign cooking and perhaps practise English.

I’m sure I paid attention. I’m also sure we put in all the ingredients. I’m confident we didn’t overmix.

But pulling our tray from the oven, it was painfully obvious something, somewhere had gone wrong.

The navy wife clucked her tongue and kindly suggested we forgot to add the baking powder.

To say they were hockey pucks would have been polite.

To add to that anxiety was the confusion I suffered when attempting to make scones again: how best to mix the butter with the flour to ensure even incorporation while the butter remains cold.

Pastry blender? Fingertips? Food processor?

It was all a bit much for this would-be perfectionist to handle.

I understood the logic behind it. If the butter stays cold and is perfectly mixed in with the rest of the ingredients, it will melt in the heat of the oven, creating light layers in the scone. But I just didn’t know which method was best.

Still, one can only be afraid of scones for so long.

And it’s strawberry season.

And if those two things aren’t enough to make this girl face down her anxiety with a round of strawberry shortcakes, I’m not sure what would be. After all, the thought of a light, golden scone-like shortcake, topped with slightly sweetened strawberries and a healthy dollop of whipped cream is enough to make me do things much worse than attempt a recipe while bracing for failure.

Within reason, of course.

As hoped for, my anxiety completely melted away when the recipe came together quickly and the shortcakes out of the oven were the requisite golden colour, pulling apart neatly to display all their lovely inner layers.

Strawberry Shortcake II

It may have been thanks to chef Nigella Lawson’s approach to the butter conundrum, which is to grate frozen butter into the dry ingredients. It seems so ridiculously smart, now that I think about it. After all, if the goal is even distribution, what better tool to use than something that will conveniently portion the butter out into tiny pieces? Not to mention the fact that because the butter is frozen, it’s difficult for it to warm up too much before the mixture goes into the oven anyway.

It may also have been that I made absolutely sure to add the leavening.

And it may have been that sometimes anxieties just need to be confronted.

After all, the rewards to be reaped here will carry on and on.

And, in the immediate moment, there are shortcakes to enjoy.

Strawberry Shortcake I

Strawberry Shortcakes

Adapted slightly from chef Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

For the shortcakes:

  • 1½ cups (325 ml) flour
  • ½ tsp (2 ml) salt
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) baking powder
  • 5 tbsp (75 ml) sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup (125 ml) half-and-half cream
  • 2 tbsp (25 ml) whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp (15 ml) sugar, divided
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream

for the filling:

  • 1 pound (500 g) strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • mix the sliced strawberries with 1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar and set aside in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 425°f (220°c).

Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and 3 tbsp (50 ml) of the sugar in a bowl. Grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients and use your fingertips to lightly toss all together. Whisk the egg into the half-and-half cream and pour into the flour mixture a little at a time, using a fork to mix. (Nigella notes you may not need all the cream; I needed another tablespoon or so.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then roll gently to about ¾-inch (2 centimetres) thick. Dip a cutter in flour and cut out as many shortcakes as possible. Work the scraps back together, re-roll and cut more. (Nigella suggests using a 3-inch/6½-cm round cutter to make 8; I used a much smaller square one and subsequently got 15 shortcakes.) Place on a baking sheet, brush the tops with the 2 tbsp (25 ml)whipping cream and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes (because mine were significantly smaller than suggested, they only took 8 minutes) until golden. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Whip the whipping cream with the remaining 1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar-and a splash of vanilla extract if desired.

Split the shortcakes through the middle, top with a spoonful of strawberries and dollop of whipped cream and then put the top back on.

These are best served slightly warm.

This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.

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