Recipe: Strawberry shortcakes

An American pudding that is unapologetically sweet

Despite having all the constituents of a good old British cream tea, the strawberry shortcake comes from across the pond. It definitely sounds like it should be British. When my husband knew that I was making this, and then found me making the shortcake dough in our kitchen, he exclaimed with barely concealed horror ‘that’s not shortbread!’. Indeed it is not. An American shortcake is a slightly different beast, much closer to our British scones. Technically, the term ‘strawberry shortcake’ first appeared in an English cookbook in the 16th century and referred to a very rich shortbread, but what we mean by it now is a distinctly American pud.

The American strawberry shortcake is made up of tender, sweetened ‘biscuits’, a leavened, dairy-based round bake, topped with vanilla-scented whipped cream, and macerated strawberries. Its name comes from its ‘shortness’, or the proportion of fat in the biscuit, which is what makes the bake so soft and crumbly. I tend to slice the very top off the biscuit and discard before assembling (or keep as chef’s perks), but you can replace it jauntily atop the filling. If you’re doing this, you might like to sprinkle the biscuit with a little demerara sugar before baking for crunch and, of course, an added burst of sweetness – this is, after all, an unapologetically sweet pudding.

Isn’t it lovely when the simplest recipe turns out to be the best? After a lot of experimentation, I have plumped for a biscuit recipe by J Kenji Lopez Alt, for which he uses equal weights of self-raising flour and double cream, stirs them together until they form a dough, and then folds that dough gently to form lots of layers that will rise in the oven. It’s a dream.

Strawberry shortcakes

Makes: 6 shortcakes
Takes: 15 minutes, plus macerating
Bakes: 15 minutes

For the biscuits
150g double cream, plus a little for glazing
150g self raising flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon demerara sugar (optional)

For the strawberries
100g strawberries, plus 6 extra for decoration
1 tablespoon caster sugar

For the whipped cream
150ml double cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tablespoon caster sugar

1. For the biscuits, preheat the oven to 200°C. Mix the double cream, caster sugar and self-raising flour together in a mixing bowl until they form a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and pat into a square about an inch thick. Fold the left third of the dough into the centre and then fold the right third of the dough on top of that. Fold the top of your newly folded dough into the centre and do the same with the bottom third. Gently roll the dough out into a one inch square again. Repeat the folding and rolling once more.
2. Using a floured three to four inch biscuit cutter, stamp out biscuits and transfer them to a lined baking tray. Don’t twist the cutter – you’ll lose all those lovely layers you just folded in. Press together the leftover dough to form additional biscuits. Brush the top of each of the biscuits with a little of the extra cream and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 12 minutes until puffed and golden. Leave to cool.
3. For the strawberries, cut off the stalks and slice the strawberries. Place them in a bowl with the caster sugar, and leave for 30 minutes to an hour.
4. For the whipped cream, put the cream, caster sugar, and vanilla extract into a mixing bowl and whisk until, when you lift the whisk from the cream, the cream can hold its own weight and not dollop back into the bowl. Stop short of stiff peaks.
5. To assemble, slice the tops off the biscuits, and place a tablespoon of whipped cream onto each biscuit base. Add a tablespoon of the marinated strawberries. You can finish with an extra, unmarinated strawberry, or the top of the biscuit placed jauntily back on top.


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