I can’t bake a decent biscuit to save my soul. (There, I’ve said it. I feel better.) I’m heavy-handed and ham-fisted, and I always end up overworking the dough into leaden hockey pucks of chalk. No amount of butter, no measure of lighter-than-air White Lily Flour secreted away in my carry-on all the way from Savannah can save me.
It’s taken some time, but I’ve accepted it. I’ll bake you a cake just as soon as you please, but I leave biscuit-baking to the experts.
When pressed to name my favorite dessert (this comes up quite a bit, you’d be surprised), there’s an overly long Sophie’s Choice-ish pause, and then a measured response: anything involving chocolate, but as a very close second, a perfect strawberry shortcake. Which is true. I’m a sicko for chocolate. And there are few things finer in all of green creation than a well-executed strawberry shortcake. Homespun and wholesome, not overly sweet, with a bit of richness, height-of-the-season fruit and dazzling contrasts of textures: that is a right proper dessert, in my estimation. I could really go for one right now.
But shortcakes, as you’ve probably realized from tucking into one yourself, are more closely related to scones and biscuits than actual sponge-type cakes (they get their name from the 15th century word “short”, meaning “to make crumbly”). Which (you see where I’m going with this) posed a highly significant problem for me. Until yesterday.
What the heck, I figured. I’d try this recipe and take my chances on ending up with a batch of door stops. Any mistakes on my part would disappear under a sweet heaping of luscious, macerated berries and vanilla-kissed, softly whipped cream, right? Nobody would be the wiser.
Well. I would very much like to shake Ms. Dorie Greenspan‘s hand for publishing this recipe. I would like to give her a round of applause and invite her over for shortcakes. With a boost from baking powder and just the right amount of this and that, these sweet biscuits, (yes, biscuits!) came out, dare I say it, perfect. Tender, mildly sweet, crumbling under their own just-barely-there weight. You would have thought somebody’s granny from Mississippi snuck into my kitchen and whipped up dessert.
And once you’ve taken care of the shortcake part of the equation, your average four-year old, should you have one available, can easily put the rest of the recipe together. (It’s also worth mentioning you can make the shortcakes ahead of time and freeze them, in the event that a quilting bee of Southern grandmas comes knocking on your door looking for something sweet. This recipe is changing my life, people.) Dorie swapped out a mix of late-summer berries for the traditional strawberries, as did I, but peaches or a mix of berries and stone fruit would be amazing, too.
I just consulted my cookbook: Ms. Greenspan has four other recipes for traditional savory biscuits. Thanks to these shortcakes, I think I may have just found my nerve. I’m going to dig that bag of White Lily out of the freezer and let you know how it goes.
adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking; makes about six shortcakes
- 2 C all-purpose flour
- 1/4 + 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) butter, cold and cut into small pieces
- 3/4 C heavy cream
- optional: healthy pinch of freshly grated cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add butter pieces and toss with flour to coat. Use a pastry blender (if you have one) or your fingers to cut and rub the butter into the flour. (Dorie notes to keep going until you have a pebbly mixture, with pea-sized pieces and oatmeal flake-sized smudges.) Stick the bowl in the fridge if it gets too warm.
Pour the cream over the dry ingredients and toss gently with a fork until you get a shaggy dough; turn out and knead lightly (take care not to overwork the dough; some dry sections are just fine). Take 1/3 C-sized pieces and pat into a roughly biscuit-ish shape about 1″ tall.
Bake for about 15-18 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through, until golden. Transfer cakes to a wire cooling rack. Gently pry open the cakes with a serrated knife or a fork. Serve with berries and whipped cream (recipes follow).
Note: the unbaked shortcakes can be frozen directly on the baking sheet; once frozen, store them in a tightly sealed zip-top bag for up to 2 months. Bake from frozen for an extra five minutes or so. The shortcakes are best the day they are baked, and even better slightly warm.
serves four to six
- 3/4 C heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp sugar
Pour cream and vanilla into the bowl of s stand mixer with the whisk attachment. On medium speed, add sugar and beat one minute. Turn on high and beat cream for about three and a half minutes, until soft peaks form. (Take care not to over-whip the cream or it will literally churn into butter; it will have a craggy, overly tight appearance if the cream goes too far.)
Mixed Berry Filling
- berries (figure about 1/2 C per shortcake)
- sugar, to taste
Sprinkle fruit with sugar and toss gently. Let macerate for 10 minutes or so until the fruit starts to release its juice.