4th of July Shortcakes with Lemon Verbena Ice Cream and Berries

lemon verbena

lemon verbena

Who doesn’t feel the call to dress up dessert in red, white and blue for the 4th of July? This year, I gathered beautiful produce from the farmers’ market, threw a couple of recipes from Farmers’ Market Desserts up in the air, and found a way to shape them into something delicious and festive using the best of the season.

blueberriesI started with the fruit.

I scored some sour Morello cherries from their short season, which typically peaks just around this time. If you have never tasted sour cherries, you are in for a real treat. They taste nothing like their sweet counterparts – Bings and Vans and the like, nor like light-skinned Rainier or Queen Anne cherries. These are almost too tart to eat raw (a great benefit when it comes to growing them, as birds often steer clear). When cooked and sweetened, they have a complex sweet-tart flavor that tastes as if hints of almond and exotic spice have been added.

sour cherries and sugar

After sweetening and warming the cherries, allowing them to release their bright red juices, I added blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. The fragrance was phenomenal. I made the sauce a day ahead, refrigerating it overnight to allow the flavors to mingle. I served it at room temperature for best flavor.


My ulterior motive for the dessert was to find an excuse to make Lemon Verbena Ice Cream, which in the book is served with a similar berry sauce made from blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. That sauce also would have kept with the red, white and blue theme.

Lemon verbena has a bright citrus-herbal flavor that is unmatched, even by similar plants like lemon balm. I recently trimmed mine back so was delighted to see it asserting itself again so quickly.

The ice cream is a snap to make, as there are no eggs to separate, no yolks to temper. This one is made with a combination half-and-half, buttermilk, and crème fraîche, along with the lemon verbena, honey, and lemon juice. The result is addictively refreshing.

Growing up in suburban New York, while out shopping my mom would sometimes take us to Schraft’s restaurant for sherbet. You rarely see sherbet (aka sherbert) these days, but it falls between sorbet and ice cream, closer to the former but with milk added. It is light but with a bit of richness that beautifully carries flavor, especially citrus. This ice cream reminds me of it.

So, I picked a bunch of lemon verbena leaves and put them in a bowl of water to rinse away any garden visitors.

lemon verbena leavesThen, I heated the half-and-half with sugar and honey until the sweeteners dissolved and the milk began to simmer at the edge. I stirred in the lemon verbena and set it off the heat to steep.

heating cream and sugarcream with verbena

After removing the leaves, I mixed in the buttermilk, crème fraîche, and lemon juice, then chilled it before churning it in my simple home ice cream maker. I find it magical every time to see the ice cream mixture go from runny to thick, to scoop-ably firm.

mixing ice creamchurning ice creamchurning ice cream

The only thing more magical is to taste it.

Responding to a request for shortcakes, I whipped up a batch of biscuits using the topping from the Nectarine-Blueberry Cobbler, cutting the biscuits into star shapes and sprinkling them with turbinado sugar before baking them until crunchy at the corners, tender on the inside.

unbaked biscuitsbaked biscuits

I’m not sure whether they should properly be called shortcakes or sundaes, but we served the desserts in bowls, starting with a biscuit and topping it  with ice cream and the fruit sauce.

An aptly red, white, and blue way to end a perfect afternoon with friends.sauce and star biscuits

Fourth of July Shortcake-Sundaes

Serves 8 to 10

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into 6 pieces, plus more for pan
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons turbinado, Demerara, or other coarse sugar

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream
1 cup half-and-half
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup mild-flavored honey, such as acacia, alfalfa, or clover
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup firmly packed fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup crème fraîche
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (2 to 3 lemons)

Fruit Sauce
2 cups sour cherries, pitted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 pint (1 cup) blackberries
1 pint (2 cups) blueberries
1 pint (2 cups) strawberries, hulled and sliced

To make the biscuits, preheat the oven to 400ºF with a rack near the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Scatter the butter over the top. Using a pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingertips, cut in the butter until it is in pieces that vary in size from oat flakes to peas. Drizzle the buttermilk over the mixture and toss with a fork or your fingers just until combined.

Transfer the mixture to a lightly floured work surface and knead gently 2 or 3 times to form a soft dough. Pat the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick round. Use a floured star-shaped cookie cutter about 3 inches in diameter to cut biscuits. For the best rise, cut straight down without twisting.

Arrange the biscuits on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar evenly over the tops. Bake until the biscuits are golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

To make the ice cream, stir together the half-and-half, sugar, honey, and salt in a small, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until steam rises from the surface and bubbles begin to form along the edge of the pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon verbena. Set aside to steep for 20 minutes.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer placed over a bowl, pressing on the leaves to extract as much flavor as possible. Whisk in the buttermilk, crème fraîche, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, several hours, or place in the freezer for about 1 hour.

Freeze the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and press a piece of plastic film or waxed paper directly on the surface of the ice cream before covering. Freeze until the desired consistency, about 2 hours or up to 1 week.

To make the sauce, put the cherries and sugar into a medium-size, nonreactive saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very juicy, about 2 minutes. Add the blackberries and warm for about 1 minute, then the blueberries for another minute, and finally the strawberries for about another minute longer. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, covered, until serving time or up to 3 days.

To serve, split open a biscuit and place it in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Spoon some of the berries and their juices over the biscuit, then top with a generous scoop of ice cream. Spoon a little more fruit and sauce over the top, and serve.

4th of July Shortcake-Sundaes


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