What first comes to mind when you think of strawberry shortcake? My first thought is of the little cakes, four to a package, in the produce section, next to the strawberries. That’s what my mother always used when I was a little girl. In later years, she used store-bought or sometimes, homemade, angel food cake for the cake layer. When she served it, she would often reminisce about the best strawberry shortcake she had ever eaten: her mother’s recipe. She said Grandma would layer baked pie pastry circles with strawberries and fresh dairy cream (fresh as in from their own cows). I believe there was a particular bowl that was always associated with this dessert. I would imagine so. That dessert sounds like something so splendid it would forever mark a serving dish!
I don’t make either of these versions for my family, though. I adopted the southern style for strawberry shortcake and my children love it. Fluffy, slightly sweet biscuits are split, filled and topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. You can macerate the strawberries at least thirty minutes ahead of preparing and store them, covered, in the refrigerator. I like to make them several hours in advance.
Use a light hand with the shortcake and handle the dough as little as possible. Keep your butter and half-and-half cold. A pastry blender will allow you to cut the cold butter into the flour without added heat that comes from using your hands. It will take a few minutes, but there’s something soothing about this step. Using a fork to incorporate the half-and-half into the flour/butter mixture will give you the lightest touch for the lightest biscuit shortcakes.
Right before serving, whip heavy cream and add generous dollops to each dessert. This dessert is easy enough for a weekday supper, but delicious and pretty enough for company. You can even set up a shortcake bar and allow guests to assemble their own. It’s summertime and happiness in a bowl!
The Pie Belle’s Southern Strawberry Shortcake
2 pounds strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
Optional: 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, cold and cut into small bits
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Gently stir sugar into sliced strawberries . Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the strawberries to form juice.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar; mix well. With a pastry blender, cut butter into this mixture until is resembles coarse crumbs. You will see the color change to a slightly yellow tone and most of the flour will be “attached” to butter. Slowly add half-and-half, stirring with a fork just until the liquid is absorbed. Do not over-mix.
On a lightly floured surface, knead dough lightly, just 3-5 turns. Roll dough to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a round biscuit cutter or with a knife for square shortcakes. Place about 1 inch apart on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake at 425 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until biscuits are lightly browned (check the bottoms to make sure they aren’t burnt). Remove from pans immediately and wrap in a breadcloth or place on cooling racks so the bottoms don’t become soggy.
In a mixing bowl, combine whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on high until soft peaks form (or stiff peaks if you prefer).
To assemble shortcakes, split the shortcake biscuits in half. Place bottom half in bowl and add strawberries w/juice and a dollop of whipped cream. Top with remaining biscuit halve, more strawberries with juice and another dollop of whipped cream. Enjoy!
Yield: about 12 servings