During that time that I reference all too often, the winter break in Bar Harbor I spent alone, I was obsessed with strawberry shortcake. It's one among many foods that I have fetishized, fussed with, and found lacking. I always had to add something to strawberry shortcake. Nutmeg wove its way sucessively through each piece of it: the biscuits, the whipped cream, even, oddly, the sugared strawberries. I put rose water in there, one time. Vanilla in the cream, another. I may even have tried cinnamon somewhere. I did not try any sort of booze, which probably would have been the only thing worth trying.
I don’t remember exactly how many times I made strawberry shortcake, but sometimes it seems that all I did during those three weeks was eat strawberry shortcake with cheap Chardonnay and watch “Absolutely Fabulous”. I kept hoping it would be more decadent and less sickeningly rich. The strawberries deceive me into thinking that I’m eating something light and fruity, not a pile of butter and cream. Of course, that is the point of the dish–that the wet, fresh, mildly sweet berries compliment the heavy, dry biscuits and the rich cream. I kept thinking well, it’s almost perfect. Part of the trouble was that by the time I actually took a bite of the stuff, I had already eaten a few biscuits. And having had just eaten dinner, my digestion was already weighed down. The shortcake was putting me to sleep.
Decadence is by definition excessive, but one wants it to be, somehow, a needful excess. A lush does not wish to drown in pointlessness, to have everything and anything. He wants to get that particular thing, to stretch out fulfillment like taffy. To be decadent is to delay endings, which, really, is to delay time’s passage entirely. Unfortunately, strawberry shortcake leaves you sedated, gurgling, and not freed in the slightest. The worst part is, after one deadening plate, I still want more of it. And I’ll make it again. Decadence may be impossible, but I can try again and again, creating the appearance of decadence. I can try to create a tiny opening of the present, but each attempt takes me further away. Strawberry shortcake, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know, is not transcendance.
That doesn’t stop me from wishing. The only excuse I need is a new angle. This time it was an impetus thinly veiled behind the scent and flavor of strawberries. Someone told me she was eating strawberries, that the flavor was unparalleled, that nohing beats the taste of a good, fresh strawberry. I could never have what I imagined her experience to be, but I could sidle up as close as possible to that red, sylvan jouissance. I immediately bounded to the store, of course, and found that strawberries were on sale. Thrilled, I told her that I got them, that the package of strawberries was in my hand. “Smell them,” she told me. I did. “Oh yes,” I said, the air through the vents of the plastic box perfumed with promise.
Strawberries, through, unless they’re ridiculously good, are improved by sugar and stewing. These strawberries were not quite ripe enough to be best alone. This time strawberry shortcake would be foremost a vehicle for strawberries. I wanted to distill them to purer version of themselves. There would be no distractions: no nutmeg, no rosewater, no vanilla. Just sugar, biscuits, and cream. In the end, same story: nausea, second helpings, remainders of desire.
Slice some strawberries, remove their green tops, and put them in a bowl. Cover them with about a tablespoon of sugar for every two strawberries. Stir them about. Set the oven to 425 F. In another bowl mix together two cups flour, three teaspoons baking powder, and two pinches of salt. Put in a stick of cold butter. Coat it with flour and slice it into chunks, then cut it finely into the flour using a pastry cutter. Add one egg and nearly 2/3 a cup of milk. Mix with a fork until a dough is formed. Roll out the dough, dusting it with flour so it doesn't stick. Fold it once onto itself. Roll it out again to roughly 1/3 inch. Cut out small discs with a cup and put them onto a baking pan. Bake until risen and lightly browned on bottom. In yet another bowl whip some heavy cream to very soft peaks. Warm the strawberries in a small pot until all the sugar dissolves. Cut one of the biscuits in half, putting the insides up on a plate. Cover the halves with strawberries and whipped cream.