Cloud Cake

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I made this Martha Stewart recipe for one of our two Mother’s Day celebrations earlier this month, and it was easy to prepare all the pieces the day before and then assemble it with a flourish on the day of. The original recipe is not gluten-free but we had Fussellette staying with us and made one simple adjustment to make it that way – you can do it whichever way you would like.

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Start with the meringue: preheat your oven to 275°F and grab three 8″ round cake pans. I happened to have 2 8″ round cake pans and one 9″, so that’s what I used.

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Butter the pans and then line the bottom and sides with parchment. This is easier said than done as the pans are round and parchment is straight. Get creative with the folding. It’ll just add to the allure of the finished product, I promise. Now butter the parchment as well to make sure it sticks.

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Crack open 6 large eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. Put the yolks in the fridge for now and leave the whites to come to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt until smooth and powdery and when you open the lid it kind of wafts out like smoke. Don’t inhale that. You will cough.

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Now grab your 6 egg whites and beat them with a pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

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Slowly, a little bit at a time, tip in the sugar mixture and keep beating until you get lovely stiff peaks.

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Smooth the meringue amid your three pans and bake for 1 hour.

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Then turn off the oven and wedge the oven door open with a wooden spoon for another hour. Then move the pans to a wire rack to cool completely. If you’re going to assemble the cake the next day, slip each layer of cooled meringue into a separate sealed bag and suck the air out of it.

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Next, let’s work on the custard cream. In a bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and a pinch of coarse salt. We made a gluten-free version of the flour by combining coconut flour, xanthan gum, and corn starch.

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In a small saucepan, combine your leftover 6 egg yolks (original recipe calls for 3 but why waste them?) with 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and a split vanilla bean pod with the seeds scraped out. Stir that over medium heat and slowly add in the flour mixture.

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With ours, because of the nontraditional ingredients, I found the buttermilk reacted with either the cornstarch or the xanthan gum and I pretty much had instant custard. So I stirred it until I was sure the yolks had a chance to cook and then took it off the heat. If you’re using regular flour you may have to work harder at it, so stir until it just comes to a boil and then strain through a fine meshed sieve.

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Pour the custard cream into a bowl, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the surface so it’s completely sealed, and chuck it in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

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Now there’s caramel to make too. In the original, Martha used the microwave but we moved ours into the basement and that was too far away. I did this in a small saucepan on the stove. First, spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment.

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Then over medium heat, stir together 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons corn syrup.

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Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is bubbling and turns a light brown.

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Remove that from the heat and drizzle it over the baking sheet.

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Leave that to cool then chop it up with a knife into little tiny jagged pieces. If you’re assembling the next day, shove the pieces into a resealable bag and squeeze the air out.

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To assemble, start by whipping up some heavy cream to your taste and amount (this is going on the top as garnish so use as much as you like – I think we whipped up about a cup of it). Cream whips better if your bowl and mixers are cold, so chuck them in the freezer for a while if you can.

Plop one of the meringues on a nice plate and smother it with about half the custard cream.

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Sprinkle that with about 1/3 of your caramel pieces.

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Let some fall off artistically to the side. It’s decorative.

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Plop another meringue on and smear with the rest of the custard cream and another 1/3 of the caramel bits. Add the final layer and top that with your whipped cream and the last of the caramel. Serve immediately!

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Berry White Chocolate Scones

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Every once in a while, I get a craving for scones, and they’re so easy to whip up that there’s really no point in NOT making them. I like to use this base recipe from Canadian Living for versions where I’m adding in buttermilk, and then I just kind of wing it from there. Today we’re adding white chocolate chunks and some frozen service berries.

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Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Grab your chocolate and roughly chop up a few ounces. Here I used 6 ounces white chocolate.

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In a bowl, dump about 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Give that a good stir.

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Cube up 1/2 cup cold butter and tip that in as well. Use a pastry blender or two knives to cut the butter up into coarse crumbs.

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Now tip in 1 cup frozen berries. If you’re using big berries I recommend a rough chop first. You can add in your chocolate chunks too at this point.

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Give them a stir until everything is coated in flour.

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Whisk together 1 cup buttermilk and 1 large egg.

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Tip that into the mix and stir until just combined.

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It will be sticky and gross.

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Form it into a rough ball and tip it out onto a floured surface.

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Dust your hands with flour and pat the dough into a flattened cylinder that is about 1-1 1/2 inches thick.

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Slice that sucker into as many pieces as you want. Twelve is always a good number.

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Line ’em up on your baking sheet – if they’re sticky then flour the parchment as well.

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Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until the scones are dry to the touch and slightly browned. If you are using extra frozen fruit, you may want to add a few extra minutes to the baking time.

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Serve immediately for breakfast, lunch, or dessert – or just a snack!

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Age of Decadence Birthday Cupcakes

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Yesterday was my brand new  minion’s respected co-worker’s birthday, and I wanted to celebrate her first month on the job (and a milestone birthday she wasn’t really looking forward to) with her favourite treat: a dark, rich chocolate cake. Cake’s a bit hard to transport around the office, however, so I went with the cupcake version instead, and I made someone else do all the hard work for me in choosing the best recipe. I picked Sally’s Baking Addiction’s tried and tested Death by Chocolate Cupcakes and doubled the recipe (as I am wont to do). An entire bar of this lovely dark chocolate went into the process and I think it was entirely worth it.

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Like all good cupcakes, you start with butter and chocolate, and melting things. In the bowl of a double boiler (or in your microwave, but I no longer own one of those), melt together 1 cup unsalted butter and 4 ounces chocolate (the recipe calls for semi-sweet but I say use whatever is your favourite).

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Once that’s all smooth and sassy, set it aside to cool a little bit. Line two muffin tins with cupcake liners and preheat your oven to 350°F.

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In a smallish bowl, whisk together 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Leave that alone and do the next thing.

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In a largish bowl, crack 4 large room temperature eggs,  then tip in 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Whisk-y, whisk-y, whisk-y.

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I kind of miss whiskey …

Pour the melted butter and chocolate into the egg/sugar stuff and mix until smooth.

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Grab yourself 1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, tip 2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice into a cup and top it up with milk. Give it a stir and leave it about five minutes until it’s curdled and thick. It’s not *quite* the same, though, and the Pie likes having buttermilk for pancakes, so I am using the real deal).  Alternate pouring some buttermilk into the chocolatey goo with adding the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. You don’t want to overmix this or the batter will bake up flat.

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And this batter is going to be THICK. Sally says it’s thick like pudding. I think it’s even thicker than that.

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Thick, like dog poo thick. But in a delicious way.

Spoon the batter into your cupcake cups and bake for 18 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the centre cupcake comes out clean.

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Set those aside to cool completely and get started on your icing. Actually, before you do that, break up another couple ounces of that lovely dark chocolate and set them to melt in your double boiler. Once it’s all liquid, set it aside to cool almost to room temperature.

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Beat up about 1 cup room temperature unsalted butter in the bowl of your mixer until it’s pale and fluffy. Sift together (to avoid lumps) 5 1/2 cups icing sugar and 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder in a separate bowl.

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Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract to the fluffy butter and then tip in some of your icing sugar mix. Drizzle in, alternating with the icing sugar mix, 1 cup heavy cream.  Because I don’t remember where I put my mixer shield, this happened of course.

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This one’s for you, Eli.

And because none of my aprons fit me anymore, this happened as well. Baby bellies are cooking hazards, it seems.

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The Pie thought it necessary to remind me that I don’t own very many maternity clothes and should probably take better care of the ones I’ve got. I may have said a few bad words to him in reply.

But when you’re done you’ll get this lovely soft icing that’s pretty much exactly halfway between a ganâche and a buttercream. It’s very delightful. Use that and a wide tip to ice your cooled cupcakes.

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Age of Decadence Cupcakes 20And because age is just a number, I made little number signs out of that melted chocolate (poured on waxed paper and allowed to cool) and shoved them in the top.

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As I was making these, I remarked to the Pie that my youngest teammate, who is 23, was going to ask why there were “hashtags” all over the cupcakes, and he laughed. Then the next morning, the first thing she did when she walked into the room was go, “what’s with all the hashtags?” I so called it. Kids these days … 🙂

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Jammy Bran Muffins

These muffins are a little bit different from your usually brown bran muffins. As you may know, I have a love/hate relationship with bran, so I’m always looking for new ways to ingest fibre without feeling like I’m eating sawdust. It’s a never-ending challenge. The additional challenge of these is that for some reason I have four jars of jam in my fridge and neither the Pie nor I is eating a lot of toast at the moment. So I decided to use it as my sweetener in this shindig.

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Start by setting your oven to preheat at 350°F and spray a muffin tin or rub it with butter. If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, feel free to sour some milk by adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice to every cup of regular milk. Give that a stir and leave it for 5 minutes.

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In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 cup bran, 1/4 cup ground flax (because it’s good for you – make sure it’s partially ground before you add it in), and 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda.

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In a smaller bowl, scramble together 4 tablespoons melted butter3/4 cup of your favourite jam (this one is serviceberry), 1 large egg, and 2 cups buttermilk (or alternative).

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Now pour the liquids into the solids and gently whisk until only just combined.

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Dump in 1 cup raisins (or not, if you’re not a fan of raisins) and whisk until just combined again – never over-mix muffins. If you do they end up flat. And that’s lame.

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Divide the batter in your tin. Bake those puppies for 20-25 minutes, until the centre muffin tests clean when stabbed with a toothpick.

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Leave them in the pan for about 5 minutes to cool a little bit before digging them out and eating them or letting them cool completely.

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We always like our muffins hot, with butter. Because, well, butter.

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Yet Another Spider-Man Cake

The Pie’s crowning achievement in life (in his mind) is having gotten the General addicted to Spider-Man (or “Pydermun” as the General says). So when Atlas asked me to make a cake for the General’s second birthday party, we all knew what the theme would be. I made a cake for the Pie a year back with an arachnid theme so I was pretty confident I could replicate my awesomeness. The resulting decoration, due to some recalcitrant icing, was a little underwhelming but boy the cake was good – it disappeared within about twenty minutes!

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The cake itself is pretty easy. I adapted a simple yellow cake out of the Joy of Cooking and decided to tip in a bunch of strawberries, too.

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So I washed and cut up about a pint of the little red gems, and made sure that they were in decently small pieces.

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Then I buttered and lined a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with parchment paper. This cake is very moist and fragile so you need some help tipping it out of the pan and the paper helps. You can preheat your oven to 350°F as well while you’re at it.

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If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, then whip up this quick substitute: add 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice to a 1 cup measuring cup and fill the rest with milk. Stir and leave for 5 minutes. Set that aside for now.

In a bowl, sift together 2 1/3 cups flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Set that aside and grab your mixer.

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In the bowl of your mixer, dump 3/4 cup softened butter and whip that into a pale fluffy frenzy for like three minutes.

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Now tip in 1 1/3 cup sugar and beat again until you have a fluffy amazing pile of salty sweet buttery goodness.

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Now add in 3 large eggs, one at a time, as well as 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and beat until fully combined and smooth.

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Grab your flour mixture and your 1 cup buttermilk (or substitute) and alternate adding them to the mix, stirring each time. Start with the flour, so you have three additions of flour and two of buttermilk, and go until it’s all smooth and batter-y.

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Dump in your 1 pint chopped strawberries and stir those in well.

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Smooth the batter into the pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Set that on a rack in the pan to cool completely.

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Make yourself some icing – your choice, but I prefer the standby cream cheese recipe of 1 cup butter:1 package cream cheese:3-4 cups icing sugar. I tipped in some almond extract to boost the strawberry flavour, and then dyed it appropriately with gel paste food colouring.

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I actually ran out of red colour so the background ended up a wee bit pink.

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And the black stuff got super wobby when I was piping it so it didn’t look so hot. However I did manage to get the floppy cake onto the lid of a tupperware container before decorating so it was a simple matter to simply jam the bottom on top for easy transport!

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Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins

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My mother foisted off some of her bumper crop of rhubarb on me so today’s and Monday’s recipes are both going to be rhubarb-related, and I think you’re going to like both of them if you are a fan of the sour stalks of not-fruit-not-vegetable. This recipe comes from Fine Cooking and the original recipe involves a streusel topping but I decided to skip it this time around. You can do what you like. But before you do, position a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat it to 400°F. Grease a muffin tin or line it with cupcake cups.

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Chop up 1 1/2 cups’ worth of fresh rhubarb into 1/4″ pieces. Set that aside for a few minutes.

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In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

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In a small heatsafe bowl, melt 1/2 cup butter and then let that cool slightly.

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In another bowl, whisk together 2 large eggs, 1 cup sour cream (I replaced this with 1 cup buttermilk), and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Add in the slightly cooled butter and mix that well.

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Make a well in the centre of your flour mixture and pour in the liquids.

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Stir that with a fork until just combined. Let it be lumpy.

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Tip in your rhubarb and stir that in, again, until just combined.

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Scoop the muffin batter into the prepared tin until each cup is full, then bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the centre muffin comes out clean.

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Let the muffins cool in the pan on a rack for about 5-10 minutes before scooping them out and eating them still warm with a little bit of butter.

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Oh my!

Strawberry Shortcake

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As you may have figured out by now, my birthday gifts to my friends and family members usually end up being the birthday cake of their choice – no cake too elaborate, no tower of layers too high. We have had a few memorable ones over the years, but this one sticks out because when I asked Atlas which cake she’d like for her birthday a couple weeks ago, she said she wanted a strawberry shortcake. And I realized that I had never actually ever made this classical and simple dessert delight. So I decided to go right back to the cake’s roots and make it as classic as possible, following this recipe from Fine Cooking.

Strawberry shortcake, in its traditional form, is not really a cake at all. It’s more of a sweet sandwich in a biscuit (“short” cake indicating that the cake isn’t really made with any leavening agents and ends up pretty dense and flat). This recipe also doesn’t really lend itself well to making ahead, as it must be assembled immediately before cooking, but it’s simple enough that this is not a huge deal.

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Let’s start with our dough, shall we? I did make the dough ahead of time, and kept it in the fridge, wrapped in plastic, until I was ready to bake it.  Grab 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons  baking powder,  and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (leavening agents, I know, but give me a break). Whisk those around in a bowl until they’re nice and mixed.

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Now grab yourself 1/2 cup cold butter and cut it into little cubes. Tip the butter into the flour and use a pastry cutter to blend it all up until you have a mess of coarse-looking flour with pea-sized bits of butter throughout.

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In another bowl, mix together 1/4 cup whipping cream, 1/4 cup buttermilk (why oh why don’t they sell buttermilk in smaller cartons?), and 1 large egg.

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Make a well in the centre of your flour/butter mixture and pour in the wet ingredients.

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Stir that around with a fork until you get a shaggy dough.

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Then knead it a little bit with your hand until it all comes together.

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At this point I wrapped it tight in plastic wrap and shoved it in the fridge overnight, but if you want to bake it right away you totally can.

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Ideally the biscuits are made so that they’re still slightly warm when you assemble them with the strawberries, but you can make them up to four hours ahead of when you need them. Just make sure to col them completely and then shove them in an airtight container until they’re needed. So when you’re ready to bake,  preheat your oven to 425°F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lightly flour a nice surface to work on. Grab your rolling pin as well.

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Roll the dough out into a rough rectangle about 3/4″ thick. The original recipe calls for making six biscuits from this dough but those seemed absolutely ginormous so I cut the rectangle into eight biscuits instead and even then they were pretty big.

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Lay the cut biscuits on your baking sheet and brush with a tablespoon of whipping cream and sprinkle with a bit more sugar.

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Bake those for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.

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While they’re baking and cooling slightly, you can do your strawberries. You can prepare the strawberries a couple hours ahead of time as well, because they need to macerate (i.e. sit cut up in sugar) for at least 30 minutes. The recipe calls for 1lb fresh strawberries, but I probably used about 1 1/2lbs, and we all agreed later that I could have used the whole 2lbs that I bought. You can never have too many strawberries in strawberry shortcake.

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Anyway, wash and hull the berries, and then take about one third of them and use a potato masher or pastry cutter to mush them up in the bottom of a bowl.

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Slice the rest of the berries and plop them in the bowl with the strawberry mush.

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Tip in 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and give that a stir. Leave that to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. At this time you might as well also chuck a bowl for whipping cream into the freezer, along with whatever beater you are going to use. Cold utensils make for a better whipped cream.

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Now you’ve finished your lunch or dinner and it’s time to assemble the cakes. Grab your bowl and beaters out of the freezer and pour in 1 1/2 cups whipping cream. Add vanilla and sugar to taste. I don’t have any photos of this because the Pie did it while I was doing other things.

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Use a serrated knife to cut all the biscuits in half horizontally and set the bottoms of the biscuits on your serving plates.

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Spoon on a generous amount of strawberry goo. It’s okay if it spills off the edges – it looks all artistic that way.

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Add a generous dollop of whipped cream to the mix.

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Then plop the biscuit top on.

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Add another scoop of strawberry goo, followed by more whipped cream.

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Admire your handiwork.

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Then serve immediately! Yum!