Makes 6 servings
2 pints ripe strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1/3 cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1-3/4 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 . Preheat the oven to 425°. Butter an 8-by-1 1/2-inch cake pan.
2 . Set the prettiest strawberry aside for decoration. Depending on their size, halve or quarter the remaining berries and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the sugar and toss well; set aside to macerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. If the berries are very firm, crush them slightly with the back of a spoon to help them exude their juice.
3 . Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub in the butter until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Pour 2/3 cup of the heavy cream over the flour mixture and stir with a blunt knife just until the dough masses together.
4 . Lightly gather the dough into a ball and pat into a disk. Set the disk in the prepared cake pan and pat it evenly over the bottom, Brush the surface of the dough with 1 tablespoon of the cream and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon of the sugar. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and feels firm when pressed lightly in the center. Invert the shortcake onto a rack. Turn it right-side up and let cool for 30 minutes.
5 . In a large bowl, combine the remaining 1 1/3 cups cream with the vanilla and the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Beat the cream until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.
6 . With a long serrated knife, slice the shortcake in half horizontally. Set the bottom half on a round serving platter, cut-side up, and spoon the macerated berries and their juices evenly over the surface, Cut the top half of the cake into 6 even triangles.
7 . Spoon two-thirds of the whipped cream into the berries, and decoratively place the shortcake triangles on top. Place a dollop of cream in the center of the shortcake and top with the reserved whole strawberry. Pass the remaining whipped cream separately.
Cake flour is the secret ingredient in this lusciously light shortcake. Make sure that you use pure cake flour as opposed to self-rising cake flour, which is similarly packaged. This dessert is at its best within 30 minutes of assembly.