Genuine Biscuits-Of-Course Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

We New Englanders always have a good time excoriating the so-called shortcake that has been made with sponge cake, but not all of us go as far as John Thorne, who is on record as saying “unpleasant stuff, spongecake. It tastes like its namesake without the redeeming scrubbing power.” I consider this unfair to Génoise, which when well made is delicious and very good with strawberries.

But sponge cake + strawberries doesn’t = shortcake, supposedly named for the way solid fat (shortening) keeps dough tender and flaky. Spongecake also fails to be shortcake because it’s too sweet. Strawberry shortcake does not come at the end of the meal; it IS the meal. Or at least it was in the days when the big dinner was at midday and all you wanted in the evening was something light and pleasant * . Being a full summer supper, shortcake should get its sweetness mostly from the fruit, with the “cake” part right next door to bread and crisp enough around the edges to provide textural contrast to the pudding-soft center.

It should also be served with a pitcher of unsweetened heavy cream, but so many do like to have the cream whipped I guess all I can say is please go easy on the sugar, and don’t add vanilla unless the strawberries really need a lot of help — in which case it would be better to add the vanilla directly to the sweetened strawberries along with a good slug of triple sec and a squeeze of lemon. Pour the result over vanilla ice cream and call it a day.

Strawberry Shortcake

If you haven’t already, please read Setting Up for Strawberry Shortcake. It discusses most of the fine points but fails to mention that shortcake has about the same shelf life as a soufflé and should be served as soon as the biscuits come out of the oven. It’ll still be delicious if you prep the components before dinner and assemble the shortcake after, but if you want to roll around on the floor in ecstasy you have to eat it before the biscuits cool.

Serves 6 for dessert, 3 for supper

2 quarts fully ripe, juicy strawberries

¼ cup sugar, or a bit more

2 c. all purpose flour unless you have some cake flour handy in which case use 1 1/2c. all-purpose and 1/2 cup plus 1 tbl. ( I know, I know) cake.

2 tbl. sugar

1 tbl. baking powder

1 tsp salt

6 tbl. ( 3 oz) frozen butter

¼ c yogurt in a 2 cup measuring cup, which then fill with milk to the 1 ¼ cup line. If you don’t have any yogurt, use 1 cup milk

additional butter for assemblage is traditional but optional

heavy cream to accompany

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and heat same to 425 degrees. Put a wide, shallow mixing bowl into the refrigerator to chill. Cut half of the strawberries into small chunks and mix them with the ¼ c. sugar in a non-reactive bowl. Mash to release juice. Slice remaining berries into the bowl, cutting them about ¼ inch thick. Stir well and set aside in a cool but not refrigerated place.

2. Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade; add the other dry ingredients and pulse briefly to mix. Cut the butter into 10 pieces and add 4 of them. Pulse until the butter disappears. Add the rest of the butter and pulse only until pieces are the size of peas.

3. Turn the mixture into the cold bowl and add the liquid all at once. Stir only until combined, then flour your hand and knead 6 or 8 times, until the dough is almost but not completely smooth.

4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat it out a bit more than ½ inch thick. Pat it gently into a shape that will allow you to cut 6 roughly 3” biscuits. Using a biscuit cutter, stamp them out and transfer to an ungreased baking sheet, keeping them at least 2 inches apart. There will be very little left over dough and re-rolled scraps are never as good, so just gather the odd bits and gently press them into biscuit sized collections. They’ll come together as they bake.

5. Bake until risen and richly browned on top, about 15 minutes depending on your oven. While biscuits are baking, taste the strawberries. They should be as sweet as you’d want them if you were eating a bowl of strawberries and cream; add more sugar if they need it.

6. When biscuits are done, put them on dessert plates or in shallow soup bowls. Split with a fork and butter the bottom halves lightly if feeling traditional. Using about 2/3 of the strawberries, ladle them over the biscuit bottoms and gently press on the tops. For maximum deliciousness, top with remaining strawberries. For prettier presentation, put the remaining fruit in a bowl and pass it at the table with the jug of heavy cream.

Other shortcakes: Well of course, as long as the fruit is soft, sweet and juicy it’s hard to miss. Raspberries and peaches are wonderful. Blueberries can be very good if they’re the semi-tart wild kind, but they don’t yield when crushed. Cook half of them with the sugar until they’re juicy, then let cool before combining with the rest. I’ve never made mango, but it would probably be delicious if you could get good mangoes. A mighty big if, but maybe somebody in India wants to try fusion food.

* More about the history of shortcake for supper next post. This one is long enough as it is.

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  • Leigh Williams Said,

    My cousin asked me just a few days ago if I had a recipe for “northern-style” strawberry shortcake. Oh, yes, I replied; a friend who is a genuine yankee and outstanding gardener (that last lends scholarly weight and authority to everything you do) has published not only the recipe, but complete instructions on the whole cultural experience!

    So we’ll try her out on your recipe and see what we get. She is a top-notch biscuit maker, so I’m anticipating success — and a wonderful treat!

  • leslie Said,

    Oh dear

    On the hook!

    thanks for the good words, Leigh. I hope your friend enjoys the instructions – and that you both enjoy the shortcake. For what it’s worth, there’s no reason she has to follow my biscuit recipe in order to have the genuine article. Her own biscuits will work out fine as long as they’re flaky in the middle, crisp around the edges and innocent of or barely touched with sugar.

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