This recipe comes with a story. It’s slightly embarrassing. The usual. You know.
I started by roasting the apricots. They were overripe, losing their resistance at the seams. I rubbed them with vanilla sugar and thyme and stuffed them into the oven. Soon, their blissful scent permeated the kitchen.
As they roasted, I pulled out some ricotta. I whipped it with a bit of cream until it was light and fluffy. I made biscuits- I wanted something less traditional. Crumbly, cake-y even. I fiddled with some flours. A dough happened. It looked good! I put the biscuits in the oven.
As the biscuits went in, the apricots were ready to come out. I took them out, couldn’t resist eating one right away, burned my tongue. I looked at all the beautiful juices that had spilled out of the fruit during the roasting process. They would be reduced, I decided, then poured over the fruit and the ricotta, over the biscuits. Sticky! Delightful!
I took out a (small, very small) pot to reduce the liquid in. When I turned on the fire, it shot out and over the sides of the pot. Probably not the safest. But I’d already dirtied one pot and wasn’t going to dirty another. Anything for the sake of less dishes to wash, you feel?
As the liquid started bubbling and reducing, the timer went off for the biscuits.
I took them out. The parchment paper beneath them was uneven, lopsided because I’d ripped it in a hurry. I placed the biscuits on the stovetop, right near the too-big fire under the too-small pot. As I set them down, I knew, I knew the parchment paper would catch fire. The thought ran swiftly and decisively through my mind. Then I put them down anyway.
Fire! It flew out from the side of the pot and and licked the edge of the parchment. In a second, not even, it was consumed. The flames were tall. They licked everything. A biscuit got devoured as I watched, frozen in place.
A part of me wanted to grab a bottle of water, a pitcher, anything. Another part of me couldn’t take my eyes off the fire. I was scared to leave it unsupervised- who knew how many rooms, houses, buildings it would devour when I turned my back? But also, it was mesmerizing. Entrancing. So beautiful I couldn’t look away.
I opened my mouth to call for help and the fear did something to my voice- it came out wavy, like a song. “Moooom, there’s a fireeee!” I giggled, because I sounded so ridiculous. No one came.
“MOM! FIRE!” This time my voice came out panicky. She was there in a second, running up stairs, the disbelief on her face quickly replaced with horror. She grabbed the mixing bowl, still dirty with whipped ricotta and filled it with water. It sloshed haphazardly over the sides as she threw it at the fire.
More flames shot up. She refilled the bowl, poured it over the fire again. I stood by, inert, visions of a homeless future streaking through my mind. All because of some biscuits.
All because I’d been too lazy to wash another pot.
When it was over, when we could breathe again, my mom looked at me. She was covered in water. The counter was a mess of charred paper, bits of ricotta, and puddles of water. Her expression was unfathomable. I grabbed an unscathed biscuit from the sheet. “Biscuit?” I offered, somewhat sheepishly.
She snorted, but took my proffered offering. As she bit in, her expression softened. She sighed. “Chaya. Please don’t set my kitchen on fire again. Do your thing but…do it with less fire.”
I can’t promise to do anything with less fire. But I can promise to at least, in exchange, serve up delicious shortcakes. Deal?
Yields: 6-8 small or 4 large shortcakes
Why I love this recipe: subtly sweet, crumbly shortcakes are filled with a tangy, maple sweetened whipped ricotta and topped with tart, vanilla and thyme roasted apricots in a lighter, updated take on the classic strawberry shortcake.
For the shortcakes:
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 stick cold butter, cubed
- 1/2 cup cold buttermilk
- turbinado sugar, for sprinkling
For the apricots:
- 8 apricots, washed and halved
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 3 tablespoons vanilla sugar
- 2 sprigs thyme
For the whipped ricotta:
- 3/4 cups fresh ricotta
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- sprinkle of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- Make the biscuits: preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Sift all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Working quickly, use your hands to cut in the butter until it is the size of small pebbles. Add the buttermilk and ricotta and mix with a spatula until just blended.
- On a lightly floured countertop, briefly knead the dough just until it comes together. Do not overwork the dough- this will make the biscuits tough.
- Pat the dough into a square about 2 inches thick. Fold the dough in half over itself and again, pat it into a square about 2 inches thick.
- Then, use a floured round cutter to cut the dough into 6-8 small or 4 large individual biscuits. Gently re-roll scraps if needed and cut again. Place the cut shortcakes onto the prepared baking sheet. Put the whole baking sheet into the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Brush the tops of the biscuits with a bit of milk, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until they’re browned on top and up the sides. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Meanwhile, prepare the apricots. Combine the apricots in an oven-proof dish with the sugar, thyme, and lemon. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes, stirring carefully once or twice, until the fruit is tender and juicy. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Lastly, make the whipped ricotta: in the bowl of a standing mixer, blend the ricotta, whipped cream, salt, maple and vanilla together. Taste and add more maple syrup, if desired.
- To assemble the shortcakes, cut each biscuit in half and place the bottoms on plates. Divide the whipped ricotta among each biscuit, then top with a few roasted apricot halves. Drizzle with the liquid from the roasted apricots. Add another generous dollop of cream, if desired.
- Top each biscuit with the top half. Serve immediately.