Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dessert Doesn't Have to be Unhealthy to be Delicious!

Dessert doesn't have to be unhealthy to be delicious!  Now you may not believe me when I tell you that the above mouth-watering almond strawberry shortcake is made with all natural healthy ingredients, but it is indeed true. 

I invented this recipe out of desperation, when the strawberries that Tim grows all around our deck became so prolific that bowls of them were overflowing in the refrigerator and I was afraid that many would be wasted.  Wasted food is one of my biggest pet peeves (as Tim and Connor will attest...  I can be rather a nag about it!) and besides, his strawberries are sweet and delicious... not something one would want to waste.  And so, I decided to make a healthy strawberry shortcake.  Remembering a great recipe from the Food Network Kitchens for whole wheat buttermilk biscuits, I originally planned on just making those and topping with the strawberries and whipped cream sweetened with honey.  But as with just about every recipe, I ended up making changes and substitutions and ended up with something entirely different than I originally planned.

When I looked at the biscuit recipe, I was reminded that along with the whole wheat flour, it called for cornmeal.  I decided that this was all wrong for my shortcake.  So I substituted almond flour.  I've used almond flour in many recipes and it gives not only a beautiful flavor but a soft delicate texture.  Now that I had made that change, I decided that this was now going to be a strawberry almond shortcake.  The next step was the cream.  I did sweeten the cream with a little honey, as I had planned, but I used almond extract instead of vanilla, and then whipped in some mascarpone cheese at the end to make the cream extra rich.  Ok, so there's some fat here, marring my "totally healthy" claim, but it certainly can be left out and the cream will still be delicious!

The tricky part was going to be how to macerate the strawberries without sugar.  I thought that maybe honey might overpower the almond flavors I was going for, so instead I sprinkled two packets of Truvia over the berries and hoped for the best.  I don't use artificial sweeteners, but feel ok about Truvia since it is plant-based.  However, I had no idea if it would behave like sugar here.  Luckily, it worked very well!

Last, I toasted some sliced almonds in a pan to sprinkle on the top.  The result can be seen in the pictures above and it was just as delicious as it is pretty!  And I was able to use about 3/4 of the strawberries in our fridge.  None are going to waste this season if I can help it!

For the biscuits:
1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup almond flour (or very finely ground blanched almonds)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 packet (or 1 tsp) Truvia sweetener (sugar may be substituted)
1 tsp fine salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
6 T cold unsalted butter cut into 1 T sized pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line baking tray with parchment.  Place flours, baking powder, Truvia, salt and baking soda in food processor (you can also do this by hand).  Pulse until combined.  Pulse in the butter one tablespoon at a time just until combined.  Do not over-mix!  Transfer to a bowl and stir in buttermilk only until combined.  Turn out onto a well floured surface.  Fold dough until the right consistency for cutting.  Pat into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle.  Cut with a biscuit cutter.  Bake until tops are lightly browned, 10-15 minutes.  Cool.  Makes 8-12 depending on size of cutter.
For the strawberries:
Cut strawberries in half if small, in fourths if medium.  I'm not giving you the amount- use your own judgment!  If I had to guess though, I'd say I used about 2 cups.  Sprinkle with 2 packets of Truvia (or 1/4 cup sugar if you must...) and let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
For the almond mascarpone cream:
Whip 1 cup cream with 1/2 tsp. almond extract and about 1/4 cup organic raw honey (or more or less to your taste).  Whip on high speed until soft peaks form.  Add 1 8 oz. container of mascarpone cheese, softened slightly.  Whip on medium, just until incorporated.  Do not overbeat, or your cream will die a tragic death.
For the almonds-  Just toast them in a pan until lightly browned.  Don't put anything in the pan.  It's not difficult.
To put together:  Slice each biscuit in half.  Use three halves per serving.  Start with one of the bottoms, spread a generous portion of cream on that, then another biscuit half, then more cream, then one of the biscuit tops.  Spoon strawberries and liquid over top, then another dollop of cream.  Garnish with a whole strawberry and toasted almond.