July 13, 2014
There are generally two camps for Strawberry Shortcake lovers -- the biscuit camp and the sponge cake camp. As you can see here, I clearly fall into Camp Biscuit. In fact, it was not until I was in my late teens that I learned about the sponge cake variation. It sounded good, but was a little disappointing when I tried it. Sponge cake gives you a much softer overall dessert -- easily made in advance, and easily sliced and portioned for a crowd, for sure -- but the firmer, yet still tender, biscuit gives each serving of this dessert an individual, more impressive character: each biscuit becoming a small work of art assembled for each guest. The crisply sweet finish on the golden top crust, the squish of the top of the biscuit descending into the tender interior of whipped cream and macerated berries, feel more decadent to me.
The biscuit method for Strawberry Shortcake is almost laughably easy: make your favourite drop-biscuit dough with an extra teaspoon of sugar per cup of flour, and before baking brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with a little more sugar.
If strawberries are not your thing, plenty of other fruits also work beautifully: raspberries, or peaches, or my all-time favourite, the tiniest possible blackberries.
3 - 4 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Toss the strawberries with the sugar and refrigerate, covered, for a couple of hours, stirring once or twice.
1 cup pastry flour
2 teaspoons sugar, plus extra to finish
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons butter
7 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon cream
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or use your usual method, if different), and set aside until you're ready to bake the biscuits, say... just after dinner.
Preheat the oven to 450 F, and lightly grease a baking sheet. Make a well in the flour mixture and add the milk all at once. Stir rapidly with a fork until it becomes a sticky dough without streaks of dry flour. Drop in four equal spoonsful to make four biscuits on your baking sheet. Lightly press the biscuit into shape, flattening the top slightly if necessary. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before assembling, so that the whipped cream doesn't melt.
Whip 3/4 cup of cream with a teaspoon of sugar and a quarter teaspoon vanilla extract (or use vanilla sugar), until you have stiff peaks.
Use a fork to separate the biscuits into top and bottom halves. Spoon whipped cream onto the bottoms, top with berries, then another dollop of whipped cream before perching the lids on top. Serve immediately.