I stepped outside to holler at my kids for dinner the other night and realized quite suddenly (and maybe a little dramatically) that the cherry trees along the road have tiny little buds on them. And the tulips and daffodils I planted somewhat futilely one cold November afternoon have done their job over the winter, laying down roots and bravely poking their stems out of the still slightly frozen ground. Whether I notice or not, spring is most definitely here — there’s no need to despair any longer.
I joke, mostly. There are a few things I enjoy about winter and the irony is not lost on me that I live in a house full of snow-loving, cold-weather chasing fools. But as the days stretch a little longer and the sun warms our shoulders in the afternoons, I find myself overwhelmingly grateful for a brand-new season. And not just because I can shoo my children outside.
Spring has always held a bit of magic to it. Especially here in the Yakima Valley, where the trees and hills quite literally wake up before our eyes. The trees blossom delicate little white and pink blooms, promising peaches, pears, cherries and apples by summer. The sky turns blue once again and the hills turn a particular shade of cheerful green only found in the springtime. The valley almost seems to brag a little, looking all the more beautiful as brilliant pink sunsets splash across the horizon, casting a rosy hue on everything as the sun slips behind the hills.
One of my favorite places to watch those gorgeous sunsets is Freehand Cellars in Zillah. Their gorgeous patio and lawn area has a stunning view of the Yakima River and Mount Adams that never gets old no matter how many times I’ve visited. Gilbert Cellars moved their tasting room out to Hackett Ranch in Wiley City and I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than among the lavender plants, spending time flopped on a blanket chatting with friends, watching as kids run around. After a long hard year for all of us, I can’t think of a better way to kick off a sweet new season.
And because we all need something a little sweet here and there, and with Easter, Mother’s Day and graduations just around the corner, I thought I would share an easy but decadent twist on everyone’s favorite shortcake. Vanilla beans and a hint of orange zest give the cakes just a little something extra-special without a bunch of extra effort. Strawberries were the fruit of choice at my house, but as summer approaches I know I’ll be swapping the strawberries for blueberries, peaches, nectarines and raspberries for an easy and special dessert until October.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise with paste scraped out
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into cubes
1 cup full-fat buttermilk OR heavy cream
1 pound strawberries, washed and sliced
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 heaping tablespoon powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
To make the shortcakes combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium-size bowl. Use a whisk to combine. Gently stir in vanilla bean paste and orange zest until evenly combined with the flour mixture. Add the butter to the flour mixture and using a pastry knife or two forks, work the butter into the flour until dough is crumbly and the butter is no larger than pea-size pieces. Pour the buttermilk over the flour and using a spatula, gently combine until a rough dough is formed. When the dough has just barely come together, turn it out onto a floured surface and gently form it into a rectangle shape, roughly 12 inches long. Use a knife to cut into eight even pieces and place on the lined baking sheet. Brush the shortcakes lightly with buttermilk and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until they are a light golden color. Allow them to cool on the baking sheet.
While the shortcakes bake, wash and slice strawberries. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of granulated sugar if the berries are under-ripe.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Add the vanilla extract and powdered sugar to the cream and mix until combined.
To serve, halve the shortcakes horizontally and place both pieces on a plate. Spoon the strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream onto one side. Place the other shortcake on the fruit and whipped cream and garnish with a few extra strawberries and a small dollop of cream.
If you don’t prefer an orange flavor, swap it for lemon zest or skip altogether. If you have trouble finding vanilla beans, you can use two teaspoons vanilla extract instead.