By Emily Paster
I don't watch the show "Parks & Recreation," starring "SNL" alum Amy Poehler. It's not because I don't think that I would like the show. It's simply because my television dance card is full with "30 Rock," "Top Chef," and of course, the obligatory "Downton Abbey." But any regular "Parks and Recreation" watcher would know what the title of this post refers to. The main character in "Parks and Recreation," Leslie Knope, throws an annual party for her best girlfriends on the day before Valentine's Day — a day that Leslie calls "Galentine's Day."
I think Leslie has got the right idea. Valentine's Day doesn't have to be about romance. I prefer the kid version of Valentine's Day with parties and treats and plenty of pink and red to go around. So when my turn to host the weekly meeting of my Coffee Klatsch fell on the Friday before Valentine's Day, I decided to surprise my friends with our own Galentine's Day party.
The Coffee Klatsch meets at 9 am; so while I wanted to make something festive and sweet, I also wanted to make something that felt more like breakfast than dessert. I came up with an idea for a strawberry shortcake made with mascarpone cheese instead of just whipped cream. Mascarpone cheese is a creamy Italian cheese that can be made sweet or savory depending on how you flavor it. Think of it as similar to cream cheese but with more tang. Mascarpone has more flavor than whipped cream and also a more substantial mouth-feel, so I thought that would make the shortcake seem less like a dessert. I was planning to make the shortcake biscuits heart-shaped, but as you will see, that was less successful. To drink, I served Trader Joe's Berry Lemonade garnished with a frozen strawberry and a spring of mint. Throw in some Valentine's Day decorations, and you have a festive spread perfect for showing your girlfriends how much you love them.
To make the strawberry shortcakes, start by macerating the strawberries. Toss hulled and halved strawberries with several teaspoons of sugar. I add a splash of Grand Marnier to give a hint of orange and to help break down the berries. You could also use orange juice for the same purpose — we just never have orange juice in the house. Toss to combine and then cover the berries and refrigerate for several hours or even overnight. The sugar and liquid will break down the berries and cause them to release some of their juices.
For the mascarpone topping, whip 1 cup mascarpone cheese with 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1 TB of sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Beat the mixture until it is whipped and fluffy. You can also do this ahead of time as well. Just cover well and refrigerate.
You can use any recipe that you like for the biscuits or shortcakes. I used the one from my favorite baking book Rustic Fruit Desserts, which makes a shortcake that is similar to a cream scone with a generous dose of lemon and orange zest. The citrus aroma is intoxicating. Using orange zest in your shortcake is an especially nice touch if you also use orange juice or Grand Marnier to macerate your berries. I think strawberry and orange is a lovely combination. As I mentioned, I attempted to shape my shortcakes into heart shapes, but baking rendered my efforts futile. So maybe just go with an oval or a triangle shape.
To assemble, cut the shortcakes in half. Place the bottom half on a plate and top with strawberries and some of the berry juice. Add a generous dollop of mascarpone. Place the top half of the biscuit on top of the mascarpone so that it will stay. Add another dollop of mascarpone and garnish with a mint spring. Add more strawberries around the plate and drizzle some of the berry juice. So pretty!