I started sharing recipes online in 1995 and it’s always been about building a repository of the dishes I love and making them available to family and friends. I seldom segue this effort into deeply personal or particularly painful aspects of my life because so often the food and the feeding of others really is my happy place; it’s something that’s real and nurturing and a mirror of who I am. So it might not be expected from me but today I just can’t pretend that life is all shortcake and berries; I feel compelled to say something, anything, about the incident that has permeated every moment of my consciousness since I woke at 3:30am on Friday morning and turned on the television only in hopes of falling back to sleep.
Twelve years ago, my daughter attended a high school only 20 minutes east of Columbine. Those moments after that tragedy, the days and weeks that followed were heart wrenching. Not just for the families involved but for my own child. Her school, like others in this area went on major lockdown and copycat threats aimed at her school made the determination of ‘life as usual’ difficult. The close proximity of Columbine meant knowing people who had lost children or friends that day. Having a child lose some of the innocence of her young life was hard enough but it was her being the same age as those victims that made the pain of those parents so real. Our family attended a moving vigil honoring those children that I will never forget.
A once in a lifetime period of heartbreak that geography made more personal; something you could never imagine happening again. But it did. Not here at first but in other places; as if our experience opened the door to others seeking the most notoriety imaginable, the taking of innocent lives in a mad desire to be known, to be visible for something, anything. I felt that pain more personally each time I read of one more incident from afar but could never, ever imagine that this community, this city, this state that I love could find itself there again. Yet here we are. That morning, just turning on the TV to find something mind numbing to help me sleep I could never have expected to see and hear the story that was being told; in fact it was so surreal that it didn’t register, it was a moment of simply not believing. Not again. As horrible as the actual event itself is; the commentary after the fact, the dissection and presumption about the people here, it all adds immeasurably to an already horrific and painful scenario. Knowing that hordes will be gathering on Monday morning at the Arapahoe Country Justice Center just minutes from my home will keep me sequestered trying to avoid as much of this as I can; to keep the sadness at bay as much as possible.
When we first moved to Denver 26 years ago, our first home was in Aurora. I’ve shopped in that area, been to that theater; it’s only 20 minutes to the east of us. This is not just another distant place and distant people that I can empathize with; this is hitting home and close to the heart again. Hours and days of anxiety before knowing that the victims are not people you know; grief over hearing of the loss of so many young people, innocents just going to a movie. We all react differently to our sorrow and after a day of being just scattered, unable to concentrate, unable to work, I did what often soothes me when nothing else can. I bake. I knew there would be something in that action, that creating of something that is almost magical from the combination of flour, butter, sugar and more that would help transport me away from the neverending news coverage and the resulting nonstop heartbreak. I’ve been avoiding my oven a bit because of the heat wave we seem immersed in but it was cool enough Saturday morning and I got started early.
I know that baking and cooking are often my response when others are in crisis but this time I needed it as much as anything for me. Nothing seemed more appropriate for the occasion than to do something for #Baketogether, a time of virtual baking when we might be alone in our kitchen but are also a part of something bigger, a group that comes together each month with their trials, tribulations and joys of baking and in that effort we have a bond. And I needed to feel that bond. So I’m grateful to all of my baking friends for being there with me. Abby and Amanda, Karen and Kate, Shari, Lora, Jamie, Ken and more. Thank you friends; though I wish you could really be in my kitchen with me; having you there in a virtual way made a difference. Pavarotti joined us too as did a recording of my daughter’s college choir singing hymns and there was a morning of peace from the unrelenting news coverage that starts to wear on you. It allowed me to focus on something not filled with senseless violence but to remember how connected we can be and how friends, both real and virtual, make such a difference during the darkest of days.
I baked cookies, made cinnamon rolls and pulled together this dessert. It was a productive and peaceful morning of baking and photography that delivered some surprises, including my own at how much I loved this variation of shortcake. Making this dessert using plums instead of strawberries for a delicious summer shortcake is not exactly how I expected this recipe to go down. The #Baketogether mission for July from Abby Dodge was something I was so happy to see when it was announced. I’m not sure I love any dessert in the summer more than strawberry shortcake. Warm, slightly sweet biscuits topped with glorious fruit and decadent cream? It makes my mouth water just writing those words. Abby decided to make a chocolate variation but I knew from the moment that I saw Abby’s recipe that I would stay true to a more traditional version; a recipe I first used from Fine Cooking last year. I thought it perfection and I suppose I’ve not made it enough to feel ready to move on; I’m loyal that way. 🙂
If I was so keen on making the traditional version, why plums? I very simply did not feel like going out so I decided to make do with what I had on hand. My kitchen counter held a basket of plums that were perfectly ripe and so they became the inspiration for this dish. I love plums when they are good; most often happy to just stand over the kitchen sink and eat them out of hand while their juices dribble down my arms. Luckily I also knew they would be terrific with shortcake and whipped cream.
It’s no secret I like a touch of something boozy in my desserts; although there is never enough alcohol involved to affect anyone’s senses I think wine, liqueurs and even the right liquor can add a great touch. For this dessert I decided to use a bottle of La Playa ‘Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc’- a sweet dessert wine that I’ve had stored for quite some time; I suppose it was waiting for just the right moment. With a combination of fruit and a fresh acidity I thought it was the perfect compliment. I cooked down some of the plums with the wine to create a sauce while the remainder were sliced and macerated in sugar and more wine.
A bit more of the wine went into the Chantilly cream that topped this elegant and unique dessert and while it sounds like a lot; I kept the amount slight enough in each application that it does lend a sophistication to the end result but it is not at all overpowering. One final step to garnish the dish with some toasted almonds was perfect; I think plums and almonds have such a natural affinity I couldn’t not do it.
My biggest revision to the recipe for the shortcake was to modify it for a food processor; if you don’t have one, simply refer to the original recipe at Fine Cooking for their method. I did choose to use turbinado sugar to finish the top of the shortcakes but it’s just what I like, certainly use granulated sugar if it’s what you have on hand.
If you would indulge me for one more moment?
I was part of a Twitter conversation after seeing another local get into a discussion about a well known national news celebrity and the resulting sensationalizing of this event; questioning her intent as a standard bearer for justice when her online broadcast was about nothing but the perpetrator of these crimes. Soon those same sources will be lamenting how this could have happened and there will be the typical discussions about how most mass murderers are seeking attention in their own pathetic way. Attention that news sources all over this world seem intent to provide them. So…in keeping with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s comment during his message yesterday evening, I refuse to say his name. I will not buy a publication that has his photo included; I will turn off any news broadcast that decides to feature stories on his life. It’s a small gesture but it’s one that I can make and I ask you to join me. There are 70 dead and injured victims of this crime. There are hundreds of others who were lucky to escape; they all have family, friends and loved ones. I would think there is plenty of human interest in those numbers to tell plenty of stories; I would hope those stories would be enough.
Plum Shortcake with Spiked Chantilly Cream
A combination of tender shortcake biscuit, fresh summer fruit and a lightly spiked whipped cream makes for a very adult, very luscious dessert.
For the plum topping
- 9 ripe plums
- 3 – 4 T sugar, to taste
- 3 Tbsp water
- 2 Tbsp sweet wine (I used a Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine) or fresh lemon juice, to taste
For the shortcake biscuits
- 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 4 oz. (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup heavy cream; more for brushing
- 1/4 cup buttermilk (or use regular milk with 1/4 tsp lemon juice added)
- 1 Tbsp turbinado sugar (use granulated if not available)
For the Chantilly whipped cream
- 1 & 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 4-6 Tbsp.powdered sugar to taste
- 2 Tbsp sweet dessert wine
To Prepare the Plums:
- Slice 1/3 of the plums and put into small pan on the stove. Add 3 Tbsp sugar and the water and cook on low for about 5 minutes until the fruit starts to soften.
- Remove from heat, add 2 Tbsp of the dessert wine and continue to simmer the mixture for 1-2 minutes until the syrup thickens. Taste and add 1 additional tablespoon of sugar if necessary. Strain the plum syrup through a strainer and discard the solids. Cool.
- Cut remaining plums in half and remove pits. Slice thinly and toss remaining tablespoon of the dessert wine (or lemon juice) and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set aside.
To Make the shortcake biscuits:
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Line a large heavy-duty baking sheet with parchment.
- Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to mix.
- Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg and heavy cream with a fork and mix in the buttermilk.Add to the dough in the processor through the feed tube as you pulse until it all comes together; it might still look a little shaggy.
- Remove the dough from the processor and gently knead it three or four times on a floured surface. If the dough seems dry and doesn’t form a cohesive mass, work in more cream, 1 tsp. at a time.
- On the floured surface, roll the dough into a 3/4 -inch-thick disk. With a sharp 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, press straight down to cut the dough into rounds and lift straight up to remove (don’t twist the cutter or it will seal the sides of the biscuits and interfere with rising). Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheet. Gather the dough scraps, gently knead them together, re-roll, and cut out more biscuits until you have a total of 6 (I got 8 but I'm not sure my dough was 3/4" thick...still they were fine)..
- Lightly brush the biscuit tops using about 1 Tbsp heavy cream and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake, rotating the baking sheet once, until the biscuit tops are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Let the biscuits cool slightly while you whip the cream.
- To Whip the cream:
- In a large, chilled metal mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream, sugar and sweet wine (optional) on low until well blended, turn speed up to medium high and whip until soft peaks form. (Use immediately or refrigerate, covered until ready to serve).
To Assemble the shortcakes:
- Using a serrated knife, split the warm biscuits in half horizontally and transfer the bottoms to 6 dessert plates. Spoon about three-quarters of the macerated plums and the plum sauce evenly over the biscuit bottoms. It’s OK if some of the fruit spills out onto the plate. Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and cover each with a biscuit top. Spoon more plums and cream over each shortcake; sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve immediately.
Make Ahead Tips The biscuits can be baked 10 to 12 hours ahead and reheated in a 350°F oven before serving. The plum sauce can be made a day ahead and refrigerated and the plum slices can be macerated up to 2 hours ahead. The cream can be whipped up to 2 hours ahead and refrigerated, covered. If necessary, lightly re-whip before using.
Want to Join Baketogether?
We would love to have you. Each month Abby gives us a starting point with a recipe and we use it as our inspiration to make as is or to modify like crazy. Check out Abby’s Baketogether info for more information. It truly is a great community of bakers with experience that runs the gamut and I know that each month we all learn something…from Abby, from each other and often from our own experience. In this moment especially, I hope they all know how much that means to me.