Lemon Shortcake

Photo: Lauren Colchamiro for Sweets & BItters

This is one of those desserts that will make your cooking seem fabulously effortless! Make the lemon curd ahead (pretty little jars of it also make a wonderful gift). While you’re at it, cut a lemon into thin slices and leave it to soak in rich simple syrup: 1/2 cup sugar dissolved, with the help of heat and stirring, in ¼ cup water. When your guests are on their way, a batch of fresh biscuits can be mixed and baked in 20 minutes. Whisk up a bowl of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Just before serving, split the biscuits, fill them with lemon curd and whipped cream, and put another little dollop of cream on top with a sweetened lemon-slice pressed into it (save the syrup for cocktails). Edible flowers add a lovely flourish if you can find some.

Hint: Buy potted pansies, violas, or johnny jump-up plants to use for your edible flower garnish. It can be hard to find just the flowers, and this way you will have a nice little


Lemon Shortcake

make about 12 shortcakes


for the lemon curd

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold


for simple biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 Tablespoons cold butter
  • 3/4  cup buttermilk or plain yogurt


for assembling shortcakes

  • whipped cream
  • syrup-soaked lemon slices (see headnote)
  • edible flowers, such as violas (optional)


cooking the lemon curd

1. In a double boiler or a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the eggs and yolks. Whisk in the sugar and salt, then the lemon zest and juice. Cut the butter into several small pieces, and add it. Set the saucepan or double boiler over medium heat.

2. Cook, stirring constantly, until the butter is incorporated and the mixture thickens. Never allow it to boil, or it will separate and curdle. When the curd is nearly thick enough that you can imagine spreading it on toast, but still a little too runny for that, remove it from the heat; it will continue to thicken as it cools.

3. Transfer the curd to a bowl or jar. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd, and pierce a small hole in it. This will prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cool. This will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to two weeks.


baking the biscuits

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl; stir with a fork or whisk to combine. Cut the butter into small pieces and work it into the dry ingredients: pinch the butter and flour together until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs or coarse cornmeal. 

2. Stir in the buttermilk or yogurt. When the mixture becomes too stiff to stir, mix and knead with your hands, just until it holds together in a ball. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface to about 1/2 inch thick, then fold it in half, and in half again. Roll out again to about 3/4 inch thick. Cut 2-inch circles out of the dough, using a cookie cutter or a sturdy glass. Place them on the baking sheet. (Scraps can be pressed together, rolled out again, and cut out).

3. Bake the biscuits for 7-9 minutes. Serve warm, if possible. These are best within a few hours of baking.


assembling the shortcakes

1. Break the biscuits in half. Fill each with a spoonful of lemon curd and a spoonful of whipped cream. Put the top back on the biscuit.

2. Dollop more whipped cream on top, and garnish it with one of the syrup-soaked lemon slices and an edible flower. Serve right away.



Lovage Savage, a Spring Aperitif

lovage savage cocktailSometimes the job of a drink (and the bartender) is not to stand out, but to work like a stagehand arranging scenery while the audience imagines they can’t see you. The lights come up and a drink is in their hand before they know they ordered it. It’s delicious, but subtle enough to recede behind good conversation: a backdrop. It creates anticipation, making the mouth water and setting the scene for an exciting meal to come.

This is that kind of drink. Dolin Blanc, a sweet white Vermouth, forms a light foundation for a cocktail that refreshes without intoxicating. A splash of Bittermen’s Citron Savage gently awakens the tastebuds with a hint of bitter herbs and citrus. Slap a sprig of lovage between your hands to release a fragrance like floral celery. And finish the drink’s perfume with a twist of aromatic citrus--bergamot, sweet lime, or meyer lemon.

Lovage Savage Cocktail Recipe

(savage pronounced with a french accent...or should we call it the Savage Lovage?)

  • 2 oz Dolin Blanc
  • 1/2 oz Bittermen's Citron Savage
  • sprig Lovage
  • 1/2 section of peel from aromatic citrus (bergamot, sweet lime, or meyer lemon)

Build the drink in a rocks glass over ice, and stir to chill. Slap the sprig of lovage to release its fragrance, and twist the peel over the glass to mist it with citrus oil.

Shoots and Later

When pea plants are about as tall as a butter knife, you can harvest their shoots. Not only do you get to eat more of the plant, you may encourage them to produce more peas. Pinch off the tendrils just above the second or third set of leaves. If the stem there feels tough, pinch above a higher leaf. From the junction where you just snapped the stem, new leaves will emerge and the plant will grow bushier. You can pick the tendrils again when the plants reach your shin. Once flower buds appear, leave them to grow into pods.

pick pea shoots just above a set of leaves

Stir fried or wilted pea greens are now as ubiquitous in American fine dining as in homestyle Asian cooking, where they’ve long been commonplace. Treat them like young spinach (with the flavor of fresh peas). Here is an easy recipe.

Flash Stir-fried Pea Greens

For a good stir-fry, you need a very hot wok and very dry vegetables. Heat your wok over a high flame for a few minutes, until you can feel the heat radiating from the sides when you hold your hand above it. While it’s heating, peel a few cloves of garlic, and get your sauce handy: soy or fish.

Turn the heat down to medium. Splash some oil, a tablespoon or two, into the wok. It must be oil with a high burn point like canola or safflower, NOT olive oil.  Throw in the garlic; tumble it around until it turns golden, in a matter of seconds.

Throw in a handful (or three) of clean dry pea greens. Shuffle them about for only as long as it takes for their color to change, to a deeper vibrant green with a gloss of oil. Turn the tendrils out of the wok, sprinkle and toss them with soy or fish sauce (or both), and serve with rice.

Ohanami, a picnic for cherry blossoms

pink bike at tokyo ohanami picnicIn Japan, the blooming of flowers is cause for national celebration. When the cherry trees bloom, everyone parties. It’s called ohanami, the viewing of honorable flowers. Soccer moms and bike messengers alike pack picnics, spread out blankets and drink under a snowfall of petals. I partied with them all when my trip to Japan coincided with cherry blossom season.

ohanami picnic in Chiba

I picnicked in a playground with suburban moms and and their toddlers (and one teacup puppy) as the first flowers of the year popped open. While the kids played, the moms unpacked bentos of homemade food, carefully separated by plastic wrap within each container. We sipped sweet plum wine poured from tetra packs: it looked and tasted like the Japanese equivalent of white zinfandel. They giggled and questioned me about my American boyfriend--why I was in Japan, and where was he? Sharing food under the cherry blossoms, I felt at ease with them in spite of how little of each other’s language we understood.


ohanami picnic with tokyo bike messengers
At the height of the season, bike messengers invited me to their ohanami under a huge canopy of blossoms in a downtown park. Every way you looked, the ground was covered with picnic blankets and flower petals. The white blossoms and black branches popped against a backdrop of overcast sky. Bike fanatics arrived in waves as they finished a pirate-and-cherry-blossom themed scavenger hunt. They added their tricked-out bikes to the glittering candy colored pile, and sat down to sip beer out of seasonal pink cans. As the day wore on the group got drunk and rowdy, and we took turns going to the convenience store to load up on flower-themed junk food.

Everywhere I went in Japan, I found myself drinking and making friends under flowering trees. Taking part in a national flower party was a foreign experience, but cherry blossom picnics conjure nostalgia for my own childhood in the Pacific Northwest. Wild cherry trees in the woods by my house signalled the beginning of spring, and my mom took us every year to eat boiled eggs on a red blanket beneath flowering trees on the University of Washington campus. Now sweet memories of that month in Japan make ohanami picnics doubly special to me. I won’t let a season pass without packing a picnic and viewing some flowers.


flowering wild cherry tree at my childhood home

Here is a recipe for an ohanami snack.