Don't think of shortcake just as a dessert. Think of it as another all-American favorite, a sandwich--in this case, a berry sandwich. The traditional shortcake that I grew up with was actually two huge spongecake layers filled and covered with strawberries and whipped cream. The top of the cake was crammed with "toppers," the giant strawberries used to top off each pint. My mom never fooled around with individual shortcakes when she had so much fruit.
It wasn't until I married and began moving around the country that I discovered shortcakes come in many guises. All shortcakes are alike in that they are made with fresh, uncooked fruit or berries that are usually sweetened and crushed or sliced. Also, the fruit sits on top of some sort of cake or biscuit that can soak up the juices, and the entire creation is covered with a creamy topping.
Got lots of berries on hand? You've come to the right place. Generosity is a common denominator in shortcakes--no skimping on the fruit or cream toppings. Beginning with strawberries, as the summer weeks roll by we add berry after berry to the list of possibilities. Peaches are around most of the summer as the different varieties come into season. Plums are a less common choice, but when ripe, they add a sweet but slightly tart quality to the mix.
The shortcakes themselves can vary too, from slices of poundcake to spicy scones to the customary biscuit. I use a simple formula to transform biscuits into shortcakes. To make them rich and tender I add an egg and additional sugar and use whole milk or cream for the liquid. Replacing some of the all-purpose flour with cake flour also tenderizes the shortcakes. Similarly, scones made from a soft, tender dough make a good base for the fruit and cream. Another option is to use poundcake, which can be made in varied flavors. Vanilla, lemon or orange poundcake complements most berries, while chocolate poundcake goes well with raspberries.
Toppings do not have to be limited to whipped cream. Ricotta cheese mixed smooth in a food processor or mascarpone cheese stirred with some rum or liqueur make creamy alternatives.
On days when the weather is not too sultry, I bake and freeze individual shortcakes, poundcakes and spongecakes so they're ready for the summer fruit procession. Poundcake and spongecake need only to be defrosted, while biscuits and scones benefit from being warmed in the oven. Ten to 15 minutes in a 250-degree oven warms and refreshes them.
For a make-your-own summer party dessert, try serving a platter of assorted shortcakes with big bowls of berries, fruit and creamy toppings. Then let all your guests create individualized shortcake extravaganzas.
Strawberry Shortcake Is Just the Beginning
Our Family Strawberry Spongecake Shortcake
This almond-flavored spongecake is filled with strawberries whipped with cream, then topped with more strawberries and whipped cream. It's cut into squares for serving. Made with hot milk and whole eggs, the cake comes out light and moist.
For the cake:
Butter for the pan
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup milk
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
For the filling and topping:
2 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (1 pint) strawberries, cleaned and coarsely chopped, plus 18 whole strawberries, cleaned and hulled
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-9-by-2-inch pan, line the bottom of the pan with parchment or wax paper and butter the paper.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it is hot. Do not let the milk boil. Beat the eggs and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy, thick and lightened in color, about 2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour mixture just until it is incorporated. Slowly add the hot milk, mixing until the batter is smooth and thin, about 30 seconds.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Cool the cake for 15 minutes in the pan. Use a small sharp knife to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack and remove the paper liner. Turn the cake right-side up and cool completely, about 1 hour.
For the filling and topping: Beat the cream, confectioners' sugar and vanilla in the large bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Place 2 cups of the whipped cream in a medium bowl. Set the remaining whipped cream aside. Drain the juices from the chopped strawberries and fold them into the 2 cups of whipped cream. Split the cake in half horizontally and remove the top. Spread the strawberry whipped cream over the bottom layer. Place the top on the cake; frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining plain whipped cream. Arrange the whole strawberries on the top. Cover and refrigerate for as long as 8 hours. Cut into squares to serve.
Per serving: 458 calories, 7 gm protein, 46 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 188 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 247 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber
Blackberries and Italian Cream Over Buttery Pound Cake
(10 to 12 servings)
Blackberries and a rum-flavored mascarpone cream cover slices of lemon pound cake in this sophisticated shortcake. I use a homemade sour cream pound cake, but a good quality store-bought pound cake works as well.
Butter for the pan
For the pound cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel 1/2 cup sour cream
For the blackberries:
3 pints blackberries 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the topping:
2 cups mascarpone cheese* 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 teaspoons dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a loaf pan measuring about 9-by-5-by-3 inches with a 6- to 7-cup capacity, line the bottom of the pan with parchment or wax paper and butter the paper.
For the pound cake: Sift the flour and baking soda together. Set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar in the large bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and lightens from a yellow to a cream color, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating each egg completely into the batter before adding another. Mix in the vanilla and lemon peel and beat for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and mix in half of the flour mixture, beating just until the flour is incorporated. Mix in the sour cream. Then add the remaining flour, mixing just until all of the flour is incorporated.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire cooling rack.
For the blackberries: 1 to 6 hours before serving, mix together the blackberries and sugar, crushing the blackberries slightly to release their juices. Cover the berries and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours.
For the topping: In a large bowl whisk the mascarpone cheese, confectioners' sugar, cream, rum and vanilla together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for as long as 2 days.
Cut the pound cake into slices about 3/4 to 1 inch thick and place on individual plates. Top each slice with about 1/2 cup of the blackberry mixture. Spoon mascarpone cream over the berries and serve.
Note: Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese. It is available in the specialty cheese section of most major supermarkets.
Per serving (based on 12): 480 calories, 6 gm protein, 53 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 138 mg cholesterol, 17 gm saturated fat, 195 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber
Golden Cornmeal Shortcakes With Blueberries and Cream
Cornmeal adds crunch and an inviting golden color to these especially tender shortcakes.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold buttermilk (nonfat or low-fat)
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for working the dough 2/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup cornmeal 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
5 cups blueberries
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream, whipped to soft peaks with 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the buttermilk and egg in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the cornmeal and sugar. With an electric mixer on low speed, mix in the butter pieces until the mixture is the size of peas, about 1 1/2 minutes. Slowly add the buttermilk mixture, mixing until a soft dough forms.
Gather the dough into a soft ball. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick circle. Cut out 2 1/2-inch circles with a biscuit cutter. Gather the dough scraps together and repeat this procedure. Place the shortcakes 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden and the bottoms are light brown. Cool the shortcakes on the baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to split the shortcakes horizontally.
Arrange 2 halves, cut-sides up, on individual serving plates. Spoon about 1/2 cup of blueberries over each shortcake and top generously with the flavored whipped cream.
Per serving: 440 calories, 5 gm protein, 42 gm carbohydrates, 29 gm fat, 114 mg cholesterol, 17 gm saturated fat, 327 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber
Raspberry and Peach Spiced Shortcake Wedges With Ricotta Cream
These spicy scones taste rich even when they are made with non-fat buttermilk.
For the scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for working the dough 1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons grated orange peel 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces 3/4 cup buttermilk (nonfat or low-fat)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the ricotta cream:
1 pound (2 cups) ricotta cheese
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel 1/2 cup cold heavy (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups peeled and sliced peaches (about 4)
2 cups raspberries
1 tablespoon sugar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
For the scones: In a large bowl, stir together the flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and orange peel. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut in the butter until pea-sized pieces form. Stir in the buttermilk to form a soft dough and gather the dough into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into an 8-inch circle and cut the circle into 8 wedges. Place the wedges 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Brush the top of each scone lightly with the beaten egg and sprinkle the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar over the tops.
Bake the scones in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the tops color slightly and the bottoms are light brown. Cool the scones on the baking sheet.
For the ricotta cream: In the work bowl of a food processor, process the ricotta, confectioners' sugar, orange peel, cream, vanilla and almond extract until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for as long as 2 days.
In a small bowl, gently mix the peaches, raspberries and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let sit for about 15 minutes.
Split the scones horizontally. Arrange 2 halves, cut-sides up, on individual serving plates. Spoon about 1/2 cup of the peach-raspberry mixture over each shortcake, then top with the ricotta cream.
Per serving: 533 calories, 12 gm protein, 63 gm carbohydrates, 27 gm fat, 91 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 449 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber
Chocolate Chip Shortbread Shortcakes With Raspberries and Ice Cream
Ice cream makes a good summer topping for shortcakes, but a biscuit-type shortcake tends to freeze and become hard under the ice cream. Buttery shortbread cookies, enhanced with chocolate chips, are a good solution, especially when smothered with raspberries.
Butter for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 3/4 cup cornstarch 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup (6 ounces) miniature semisweet chocolate chips
2 pints raspberry or vanilla ice cream
2 pints raspberries
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter a 9-by-9-by-2-inch pan.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, sift together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Add the sugar and mix on low speed just to blend the ingredients. Add half of the butter pieces and mix until the pieces are the size of peas, about 1 minute. Add the remaining butter and mix until the mixture forms fine crumbs, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the almond extract and mix in the chocolate chips. Continue mixing until the mixture forms large crumbs and the dough holds together. Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Use a fork to prick the dough at 1-inch intervals, pressing the fork to the bottom of the pan.
Bake the shortbread in the preheated oven for about 1 hour or until the edges just begin to turn golden but the top remains a pale, slightly golden color. Remove from the oven and immediately cut into 9 squares, cutting through to the bottom. Cool thoroughly.
Remove the shortbread from the pan and place each piece on an individual plate. Top with a scoop of raspberry or vanilla ice cream. Spoon raspberries over and serve.
Per serving (without ice cream): 466 calories, 4 gm protein, 54 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 58 mg cholesterol, 17 gm saturated fat, 136 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber
Elinor Klivans's latest book is "125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble and Savor" (Broadway Books, $25).
CAPTION: STRAWBERRY SPONGECAKE SHORTCAKE: Two spongecake layers filled and covered with strawberries and whipped cream.