Strawberry Shortcake and Zucchini Bread

When I was a little girl, strawberry shortcake was one of my favorite desserts.  Now, this was back in the ‘60s, and what they sold in stores for the base of strawberry shortcake were these little sponge cakes that had a hollow in the top to hold the strawberries.  I hear that those things are still available in stores, but of course, they’re not vegan.  My mom’s family always used something like pound cake for shortcake when she was growing up, but the traditional way to make shortcake is with a sweetened biscuit.  That’s where it got the name “short cake” – it’s a cake made with shortening.

Now, I don’t know if you like your short cake with cake or with a biscuit, but I’ve given you two options in the recipes below.  The vanilla cake recipe is a new one I just adapted and it’s working very well for me.  It’s the best vegan vanilla cake I’ve made, and believe me, it’s taken a while to find a good one!  The biscuit recipe is one you might have seen before in my articles.  If you need more info on biscuit making, and why you never want to use bread flour to make biscuits, search for “biscuits” on this site.

When I got to be a little older, the craze for zucchini bread swept through our family.  My Granny and Pa Bennett always planted a big garden and we all know what that means come July – monster zucchini!  I’m sure that a significant number of you out there have more zucchini right now than you can shake a big ol’ overgrown zucchini at.  Now, the little ones you can use in pasta sauce, or throw them on the grill, or slice them up in lasagna, or dice them into salads, but the big ones – there’s not much to do with them except grate them and make zucchini bread.  What a shame, huh?

Now, I should warn you that the recipe I have here is really zucchini cake.  It’s sweet and moist and everything a cake should be.  It’s a lot like my Granny B’s recipe, only made with whole wheat pastry flour instead of White Lily.  My husband’s mom used to make a zucchini bread that was less sweet and had less fat.  That’s how he remembers it, anyway.  The recipe has gotten lost.  If you try this zucchini bread and it’s too sweet or fatty for you, simply reduce the sugar and/or oil next time.  This will change the flavor and the texture, making it more bread-like and less cakey.  Be sure to make notes of your changes so you can fiddle with the recipe until it’s just the way you like it.  And if your granny added raisins or chocolate chips as well as, or instead of, nuts, feel free to go crazy with the additions.  I like mine with pecans.  You might prefer walnuts.  It’s up to you.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.  Don’t forget to take a lazy day or two just to embrace the heat and humidity, and drink a glass of iced tea on the deck.  Come inside and be thankful for air conditioning.  Stay out in the back yard late and watch the lightning bugs twinkle in the trees like Christmas lights. Eat some watermelon.  Be happy.  See you in September.

Do you have ideas for the Homesick Vegan column?  Are there any fall and winter or holiday foods that you miss from your childhood?  What cookies would you like recipes for?  E-mail me or call me at (404) 288-0970 and leave your ideas and/or requests.

Strawberry Shortcake
Recipe by Lisa Bennett
Serves 12

1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen strawberries – sliced
1/2 – 1 cup unbleached sugar (depending on your taste and the sweetness of your berries)
One dozen Sweet Biscuits (see Variation #2 in recipe below) OR
One 9 X 13 Vegan Vanilla Cake (see recipe below)
Hip Whip (available at Sevananda in the freezer case)
Soyatoo Soy Whip (in the Sev dairy case or online at Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe) or Silk Creamer

Add sugar to the berries and let them sit in the fridge until they are juicy and as sweet as you like.  Layer either split biscuits or cake pieces with the berries in individual bowls, or if you’re serving a crowd, you can make a big bowl of shortcake, like a trifle or banana pudding.  Top servings with Hip Whip, or pour on a little Silk Creamer.

Light Whole-Wheat “Buttermilk” Biscuits

Make sure you use whole wheat pastry flour, or your biscuits will not be light at all!
Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Servings: 12
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

2 cups soy milk (up to 2 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup Spectrum Organic shortening
or 2 sticks of Earth Balance Shortening Sticks

1.  Pre-heat oven to 450 F.   Spray a 9X13 pan lightly with pan spray or grease lightly with shortening.

2.  Add vinegar to soymilk and set aside to sour.  This is your “buttermilk”.

3.  Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large mixing bowl.

4.  Cut shortening into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces of shortening remaining.  Mix in 2 cups of soured soymilk quickly. Don’t overmix the dough or your biscuits will be tough.  Dough should be wet, but still hold its shape when scooped.  Add more plain soymilk if necessary.

5.  Spoon dough into 12 equal pieces.  Quickly shape each by hand into a biscuit, dredging the dough in a bit of extra flour if necessary to hold its shape. (My mother just drops hers from a spoon into the pan and flattens the tops lightly with her hand.)  Bake ’til lightly browned, 12 – 15 minutes.

Makes 12 large (“cathead”) biscuits or 24 small ones.
Notes:    Placing the biscuits close together will cause them to rise up and will yield tall biscuits with soft sides (classic Southern biscuits).  Leaving a little space between them with make them crusty all over and a bit shorter and wider.

This biscuit dough is quite wet.  The extra moisture creates steam on the inside of the biscuits after the outside has begun set from the high heat of the oven.  This steam causes the biscuits to rise high and light.

Make sure you use whole wheat *pastry* flour, not bread flour.  The pastry flour makes much lighter biscuits because it’s lower in gluten (wheat protein).

Variation #1 – Buttery Biscuits:  Substitute Earth Balance Buttery Spread for the shortening for a more “buttery” flavor.  Omit salt, as the Earth Balance Spread is quite salty already.

Variation #2 – Sweet Biscuits:  Add 1 cup unbleached sugar to basic biscuit recipe.  Sprinkle the tops of the biscuits with a little more sugar for shine and sparkle.

Variation #3 – Cinnamon-Raisin Biscuits:  Add 1 cup of raisins and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon to the Sweet Biscuit dough.  Sprinkle them with sugar before baking for shine and sparkle.

Vegan Vanilla Cake, adapted by Lisa Bennett
from Everyday Vegan, by Dreena Burton
(this is the base cake for “Luciously Light Tiramisu”)

9 X 13 cake (or 2-layer 8-inch cake)
Serves about 10-15 (see note below)

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup unbleached sugar
3/4 cup vanilla or plain soy milk (not low-fat)
1 tablespoon white or rice vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
(1/2 teaspoon almond extract – optional)
3 tablespoons canola or safflower oil

1.  Pre-heat oven to 350 F.  Prepare two 8″ round cake pans or 1 9 X 13 inch sheet pan with pan spray.
2.  Sift dry ingredients together into a large bowl.
3.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the soy milk, vinegar, and extract(s).  Begin to whisk into dry ingredients, adding oil as the mixture begins to come together.  Don’t over-mix!
4.  Pour batter evenly into pans if using 2 layer pans.  Rap pan(s) on the counter to dislodge any air bubbles, and bake at 350 F for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the edges of the pan(s) very slightly, and the cake springs back when touched lightly on top.

If you have leftovers, they freeze well double-wrapped in plastic wrap.  Cut the cake into serving-size pieces first, wrap in plastic wrap, and then place the wrapped pieces into a freezer bag.

Zucchini Cake adapted by Lisa Bennett
from one by Jodie, submitted to the Post-Punk Kitchen – a great vegan recipe and info site)

Makes 1 bundt cake or 2 9 X 5 loaves

2 1/2 cups (packed) grated fresh zucchini (see directions)
2 ripe bananas
1 cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
(1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips – optional)
(1 cup raisins – optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spray bundt pan or 2 9 X 5 loaf pans with pan spray.
2.  If your zucchini are super big and tough, you can peel them.  Otherwise, just leave the bright green skin on.  Use your food processor’s shredding blade to grate the zucchini.  Dump the zucchini into a large bowl and take out the shredding disc.  Don’t bother to wash the processor bowl yet.
3.  Add the “S” blade to the processor.  Dump the bananas, oil, and vanilla extract into the food processor bowl and process until smooth. Add nuts if you’re using them, and pulse the food processor until they are chopped fine.  Add the banana mix to the shredded zucchini.
3.  In large bowl, sift together all remaining ingredients except optional chocolate chips.
4.  Add wet mixture to dry, mix well and add chocolate chips if using.
5.  Pour into lightly greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes, until toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean.
6.  Let cool upright 15 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack. Allow to cool 30 minutes before tasting. Enjoy!

Note:  If you don’t have a food processor, grate the zucchini as fine as possible on a box grater, and mash the banana well before mixing into the other ingredients.

If you have leftovers, they freeze well double-wrapped in plastic wrap.  Cut the cake into serving-size pieces first, wrap in plastic wrap, and then place the wrapped pieces into a freezer bag.