The Ultimate Summer Dessert: Strawberry Shortcakes
Photos by Signe Birck
I've always had a thing for strawberries. My mom has a framed picture of 4-year-old me, wearing a little white dress and standing beside a gigantic bowl strawberries at a friend's wedding reception. I have a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face, with a red-stained mouth and hands full of strawberries. Caught in the act!
Growing up, strawberries were a big deal in my family. The third weekend of every May, my family drove to my mom's tiny hometown of Adairville, KY to attend the Strawberry Festival with my grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. There were rides to ride, a parade with ponies and floats, hamburgers cooked under a tent in the town square, and best of all–strawberry shortcake for dessert! Fresh, sweet strawberries, served with a shortcake and piles of whipped cream was my dream come true. (Of course, I'm pretty sure the whipped cream was actually Cool Whip, and the shortcakes may have been from a package, but to me, it was the best dessert of all times.)
Today, I still love to eat strawberry shortcake, only now I make my own. When summer hits, it's on regular rotation at dinner parties, picnics, and baby showers. I've played around with several recipes, wanting to get a shortcake (which, essentially is just a sweet scone) that's tender on the inside and lightly crisp on the outside, with just a hint of citrus. This recipe is pretty full-proof. I've made them in various sizes (the mini version is especially cute) and they're always delicious!
There are just a few things you need to keep in mind when making strawberry shortcake. One, use ripe, in-season strawberries. Technically, early summer is best for this, though there are still delicious berries available in August. But this is not a dessert you want to make in the winter! Two, make your own whipped cream. It only takes about 3 minutes, and the difference in taste is huge. Three, when you're making the shortcakes, don't overwork the dough. The more gently you treat your dough, the lighter and fluffier the end result will be.
Last, but not least, the shortcakes are definitely best served on the day you bake them. If you want to work ahead, make the dough, shape it, and freeze them (unbaked). This is the most amazing trick – I recently did this for a brunch I catered, and it was so nice to pull out my frozen scones and stick them right in the oven (no need to thaw). They tasted so fresh, everyone thought I got up at the crack of dawn to make the dough. (Wink, wink!)
Though I'm partial to strawberries, you can really do this with any sort of summer fruit: peaches, nectarines, blackberries, raspberries...use what you have! With a just-baked shortcake, fresh fruit, and whipped cream, you really can't go wrong.
Serves 8-10 (with leftovers for breakfast!)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
1 egg + 1 yolk
1 cup heavy cream + additional for brushing
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling
1 1/2 pound strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper.
For the shortcakes, pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and zest in a food processor a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles course meal. Dump into a large bowl. (If you don't have a food processor, whisk the dry ingredients together and rub the butter into the mix with your fingers until only small lumps remain.)
In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, and cream. Add the cream mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and sprinkle with additional flour. Knead the dough (it will be sticky!) a couple of times with floured hands. (Do NOT overwork the dough! The less you handle it, the more tender the shortcakes will be.)
Pat or roll the dough into a circle roughly 1 1/2 inches thick. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter (dipped in flour), stamp out about 8 rounds. Roll the scraps together and stamp out additional rounds. You should have about 14 shortcakes. (MAKE AHEAD: Place the unbaked scones on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for 45 minutes to an hour. Once frozen, place them in a Zip Loc bag and keep in the freezer until you're ready to bake them at a later date. No need to thaw them in advance - you just may need to bake them a few minutes longer.)
Place the scones on the parchment lined tray about one inch apart. Brush the tops with a bit of cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar (if you don’t have turbinado sugar, just use regular granulated sugar).
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden, and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a shortcake comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack for 30 minutes.
Wash, hull, and slice (or chop) the strawberries. Place in a large bowl with the sugar, stirring to combine. Let sit for 45 minutes or so to macerate. (MAKE AHEAD: You can cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving).
For the whipped cream, combine the cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Using electric beaters, beat the cream for 2-3 minutes or until soft peaks form. (MAKE AHEAD: You can cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving).
To serve, cut the shortcakes in half. Place a bottom half on each plate and top with a few spoonfuls of strawberries and juice and a dollop of whipped cream. Top with shortcake halves and serve.
NOTE: Feel free to experiment with different sizes of the shortcakes - sometimes I make them with a 2-inch, or even 1-inch biscuit cutter if I want miniature versions (which are really cute for cocktail parties or baby showers).