As a little girl, Ann Kirk was all of us (and all of our kids) who have mothers who bake. “My favorite thing to do would be to sit on the counter and just wait for that spatula or anything that she would give me that had cookie dough or brownie batter on it,” Kirk says. She watched every move her mom made, but never thought she would become a baker.
But she did. And after a stint working with Chef Suzanne Goin at Lucques in West Hollywood, Kirk is now pastry chef at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz, where the dessert menu changes seasonally. For your summer desserts at home, she suggests these shortcakes, which are baking-novice friendly and can be piled high with your favorite summer fruits. (At the restaurant, she serves them with peaches tossed with a little sugar, toasted salted almonds and a smear of raspberry jam.)
One reason these are especially bullet proof: the polenta. This nontraditional addition replaces some of the flour, making these shortcakes lighter, more crumbly and less likely to become tough than shortcakes from a traditional recipe. The polenta adds a little corn flavor, which pairs well with summer fruit. “It also adds a texture that I really, really like. It’s a tiny bit grainy. It’s a tiny bit crunchy,” Kirk says. She uses instant polenta, but if you can’t find that at the grocery store, a coarser-ground cornmeal will work.
You can also substitute plain yogurt, thinned with a little milk, for the buttermilk if you’d rather not buy a whole carton.
Other keys to success:
- Weigh your ingredients with a kitchen scale to ensure consistent results.
- Make sure your cubed butter is really cold before you mix it into the dry ingredients, especially if you use a food processor instead of a stand mixer.
- Don’t over-mix when you add the liquid. The recipe is forgiving, but the shortcakes will still be tough if you overdo it.
The finished dough will be sticky, but half an hour or so in the refrigerator will make it easier to portion out. Pop the unbaked shortcakes into the freezer so they will hold their shape when you bake them. Kirk says they can be frozen for up to a week.
If you have a convection oven, you can bake these at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, 350 or 375 will work. Either way, keep careful watch on them because bake time can vary. “When they’re done, they’ll crack a little bit on the top,” says Kirk. “When you see into those cracks, it won’t look wet.” The fully baked shortcakes will be brown on top.
Put your pan on a cooling rack and let the shortcakes cool completely before you try to move them or cut into them. These are especially crumbly, so don’t use a serrated knife to cut them. “I press slightly down on the top of the shortcake to kind of hold it together as I see-saw the knife through it horizontally,” Kirk says. And if it breaks? “I just don’t worry about it,” she adds. “If the top or the bottom crumbles, I just put it back together with jam and whipped cream.”
Just the right, easygoing way to end a summer meal.
Polenta Shortcakes from Little Dom’s
12 oz. (2 cups) all-purpose flour
5 ounces (1 cup) polenta
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces (3/4 cup) sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Heavy cream and sugar for finishing
Cube the butter and return to the refrigerator to keep cold.
In a small bowl, combine the cream, buttermilk and optional extracts. Return to the refrigerator to keep cold.
In a bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine.
Add the cold butter to the dry mixture and mix on low speed until the butter is cut in and the mixture is a consistent texture and looks like cornmeal, with no large pieces of butter remaining.
With the mixer on low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and combine just until all ingredients are moistened evenly. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until the dough is firm.
Using an ice cream scoop (a 2-ounce scoop will yield 20 shortcakes, a 3-ounce scoop will yield a baker’s dozen larger shortcakes), portion the dough into mounds and freeze.
When the shortcakes have frozen through, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Evenly space the shortcakes on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush the tops lightly with heavy cream and roll each top in sugar. Place the sheet immediately in the preheated oven and bake for 16-20 minutes, depending on the size of the shortcakes.
Let the shortcakes cool to room temperature, then carefully cut shortcakes in half horizontally. Fill with desired filling and serve.