Cake superior

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Photograph: Roxana Marroquin

Are shortcakes so named because one devours them in short order, or because their soft, crumbly texture derives from shortening—butter or lard—in the batter? We’re prepared to believe the former, though culinary historians claim the latter. This question comes to mind as we chase the last few crumbs of the strawberry shortcake ($4.75) at Amy’s Bread (672 Ninth Ave between 46th and 47th Sts, 212-977-2670; additional locations at amysbread.com) that just moments earlier was a beautifully sloppy pile of biscuit, whipped cream and sweetened local berries. The shortcake itself, the culmination of much effort, reaches owner Amy Scherber’s goal of a biscuit with a crisp surface and a soft, almost cakelike interior. A sprinkle of sugar baked into the shortcake creates its crunchy cap, while minimal handling and the use of butter and cream assure the tender crumb. And it won’t get soggy: These affordable seasonal pleasures are assembled to order. Diced local berries and their sweet juices are spooned onto the bottom half of a split biscuit, then crowned with a generous mound of unsweetened, featherlight cream. Scherber prefers to leave the biscuit top bare because “it’s so pretty.” But like Shakespeare’s summer, strawberries’ “lease hath all too short a date.” Scherber assures us that they’ll be available through mid-to-late August, after which she’ll switch to mixed-berry shortcakes, “depending upon what comes in” from nearby farms. Anyone for blueberries?

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