Sylvia’s Strawberry Shortcake

Just a few twists on the classic

Sometimes I serve strawberry shortcake for breakfast. My guests never complain. When you think about it, it is probably no more decadent than waffles with strawberries and cream, and I make just a very tiny serving for a starter.

Or, on the day when we pick strawberries, strawberry shortcake might be our entire supper!

A spring tradition

We always had strawberry shortcake for Easter, even though our local strawberries were months away, I guess it just said “Spring!” In May, we had tons of the tiny, sweet native strawberries along our road, and it was a lot of work for a little harvest each day when they ripened, but oh were they worth it. I still pick strawberries, but at a local farm and not so much in the wild. I want enough to make my annual batch of jam, as well as treat the kids to berries and cream. We pick and buy a lot, so we have plenty to make jam and tuck in the freezer.

Our family’s tastes have changed over the years. Everyone loves cheesecake, so at our Easter/Spring family gathering we make my mother’s shortcakes with a little variation, a lemon cheesecake, and have the strawberries on the side ready to enhance both desserts! Whipped cream for each, of course.

bowl of strawberries

Make this when the local berries are sweet and deep red through and through. In a pinch, organic berries from Florida at holiday time can often hold their own, but even better is a stash of local frozen strawberries you’ve tucked way! Sweeten them just as you would fresh. If you sweetened them before you froze them, you will omit all or most of the additional sugar, just give them a taste before deciding.

A little of this and that

I’ve updated Mom’s recipe with just a few changes. First, I added orange liquor to the strawberries as they macerate. I love the flavor of the simple and traditional Strawberries Romanoff, so this is like a mash up with it and strawberry shortcake. To echo the orange flavor, I added orange zest to the berries and the dough for the shortcakes as well, and zipped up the whipped cream. You can omit the alcohol and use just the zest, or the zest and the juice in macerating the berries.

3 pints fresh or frozen strawberries, sliced

1/2 cup sugar

3 tbsp. Grand Marnier or other orange liquor

Zest of one orange

2 cups unbleached flour (I use spelt), plus more for the board

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. double acting, non-aluminum baking powder

1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling

Zest of one orange

1 stick butter, frozen, cubed

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp. half-and-half or light cream

Slice berries, mix with the sugar and orange liquor, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and 1/3 cup sugar. Cut butter into the dry ingredients with pastry blender or forks. You want to keep the butter chunks cold, so fingers don’t work so well here.

Mix beaten egg with half-and-half; pour into flour mixture. Toss with fork until large clumps form. Turn mixture onto floured work surface and lightly knead until it comes together. The best way to do this is to flatten and then fold over, gently creating layers as you work. Do this as little as possible to create a rectangle of dough about ¾ inches thick that just sticks together. The object is to join together gently layers of the dough but not overworking it, which would develop the gluten and render the biscuits tough and not as fluffy.

The shortcakes are light and flakey and have a lovely buttery flavor. Any leftovers can be heated and served with jam or lemon curd.

Flour a biscuit cutter. Depending on the size of your cutter, you will get between 8 and 10 shortcakes. You only want to reroll once. I use a square biscuit cutter so that I have very few scraps and don’t even have to think about rerolling.

Place 1 inch apart on small parchment-lined baking sheet; brush tops with cream or an egg wash made of a beaten egg and a tablespoon of water. Sprinkle with remaining sugar, or a fancy sugar such as turbinado if you like.

Bake until golden, 12 to 14 minutes, keep an eye on them. Remove to a wire rack; cool cakes about 10 minutes.

Split each cake crosswise; spoon a portion of berries, top and then a dollop of whipped cream; serve immediately.

Whipped cream:

Have everything chilled before you begin. The corn starch is not essential, but helps to stabilize the whipped cream so you can do it in advance, handy on a busy holiday. The confectioners’ sugar (rather than using superfine or regular sugar) also helps to stabilize.

1 cup chilled heavy cream

1 tbsp. cornstarch

1 tbsp. superfine or 10X confectioners’ sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla paste

Whip the cream until the beaters make small trails, then drizzle in the cornstarch and sugar. Beat until gentle peaks form, and add the vanilla. Do not over beat, or you’ll get butter. You can add more sugar if you like. Rather than vanilla extract, you can add a little more orange or other liquor (my preference). For special occasion, pipe the cream onto the dessert with a large star tip.

Note: Fresh cream that is not ultra-pasteurized beats up much faster than ultra-pasteurized. Be aware of this if you are used to the latter, you don’t want to make butter.