Easy peach shortcake: Slice the fruit, top a biscuit half with it and add whipped cream. Photo courtesy Kraft.
Sweet summer berries and stone fruits beg to be turned into shortcake. It requires only three ingredients: the fruit of choice, whipped cream and the biscuit or cake base.
The original shortcake concept, from the U.K., uses a slightly sweetened baking soda or baking powder biscuit or scone: a crumbly bread that has been leavened with baking powder or baking soda.
Split in half, the base is piled with fruit and whipped cream, then topped with the other half, often with more fruit and whipped cream on top.
Just to confirm: The classic shortcake isn’t cake, in the American sense.
It’s a dry biscuit in the American sense: a crumbly bread that has been leavened with baking powder or baking soda.
As time marched forward, the classic remained but new recipes evolved. The history of shortcake continues below.
RECIPE: CLASSIC STRAWBERRY (OR ANY FRUIT) SHORTCAKE
If you don’t have to bake the biscuits, this is a pretty easy recipe to assemble. There’s a shortcake biscuit recipe below, but other choices include:
Shortcake biscuits add a bit of sugar to a conventional biscuit recipe.
1. PREHEAT the oven to 450°F. Grease a cookie sheet.
2. SIFT the dry ingredients together. Beat 2 eggs with milk and set aside.
3. MIX 3/4 cup shortening with the dry ingredients. Add the milk and eggs and knead on a board for a few minutes.
Think outside the biscuit: Make mango shortcake. Here, mango ice cream replaces the traditional whipped cream. Photo courtesy The Mango Board.
4. ROLL the dough out 3/4 inch thick. Cut with a round cookie cutter and bake 10 to 15 minutes on greased cookie sheet. Cool on a rack.
5. ASSEMBLE: Cut biscuits in half. Spoon some of the fruit and any juice onto each shortcake bottom. Top with whipped cream and add the shortcake top (you can serve the shortcake open face if you prefer). Spoon more fruit over the top and serve.
The first known strawberry shortcake recipe appeared in an English cookbook around 1588. The original concept used a slightly sweetened baking soda or baking powder biscuit or scone [source].
The next recipe of note was published in 1847 by food writer Eliza Leslie in The Lady’s Receipt-Book.
By 1850, strawberry shortcake was a well-known biscuit-and-fruit dessert, served hot with butter and sweetened cream. It wasn’t until 1910 that French pastry chefs replaced the topping with heavy whipped cream.
In the U.S., strawberry shortcake parties were held as celebrations of the summer fruit harvest. The earliest American recipes called used pie crust rounds or broken-up pieces of baked pie crust. According to Wikipedia, that recipe that can still be found in the South.
Then the concept of using a biscuit traveled across the pond. Split in half, the base is piled with fruit and whipped cream, then topped with the other half, often with more fruit and whipped cream on top.
Though today’s American shortcakes are usually of the biscuit or sponge cake variety—in either individual sponge cups, a sponge layer cake or tube cake, that’s not the end of it.
As the concept has evolved, biscuit and sponge have been replaced by everything from angel food cake, pound cake and yellow cake to brioche and corn muffins. Contemporary cooks also stretch the concept by switching out the whipped cream for ice cream, mascarpone and mousse—even richer toppings.
In the late 20th century, June 14th was named National Strawberry Shortcake Day. Have whatever style of shortcake you like.