When I was growing up, we used to spend some time every summer in New Hampshire, right by crystal-clear Lake Sunapee. In that area of the country, blueberries grow in abundance, so every morning before my brother and I started our trek down to the beach armed with towels and picnic lunches, my mom would task us with picking one pint each (which seemed like SUCH a big chore at the time.) She would either use the plump berries immediately for pie, muffins or pancakes, or she would freeze them for use throughout the year.
Every Fourth of July, there would be a big barbecue potluck down at the beach, accompanied by fireworks. My dad was the undisputed king of our community firework extravaganza, toting bags of sparklers, cherry bombs and what we referred to as "martians," fireworks that would hop around the sand and shoot colored sparks for about 5 seconds before fizzing out. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure if New Hampshire state laws allowed us to be shooting off private fireworks back then. If that was the case, my dad was most definitely NOT in charge of the production.......it was some other guy who I haven't seen in 25 years. My mistake.
Food at our annual celebration consisted of typical barbecue fare--nothing too over-the-top or fancy as Food Network had not yet made its debut and inspired home cooks to try Bobby's chipotle-laced baked beans or Ina's Provencal potato salad. While dessert selections included all-American favorites like brownies and chocolate chip cookies, blueberries always played a starring role, with multiple cobblers, crisps and buckles on display in Corningware casserole dishes of various shapes and sizes.
And of course there was ice cream. Vanilla bean ice cream, to be exact. To me, a blueberry dessert is not complete unless it is accompanied by a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream that melts into the top, blending with the juices in a blue-ish white swirl. I always opt for ice cream over whipped cream where summery desserts are concerned. It just seems more appropriate, don't you think?
Even today, any time that I make a blueberry dessert, it always makes me think of our summers in New Hampshire. While I can't remember whether or not we ever had blueberry-studded shortcakes at our annual beach feast, these slightly crunchy cornmeal varieties would have fit right in......and the biscuits would have been heavenly for breakfast the next morning, smeared with soft maple-butter.
Throughout the summer in Las Vegas, our local Trader Joe's carries the most delicious ripe and juicy free-stone peaches, and I always buy one or two flats at a time. Because peaches and blueberries pair so well, I decided to fill these blueberry shortcakes with sliced peaches (and vanilla bean ice cream, of course. This particular brand in the photo, my new favorite, is called McConnell's. If you haven't tried it, you're missing out!) Serve the shortcakes warm, so that the ice cream gets all melty. Or, serve at room temperature--the ice cream will probably still get all melty. It is summer, after all.
These slightly crunchy cornmeal shortcakes are perfect for your summer picnic or barbecue, highlighting two of the season's finest fruits: juicy peaches and plump blueberries. I prefer mine served with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, but a dollop of whipped cream works just as well to please your hungry crowd!
- 3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (250 mL) yellow cornmeal
- 1-1/4 cups (300 mL) granulated sugar, divided, plus more for sprinkling
- 3-1/2 tsp (17 mL) baking powder
- 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
- Zest from one large lemon
- 1-1/2 sticks (175 mL) cold unsalted butter, in pieces
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) cold buttermilk, plus more for brushing
- 2 tsp (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups (500 mL) fresh blueberries
- 6-8 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
- Vanilla bean ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds positions.
- In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, cornmeal, 1 cup (250 mL) sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl to blend, and then stir in the buttermilk and vanilla. Using a fork, mix the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients just until the dough binds together. Carefully mix in the blueberries--try to avoid crushing them as much as possible (you don't want blue shortcakes!)
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead until it holds together. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
- Roll out one piece of dough to a 1-inch (2.5 cm) round. Cut the dough into 3-inch (7.5 cm) rounds with a biscuit cutter, spacing apart on one of the baking sheets, until you have six rounds, rerolling scraps as necessary. Repeat the process with the second piece of dough and baking sheet until you have 12 rounds.
- Brush the tops of the rounds with buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake the biscuits until they are firm to the touch and lightly browned, 16 to 20 minutes, switching positions of the baking sheets halfway through. Let biscuits cool slightly on the baking sheets, and then transfer to wire racks to cool some more.
- Meanwhile, toss the peach slices with the remaining 1/4-cup (60 mL) sugar and let them sit for 10 minutes, until the peach juices start to release.
- To assemble, slice the shortcakes in half. Place the bottom halves, cut-sides up, on plates or a serving platter. Spoon some peach slices and juices on top of each half, then top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. Place the top halves of the shortcakes on top and serve.