National Strawberry Shortcake Day is June 14.
Strawberry season used to be painfully brief, lasting only weeks. But now, when you add strawberries imported from Mexico and South America to those that are grown in the U.S., the season stretches to months instead of weeks. We are lucky indeed.
But, too often, those beautiful strawberries end up being served with the packaged twinkie-like, mass-produced, over-sweetened sponge buns that are usually displayed alongside the berries in the supermarket. (Oh Lord, deliver us from "convenience" foods.)
These days, just about anything that has strawberries and whipped cream heaped upon it, from pound cake to pie pastry to puff pastry, is called Strawberry Shortcake. But I am concerning myself here with the type of "short"cake that is traditionally found in this favorite dessert. The "short"cake that I refer to is much like a biscuit or scone, being very light and crumbly, and is lightly sweetened so as not to detract from the natural sweetness and flavor of the strawberries.
The function of fat (that would be your butter, cream, shortening, etc.) in pastry is to make it flaky and light. Dough that contains a large proportion of fat to dry ingredients is said to be "short," and bakes up with a crumbly texture. And that's where the term "shortcake" comes from. That also explains why shortening (like Crisco) is called shortening.
The recipe below will make either six individual shortcakes or one 8-inch shortcake that is sliced and served like a layer cake. As cook and/or host, you get to choose. Either way, you have a delicious dessert that makes a beautiful presentation.
Also, we have been speaking of strawberries, which are probably the fruit most associated with shortcake. But don't let that stop you from considering Peach Shortcake when peaches are in season, or any other luscious fresh berries.
- 5 cups sliced strawberries
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 1-½ cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) cold butter
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon milk, if needed
- Softened butter
- Prepare the strawberry topping:
- Several hours before serving time, slice the strawberries.
- Mash one cup of the strawberries with a potato masher.
- Stir the mashed berries and juice back in with the rest of the berries.
- Sprinkle the 6 tablespoons sugar over the berries, stir a few times.
- Keep at room temperature until serving time.
- Prepare the whipped topping:
- Whip the 1-1/2 cups heavy cream to soft peaks, adding the 2 tablespoons sugar while the mixer is running.
- Gently fold in the vanilla when the cream is whipped.
- Refrigerate until serving time.
- Preheat oven to 450°F degrees.
- If you are making an 8-inch layer shortcake, butter an 8-inch cake pan.
- Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar.
- Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs.
- Combine the beaten egg with the cream and pour over the dry ingredients all at once.
- Stir briefly just until mixture comes together.
- If mixture seems dry, stir in 1 tablespoon milk.
- Bake the shortcake:
- For the 8-inch layer shortcake:
- Lightly press the dough into the buttered cake pan, leaving the edges slightly higher than the center.
- Bake for 15 to 18 minutes.
- Remove from pan and cool on rack for 5 minutes.
- For individual shortcakes:
- Turn dough out on a floured surface and knead and fold 6 or so times.
- Gently pat the dough to a thickness of 3/4 inch.
- Cut 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter.
- Gather the scraps back together and knead lightly until you have at least six rounds and have used all the dough.
- Place rounds 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
- Cool baking sheet on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
- To serve either size shortcake, split and butter the shortcake with the softened butter.
- Spoon strawberries and whipped cream between the layers and over the top.
- Serve at once while still warm.
Think you'll have trouble splitting the 8-inch layer? Not to worry. Here's a tip that will really simplify the task. You'll need 6 or 8 toothpicks. Stick the toothpicks into the side of the layer, just at the middle, all around the layer - like a sun with rays. Using the toothpicks as a guide, slice through the layer with a serrated knife - a bread knife works great. Piece of cake!