The ultimate summer dessert features buttery, flaky shortcakes topped with syrupy strawberries and a mountain of vanilla-scented whipped cream. The key to the subtly sweet dessert is the biscuit-like cake that’s soft in the middle, golden and crisp on the outer edges and dense enough to stand up to a blanket of fruit and cream. And it’s incredibly easy to make.
How easy? I’ll put it this way, if you can make biscuits, you can make strawberry shortcake.
The cake portion of the dessert is basically sweetened biscuit dough. The strawberry topping is macerated strawberries, which simply means strawberries dusted in sugar and left alone. And the whipped cream comes together in 2 minutes with an electric mixer. (You can also substitute store-bought whipped cream.)
To ensure that you experience the best shortcake you’ve ever had, I have a few suggestions.
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How to make strawberry shortcake
Spoon and level your flour. To prevent dry, crumbly biscuits, use the correct amount of flour. Use a spoon to transfer your flour to a measuring cup, then level it off with a knife. Don’t pack the flour into the measuring cup, and you’ll be good to go.
Use cold butter. You can even use frozen butter. Cold butter makes for the flakiest, most wonderfully light biscuits. Why? First, prior to baking, the solid pieces of butter separate the layers of dough. Second, as the shortcakes bake, those pieces of butter melt and create steam. As the steam evaporates, little pockets of air are left behind, creating light, flaky layers with a rich, moist crumb.
Pro tip: I prefer premium, higher-fat butter in my shortcakes. Most American butter contains 80% butterfat while European-style butter contains 82%. That 2% makes a huge difference in baking; higher butterfat lends a richer taste and guarantees a flakier shortcake.
Don’t overwork the dough. To ensure flaky layers, incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients until just blended. When you have a bowl of pea-size butter pieces coated with flour, you’re ready for the cream and egg.
Don’t twist your biscuit cutter. When cutting the dough, simply press straight down to create perfect shortcake circles. Twisting your biscuit cutter into the dough will hinder rising when the shortcakes hit the oven.
Refrigerate or freeze your shortcakes before baking. This isn’t mandatory, but it will help guarantee high, flaky layers. I froze my shortcakes for 20 minutes.
If you’re using a cast iron pan, don’t put it in the fridge. Place your shortcakes on a plate to refrigerate or freeze and transfer them to the pan just before baking (cast iron cracks when exposed to extreme temperature differences).
Bake your shortcakes in a high-sided pan. Most shortcake recipes instruct you to use a baking sheet; but this isn’t your average shortcake recipe. When you bake the dough in a cast iron skillet or 9×13-inch baking pan, the dough rises higher, rather than spreading out on a baking sheet. This method creates puffy biscuits that easily separate in the middle to create two cakes.
And don’t panic if the shortcakes meld together in the pan; they will come apart after baking.
Macerate your berries. While it may be traditional to top your buttery biscuits with plain berries, when you combine strawberries with sugar and let the mixture sit for a bit, the fruit releases its juices and creates a strawberry-infused syrup. I like to mash some of the berries too for a more jam-like experience. It’s this fruity sauce that changes the game entirely.
Depending on the size of your berries, you will need to halve them or slice them. Halve smaller berries and thinly slice larger berries.
Strawberry shortcake recipe
Be sure to assemble your shortcakes just before serving to avoid a soggy dessert. Store leftover shortcakes in an airtight container (or covered tightly with plastic wrap) at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to one week. You can also freeze the shortcakes for up to three months. Store any leftover berries and whipped cream separately in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Makes: 6-7 shortcakes
For the berries
- 2 pints fresh strawberries, rinsed well and patted dry
- ½ cup granulated sugar
For the shortcakes
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling over top (or use turbinado sugar for the top)
- 5 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup cold butter, (1½ sticks), cut into small pieces (I prefer European style butter, such as Plugra)
- ¾ cup cold heavy whipping cream, plus more for brushing over the shortcakes
- 1 large egg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the whipped cream
- 2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
- ⅓ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Macerate your strawberries
- To prepare the strawberries, hull and halve or slice the fruit (halve smaller berries, thinly slice large berries), then transfer about a quarter of the berries to a large bowl and mash with a fork. Add the remaining berries and sugar to the bowl and toss to combine.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes.
Make your shortcakes
- To make the shortcakes, butter a cast iron skillet or 9×13-inch baking pan (or coat with cooking spray).
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ⅓ cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or two knives to work the butter into the flour until the butter is pea-size and coated with flour.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, egg and vanilla. Fold the cream mixture into the flour mixture using a rubber spatula. When the mixture is crumbly, use your hands to form a loose dough. If the mixture is too dry to come together, add 1 tablespoon cold cream or ice water.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, or pastry cloth, or between two pieces of parchment paper and roll into a 10×13-inch rectangle (this doesn’t have to be exact). Fold the dough in half lengthwise, then fold in half crosswise. Roll gently until the top is smooth and the dough is 1-inch thick.
- Dip a 2¾-inch to 3-inch biscuit cutter into flour and then use to cut out 6 to 7 biscuits, rerolling the scraps as needed. If needed, handshape the last shortcake.
- Transfer the shortcakes to the prepared pan (fit them snuggly; they will help each other rise) and refrigerate or freeze for 20 minutes. NOTE: If you’re using a cast iron pan, transfer the shortcakes to a plate to refrigerate or freeze. Transfer them to the pan just before baking.
- While the shortcakes chill, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Brush each shortcake with a little heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until the tops of the shortcakes are browned and the edges are golden. If you’re unsure if they’re finished cooking in the middle, lift the top of one shortcake and peek in the middle. If the center is still gooey, keep cooking. If the tops are getting too browned, loosely cover with foil.
- Remove from oven and cool for 5 to 10 minutes before taking the shortcakes from the pan.
Make the whipped cream
- To make the whipped cream, in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the 2 cups of cream, powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat on high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes, depending on your mixer.
- Refrigerate your whipped cream until ready to use.
Assemble your strawberry shortcakes
- To assemble the shortcakes, split the biscuits in half crosswise. Top the bottom half with strawberries and whipped cream. Top with the second half of the shortcake with whipped cream and strawberries. Serve immediately.
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