Saturday, October 6, 2007

Shortcake like Mother Never Made (unless Mother was an Italian Pastry Chef)

Amongst shortcake fans you have your biscuit-lovers and your sponge-cake devotees. Cake people are wrong, of course; in shortcake, biscuits are better. But every once in a while even my strongest convictions have to be altered.
After the Strawberry & Peach Shortcake I had recently at Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar in Healdsburg I now concede that if the cake is made with cornmeal and topped with a toasted pine nut brittle I can be lured from biscuit loyalty. (Of course, just to confuse matters, Willi's menu describles the shortcake base as a cornmeal biscuit, but to my tastebuds it was a cake.)
My first thought was that pine nuts, butter and sugar had been layered on the bottom of the pan, the batter poured on top and the cake flipped over for serving -- sort of a variation on pineapple upside-down cake.
A phone call to Willi's chef Matt Laurell erased that quick-and-easy theory. Seems that first one must toast the pine nuts, use them to make a pine nut brittle (known In Italy as *crocante*), scatter bits of the brittle atop the raw batter and then bake. Fiddly work, as Nigella would say, but oh-so-worth it.
Laurell said his brittle uses brown sugar, molasses and corn syrup. The closest-seeming recipe I could find was on the food network's site, but I suspect that any brittle recipe would give a similar result. Before the last of the peaches and nectarines vanish from the farmers' markets, I'm going to give this a try.


halcyondays said...

send me everything from the whipped cream up!

This does look delicious!! Great photo too!

katiez said...

I'm a biscuit person myself... but I could convert to that gorgeous dish in a heartbeat!