Google “strawberry shortcake” and you’ll find a plethora of references to the pink-haired, highly perfumed doll that was hugely popular – along with friends Blueberry Muffin, Apple Dumplin’ et al – among little girls in the ’80s. Needless to say, this isn’t the strawberry shortcake we’re discussing here.
We’re referring to the immensely more-ish American classic of oh-so-crumbly biscuits (the shortcake part of the equation) sandwiching the best of spring’s strawberries. The dessert dates back 150 years or so, with the first recipe recorded in Miss Leslie’s Lady’s New Receipt-book, albeit under the title “Strawberry Cake”. It has, as many recipes do, evolved over time, but the essential components remain the same. There are renditions involving cake, or even puff pastry, but to our mind (and tastebuds), the biscuit’s the thing here. There’s something about the crumbly texture combined with the sweet pulp of the strawberries that just works. A dollop of whipped cream – in this case with extra strawberries macerated in elderflower liqueur folded through it – is the proverbial icing on the cake.
The key to making a great shortcake is a light touch: rubbing the shortening into the dry ingredients with your fingertips, working quickly but delicately. Then, stir in the wet ingredients, but only enough to just combine them. Overworking will toughen the mixture and banish that melt-in-the-mouth texture. They’re best served fairly shortly (no pun intended) after baking for utmost enjoyment.
At the risk of stating the obvious, über strawberries are essential – and by that we mean those that are plump, ruby red and heady with fragrance. It’s all pretty simple, really.
Strawberry shortcake became so popular in the early 19th century that people held strawberry shortcake parties to celebrate the first spring berries. Sounds like a plan to us.