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Yes, even grocery store strawberries will do!
Hi and welcome to Susanality, a newsletter by me, Susan Spungen, that celebrates seasonal cooking. If you enjoy today’s recipe, please help me spread the word by forwarding this email to friends and family who may enjoy it too. And if you want additional weekly recipes, technique + styling tips, and video tutorials to land in your inbox, consider investing in a paid subscription. Either way—thank you for being here!
I know, I know. If you follow me on Instagram, you may be surprised by this week’s recipe since just last week in a post, I practically swore that I never touch strawberries except when they’re local and in season, which won’t be for months here in New York. Why? Because those good-looking supermarket strawberries sometimes have the perfume—and occasionally some of the flavor—that you expect from a strawberry, but the texture and juice level always disappoint.
Even so, I do make a few exceptions. I also heard from some of you that strawberries are in fact already in season where you live, like certain parts of Florida and California. So while we still have a way to go in New York before we see any local strawberries, I do feel spring coming, and I’m ready for spring things.
There are some recipes, especially those in which the strawberries are cooked, where commodity strawberries are actually pretty good! Even my Roasted Strawberry-Basil Sherbet, while AMAZING with good strawberries, is still very good with mediocre strawberries because the heat of the oven concentrates the flavors and makes the texture irrelevant. If you have my book, I urge you to try it (page 353), either now or later. I promise you won't regret it.
These easy scones are another good use of so-so berries. In fact, the really juicy ones might be TOO MUCH here. The scones can be completely assembled (they’re not a heavy lift) and then chilled overnight in the refrigerator if you want to have them in the morning without doing more than turning on the oven then glazing them, if you choose to do that.
In my mind, these would make the perfect weekend bite while we’re waiting for spring to blow in, and then to revisit all throughout the season.
Baking is also good for stress, as I’m sure you know. While I wanted to bring you a recipe as usual today, it’s been hard to concentrate on food content with everything that’s going on in the world. I’m wishing I was in my NYC apartment this week to show solidarity with the many Ukrainians who live nearby. The neighborhood used to be called Little Ukraine and there are still quite a few Ukrainian businesses there, including the famous Veselka, which is just a block away from my apartment. You can read about Veselka and the efforts they are making to aid their fellow Ukrainians here.
This war has made me curious about my own background. I knew my grandmother escaped the pogroms in Russia in the 1920s, just after the Bolshevik Revolution, but I had lost track of the specific details of her journey. My father is gone, so I couldn't ask him to fill me in on exactly how his mother made her way to the U.S. nearly a century ago. Luckily, one of my cousins (I only have two!) had all of the information I was looking for.
It turns out that at 17 years old, my grandmother Pearl, her three sisters, and their mother escaped on foot from their village, Zhmerynka, which is about halfway between Kyiv and Odessa. Her father had gone ahead to the U.S., presumably to set himself up in business and find a home (but this part is fuzzy). Apparently the women got a carriage ride at some point and had to hide in haystacks along the way to avoid death or capture. They somehow made it to Odessa, where they boarded a boat to Romania and found their way to a farm in Bucharest, where they worked for about a year. From there they went to Italy, and then France, where they finally boarded a ship at LeHavre bound for New York. Finally, Pearl and her sisters and mother made it to Philadelphia to join their father and husband, respectively.
I was a little shocked to realize that I myself am half Ukrainian, and that I never knew this. Ukraine was part of Russia then, but the distinction didn’t matter to me until now. The determination of the Ukrainian people is remarkable, and I’m proud to be connected to them.
If you, like me, are looking to donate money to help the innocent people of Ukraine get through this unimaginable crisis, here are some good places to do so. I will also be donating 30% of any paid Susanality subscriptions throughout March to the Ukraine Crisis Fund on care.org, which is supplying water, food, hygiene kits, and other urgent supplies to Ukrainians in need.
The dough for the scones is fairly easy to whip together the evening before you want to serve them, so all you have to do is pop them in the oven the next morning to be treated to their warm and crumbly goodness.
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream or buttermilk, plus more for brushing
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups/256g all-purpose flour
1/2 cup/80g cornmeal
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup/100g granulated sugar
1/2 cup/113g ice-cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)
For the optional glaze:
1/2 cup/55g confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup freeze-dried strawberries, pulverized (or a few drops of red food coloring)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Combine the cream/buttermilk, egg, and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, beating thoroughly with a fork. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Toss the butter cubes in the flour mixture to coat them and rub them between your fingers until there is nothing larger than a pea. If the butter has softened, put the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.
Zest the lemon into the bowl with the flour mixture and toss in the strawberries, coating them with the flour. Drizzle in the cream mixture, stirring as you go with a large fork, evenly distributing the liquid. Knead mixture a few times in the bowl to bring it together.
Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead a few more times, incorporating any dry bits, but trying not to squish the berries too much.
Lightly flour the top, and pat into a 7-inch circle. Transfer to a wax paper-lined plate, and chill until firm, about 30 minutes (but as long as overnight, tightly wrapped).
Heat oven to 400°F. Brush the top with more cream, and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Cut the disc into 8 equal triangles (see tip below) and space them evenly on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 18 to 22 minutes, turning the pan around hallway through, until golden brown on the top and edges. Let cool for a few minutes on the sheet pan, and transfer to a cooling rack or platter for serving.
Serve warm, if possible, with strawberry preserves and mascarpone. Alternatively, to make the icing, mix together confectioner’s sugar, freeze-dried strawberries, and cream. Add drops of water until the icing is a drizzling consistency and drizzle over the scones.
Cutting tip: To cut your dough into 8 even triangles, make a cut all the way across the disc of dough, dividing it in half. Make another perpendicular cut all the way across. The dough will now be divided into 4 equal pieces. Then cut each quarter into 2 equal pieces.