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Three Takes on Strawberry Shortcakes

Start by baking a biscuit that’s good enough to eat on its own, and then give it a flavor twist

Fine Cooking Issue 58
Sequence photos by Amy Albert. All others, Scott Phillips
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In so many shortcake recipes, the biscuit seems to a play a supporting role, there just to soak up the juices from the berries and as a place to plop the cream. But I’m a pastry chef, and in my shortcake recipes, the biscuit is the star. In fact, I often make a couple of the following recipes to serve on their own as scones.  

Part of the reason my biscuits are so good is good technique, which I’ll share in a second, but it’s also because I’ve jazzed up the traditional recipe with new flavors. In addition to the buttery classic, I make a lemon-poppyseed biscuit—great with mixed berries—and a deep, dark chocolate biscuit. Cocoa and semisweet chocolate give this version an intense flavor close to that of a brownie, but with a light, flaky texture.

Tips for tender biscuits, juicy berries, and billowy cream

I count on three things to make great biscuits. The first is sifting the flour before mixing. This lightens the dry ingredients and ultimately gives the biscuit a fine, delicate texture. I also use cream in the biscuit to add richness to both their flavor and texture. The fat in the cream (and in the butter) has a shortening effect, which inhibits gluten from developing and keeps the dough tender. And as with most pastry, I work the dough as little as possible to keep it from becoming tough. This means kneading the dough until it’s just combined but still slightly shaggy.  

Whether you get your strawberries from the grocery store, the farmers’ market, or the local pick-your-own place, you’ll need to toss them in sugar before you fill your shortcakes. The sugar sweetens them, of course, but—more important—it gets the berries’ juices flowing and softens their texture so that they’ll settle nicely into the biscuit and make the whole dish feel well integrated.  

To whip the cream, I use a two-step process to get the soft texture I want. First I whip it with an electric mixer until the marks of the beaters are visible. Then I finish whipping by hand with a whisk, which gives me more control, decreasing the chance of overwhipping. If you do overwhip your cream, add just a little more cream and whisk until soft.

Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake
Lemon-Poppyseed Shortcakes with Summer Berries

4 steps to tender biscuits

1. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or a fork until the largest pieces of butter are the size of peas. The butter will melt and create steam when baked, making a flaky biscuit.
2. Make a well and pour in the cream. Mix just until the ingredients start to come together. If your dough is too dry to combine, add more cream, one tablespoon at a time.
3. Work the dough gently until just combined. Knead gently to bring the dough together into a loose ball.
4. Gently pat the dough into a square about 1 inch thick and refrigerate for 20 minutes. This gives the flour a chance to relax and also helps the biscuits hold their shape when baked.

Make-ahead tips

For the biscuits: I prefer to serve the biscuits warm—not hot—from the oven, but you can make them several hours in advance. (You can even bake the biscuits a day ahead, or freeze them for up to three months, although their texture will suffer slightly.) Just before serving, reheat the prepared biscuits in a 200° oven until warmed through.

For the berries: You can slice the berries hours ahead of time and refrigerate them. Half an hour before assembling the shortcakes, toss the berries with the sugar and let them sit at room temperature.

For the whipped cream: Under-whip your cream and refrigerate it, covered, until ready to serve. Then use a whisk to finish whipping.


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