Sometimes I like to get fancy.
Other times, I like to keep it casual. Comfortable. Traditional.
And every now and then, I combine the two states – comfy casual, with a touch of fancy. Jeans and diamonds. Sandals and pearls.
Strawberries and balsamic.
Strawberries just speak of Summer, as if the warm rays of sunshine are somehow magically trapped inside those tiny little seeds. At their peak, they’re bursting with juicy sweetness and a velvety texture.
Balsamic vinegar is dark, tangy, and dry – it provides a perfect accompaniment to both balance and enhance the sultry flavor of perfectly ripe strawberries.
A week or two ago, I’d been experimenting with citrus and lavender in an effort to craft a refreshing summer cocktail. In the midst of that creative process I paused to attend Sunday dinner at my dad’s, where we enjoyed strawberry shortcake for dessert.
Boom. Pow. Fireworks. The lemon and lavender I’d been playing with earlier in the day were still in my mind as I tucked in to the macerated strawberries and pound cake.
Lemon. Strawberry. Lavender. Whipped cream.
I knew I needed something to cut through what could have been a cloying, overly fruity and floral dessert. Enter the balsamic; my old friend, my favorite strawberry fancy-fier.
But it couldn’t just be a simple splash from the vinegar bottle; that would be fine any other day, but in order to hold its own with the other flavors, I needed the more concentrated power of a balsamic reduction. A few sliced strawberries, a vanilla bean, and some dried lavender, and the balsamic was infused with even more flavor.
The flavors of this dessert dance and play in your mouth; the rich yet bouncy lemon pound cake embraces the juicy strawberries. The lemon whipped cream, with its cool and zesty citrus, balances the darker, drier tones of the strawberry-lavender balsamic reduction.
It’s a mouthful, that’s for sure – but it’s the kind of mouthful that gives you something new with each bite.
The comfort of a classic summertime dessert, with a little something fancy.
Strawberry Shortcake with Lemon Whipped Cream and Strawberry-Lavender Balsamic Reduction
1 pint strawberries, 2 or 3 berries reserved
1 Tbsp + 2 Tbsp sugar, separated
½ c balsamic vinegar
½ c water
2 Tbsp honey or agave nectar
1-2 tsp dried lavender
1 vanilla bean, split
1 c heavy cream
Zest of one lemon
1-2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Lemon pound cake (store-bought is fine), sliced
Macerate the strawberries: Cut off the stems and slice the strawberries. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp sugar on top and stir. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Prepare the balsamic glaze: Combine the balsamic vinegar, water, honey or agave nectar, lavender, the two or three strawberries you reserved (sliced), and the vanilla bean (scrape the seeds out into the liquid and throw the bean in there for good measure), in a saucepan. Heat on medium until bubbling, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half or even more, depending on how thick you want the reduction. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove the vanilla bean and strain through a mesh sieve (or leave the strawberry and lavender pieces in there, if you’re feeling frisky).
Prepare the whipped cream: Combine the heavy cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 2 Tbsp sugar in a standing mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment. Beat on medium high until soft peaks form, or longer for firmer peaks.
Serve: Layer the pound cake and macerated strawberries on a plate. Top with the whipped cream and drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Garnish with lemon zest or dried lavender.