- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

As in summers past, this year we’ll be across the Atlantic in Paris on July 4, but we are planning a

dinner for friends, complete with an all-American menu.

Our guests will include several American and French friends who live in Paris and are happy to celebrate U.S. Independence Day. The apartment we are renting has a tiny kitchen with an oven without a thermostat and minimal (think 4 square feet) counter space, so I will do the cooking in stages. I already know what I’m going to serve, though.

The menu will begin with bowls of guacamole and crisp corn chips, followed by pepper-coated sirloin steaks, cooked on a stovetop grill pan and topped with pats of blue cheese butter.

Corn pudding and sliced tomatoes drizzled with a bacon dressing will make simple sides. To end our evening, I will make an easy but special confection with homemade shortbread cookies, fresh berries and whipped cream.

Strawberry shortcakes are a traditional Fourth of July dessert, and the recipe that follows is a variation on this theme. Instead of sweet biscuits or cakes, however, I make it with rich, buttery shortbread cookies.

For each serving, I use two cookies to sandwich a filling of strawberries and blueberries and cover it with an orange-scented whipped cream. The shortbreads provide a crunchy balance to the softly whipped cream and tender berries.

The cookies can be baked in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature, and the orange cream can also be made a day ahead. At serving time, all that is necessary is to toss the berries with a little sugar and assemble the towering desserts.

A dusting of confectioners’ sugar and some fresh mint sprigs make this dessert even more festive. In case you’re wondering how I bake these cookies in that French oven, I don’t leave temperature to instinct. I take an American oven thermometer with me. Why guess when you don’t have to?

Fourth of July shortbread cookie and berry finales

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

21/4 cups flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough

1 cup whipping or heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for garnish

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

2 cups (8 ounces) strawberries, hulled and cut into -inch wedges

1 cup (4 ounces) blueberries

Mint sprigs for garnish

Have ready 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in cup granulated sugar, stopping machine to scrape down sides of bowl, if necessary. When sugar has been added, beat mixture 3 minutes more. Beat in salt. Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in 21/4 cups flour, stopping machine to scrape down sides of bowl as necessary.

When flour has been added, beat mixture another 3 minutes. Total mixing time will be about 10 minutes. Remove dough, divide in half and shape into two balls.

Flatten balls into disks, wrap each in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour.

Place one disk on a sheet of floured waxed paper. Sprinkle dough with flour and top with another sheet of waxed paper. Roll dough into a round 1/4-inch thick.

With a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out 4 to 5 rounds from dough. Gather together any scraps and reroll them, taking care not to overwork dough, and cut 1 or 2 more rounds so that you have 6. Repeat with remaining disk so that you have a total of 12 rounds.

Place 6 rounds on each of the baking sheets, leaving plenty of space around each round. Clear enough space in your freezer so that you can freeze the two sheets for 30 minutes. (Gently place one on top of the other, if necessary.) Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bake each sheet of chilled cookie rounds separately until cookies are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Watch carefully. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool. (Cookies can be baked 1 day ahead; cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature.) With an electric mixer on medium high speed, whip cream until it starts to mound softly, then beat in 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar and orange zest.

Continue beating just until firm. (Cream can be whipped 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate.) At serving time, toss strawberries, blueberries and remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar together in a large mixing bowl.

Place a cookie on a dessert plate, top with a scoop of berries, then with a generous dollop of whipped cream and finally with a second cookie.

Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and garnish with a sprig of mint. Repeat to make 5 more servings. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.


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