Breakfast on Saturday morning was the best time for neighbors to visit, before we all headed out on our weekend adventures. Tony would put on his wetsuit and swim across a barely melted Lake Sabrina, Katharine would follow him in a kayak. Steve and I were determined to hike as far as we could get towards Brown Lake, elevation 10,751’. Our Sierra community was still recovering from the big winter, and many of our favorite trails remained buried under too much snow for safe hiking, even in July. But, after running the trail to Brown Lake with her three athletic Catahoula dogs, Jen gave the route a thumbs up.
We parked at Parchers Resort, a cluster of cabins located in a pine-sheltered bench between two spectacular mountain streams, a great jumping off point for fishing, backpacking, horseback riding, and, of course, day hikes. After donning our packs, we headed up hill on a shaded, but steep trail. Once we broke out of the forest, an alpine basin with wide open vistas and sparkling lakes surrounded by towering peaks lay before us. Parts of the trail were hidden under snow fields dented with treacherous suncups—deep bowl-shaped indentations caused either by bright sun or wind. They were arranged in a honeycomb pattern, and tinged pink from a snow alga that grows in alpine regions. Interesting to look at, but so slippery it was difficult to keep our balance. Other sections of the trail had become running steams. Through sheer perseverance, we managed to get to Brown Lake for a very late trail lunch.
The Strawberry-Rhubarb Breakfast Shortcakes we had devoured before heading out supplied not only the energy for the hike, but also helped create a fun atmosphere for breakfast with our friends. The inspiration for the dish came from Tony’s quick response to my question about what he likes to eat for breakfast, BISCUITS! Well, I had devised a gluten-free biscuit recipe I am proud of for my cooking classes for disadvantaged youth. All I had to do, I thought, was reconfigure them for high-altitude cooking. I followed adjustment directions I found on line and in a trusty book about baking at lofty elevations. One trial after another was disappointing, until I ignored the advice of experts and followed my original recipe. Bingo!
And why shortcake? I had a bag of rhubarb in my freezer, and I love strawberry-rhubarb compote, so I whipped up a batch. I scrambled local eggs, piled biscuits fresh from the oven in a warm bowl lined with a colorful napkin, and set out bowls of Greek yogurt, the fruit compote, and fig jam, plus a selection of cheeses. Before I knew it, we all spontaneously assembled strawberry-rhubarb shortcakes, and pretty much ignored the eggs, jam and cheese. These have already made several appearances on our breakfast table at the cabin, and guests gobble them up.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Breakfast Shortcakes
- 12 to 16 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled, quartered lengthwise
- ⅓ cup water
- 1 to 1¼ cups granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)
- 1 to 1¼ pounds rhubarb (fresh or frozen), cut into 1" pieces
Fluffy Mountain Drop Biscuits
- 1 cup cold milk or milk substitute (I use unsweetened soy milk), plus more if needed
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 2 cups gluten-free flour blend such as King Arthur Measure for Measure or Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Flour, plus more for forming biscuits
- ¼ cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, sliced
- 1 tablespoon milk or melted butter
- Plain Greek yogurt
- Place the strawberries in a medium size heatproof bowl.
- Combine the water, 1 cup of sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. If using the vanilla bean, scrape in the seeds and add the bean. Stir over low heat until the sugar melts. Add the rhubarb and bring almost to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the rhubarb is barely tender but still holds its shape, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook or the rhubarb will fall apart (some most likely will, but it's pleasing to have a least a few whole pieces in the mix).
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rhubarb pieces to the bowl with the strawberries. Boil the syrup in the saucepan until almost syrupy, occasionally adding to the saucepan the juices that accumulate in the bowl of fruit, about 5-7 minutes. (This step will concentrate the rhubarb flavor.) Pour the syrup over the fruit. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Let the compote cool. (The compote can be prepared several days ahead. When cool, cover and refrueraat.)
- Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450℉. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the milk and vinegar in a glass measuring cup and stir to blend. (This is a quick buttermilk substitute, the acidity makes the biscuits more tender, and helps activate the baking soda, giving more lift to the biscuits.)
- Combine 2 cups of the flour, ¼ cup of sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to blend. Distribute the butter over the flour mixture, and then squeeze the butter and flour together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add about 1 cup of the milk, mixing with a fork until the dough barely comes together in a very shaggy mass, adding more milk if too dry and more flour if too wet. You're looking for a very sticky, loose texture that is too moist to pat out.
- Flour your hands liberally and pick up a 2½" piece of dough. form it into a ball and then place it on the lined baking sheet. Flatten slightly. Repeat with the remains dough, spacing the biscuits close together but not touching. Brush the tops with more milk or melted butter and then sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake the biscuits until they are brown on the top and bottom, feel firm to the touch and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool slightly on the parchment on the pan. (Although best when freshly baked, the biscuits can be made a few hours ahead. Reheat on a parchment lined pan, in a 350℉ oven for about 5 minutes.)
- Cut the warm biscuits in half and place a bottom on each plate. Spoon the fruit compote over, top each with a dollop of Greek yogurt, and then a biscuit top. Serve immediately.