No, not the stuff you put in your hair.

And surely not the large, antlered animal drivers here in northern New England worry about meeting some dark night on the road.

I'm talking mousse, as in chocolate. And strawberry. And "easier than you think."

About a million years ago, when I was working at The Camden Herald weekly newspaper in midcoast Maine, I used to prepare lunch on deadline day – Wednesday – for my fellow worker bees.

As I recall, I charged folks $2 each for a three-course meal: entrée, bread, and dessert. At that price, I wasn't making a profit, but neither was I going too far into the hole.

I liked to cook; they liked to eat. Win/win.

Out of that labor of love came a weekly column – "In the Kitchen" – my first foray into food writing, after a decade as a sports reporter.

Some years later, I sent a typewritten letter (yes, young'uns, email hadn't been invented yet) to my favorite flour company, King Arthur, asking if they needed a writer.

They said, "Sure, come on over." (Things were more informal then; the company only had 5 employees.) And nearly 22 years later, I'm still here at King Arthur Flour, baking, writing, and absolutely loving connecting with all of you, all over the world.

But back to mousse. "Strawberry Mousse in a Shortbread Crust" was something I made occasionally for those Wednesday lunches. It always met with much rolling of the eyes, and sighs of pleasure.

I've since renamed this creamy, strawberry-y confection Strawberry Cream Shortbread – so as not to scare off the mousse-fearing general public. Still, a mousse by any other name is creamy, rich, and the perfect complement to a buttery, tender/crumbly shortbread crust.

Are you ready for fresh strawberries in your neck of the woods?

Let's make Strawberry Cream Shortbread.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" square pan.

Place the following in a mixing bowl:

10 tablespoons (142g) unsalted butter*, at room temperature
1/3 cup (39g) confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (149g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*If you use salted butter, omit the 1/4 teaspoon salt in the recipe.

A word to the wise, before you start: be sure to measure the flour using the "sprinkle and sweep" method. If you don't, you're liable to use too much flour, which will make the crust hard to work with.

Mix the room-temperature butter with the remaining ingredients, beating until cohesive. The mixture will seem very dry at first; it may take up to 3 minutes beating at medium-high speed to bring it together.

If it just won't come together, drizzle in a bit of milk, a teaspoon at a time, until it does.

Pat the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. For ease in flattening it out, lay a piece of parchment or plastic wrap over the dough, and press it with the flat bottom of a measuring cup. Or, if you have a small pastry roller, this is the place to use it.

Prick the dough all over with a fork. This will prevent it from developing air bubbles as it bakes.

Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300°F and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, until golden.

Remove the crust from the oven, and let it cool completely.

Next, the filling. You'll need a 16-ounce container fresh strawberries (about 4 cups, or 454g), with additional for garnish, if desired. Feel free to use unsweetened frozen strawberries, thawed, in place of fresh.

Place 1/3 cup (76g) cold water in a microwave-safe bowl or very small saucepan. Add two 1/4-ounce packages plain gelatin, stirring to combine; the mixture will become stiff and jelly-like. Heat gently, in the microwave or over a low burner, just until the gelatin dissolves, and the mixture liquefies.

Hull the strawberries, but don't bother slicing them. Place them in a food processor or blender along with 2 tablespoons (28g) freshly squeezed lemon juice and 3/4 to 1 cup (149g to 198g) granulated sugar. Add the liquefied gelatin. Process until the berries are puréed.

Why the range of sugar? Because some strawberries are sweeter and tastier than others. Make the berry purée a bit sweeter than you think you should; by the time you add the whipped cream, the filling should be perfectly sweetened.

Refrigerate the purée until it thickens enough to mound on a spoon, about 45 minutes. Stir it every 15 minutes, so it thickens consistently throughout; you want to avoid as much lumpiness as possible.

Whip 2 cups (1 pint, 16 ounces, 454g) heavy cream until stiff. Fold in the strawberry purée gently but thoroughly. Spoon the filling over the crust in the pan, smoothing the top.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. For easiest slicing, place the pan in the freezer for about 30 minutes before serving.

Any way you slice it, though, it's difficult to get the first piece out intact; that first square is "baker's treat"!

Serve with fresh sliced berries...

...and/or crushed/sweetened berries.

Want to turn this into a more elegant-looking dinner-party dessert, like the one pictured at the top of this post? Bake the crust in a 9" round springform pan, adding about 5 minutes to the baking time. Fill and finish as directed.

Read, make, and review (please) our recipe for Strawberry Cream Shortbread.

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About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was an award-winning Maine journalist (favorite topics: sports and food) before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. Hired to write the newly launched Baker’s Catalogue, PJ became the small but growing company’s sixth employee.PJ wa...
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