Dressing the way she always does, cartoon character Strawberry Shortcake would blend right into the crowd on Hawthorne, Belmont or North Mississippi these days: unnaturally bright red hair topped with a puffy newsboy cap, pink and red polka dot mini-dress, green and white striped tights, and red mary janes on her feet. The girl’s got style, spunk, and staying power. So does her namesake classic dessert.
Strawberries themselves never go out of style, though the fresh ones don’t have much staying power. Their season is short – as in, right now, for a few weeks. They don’t last long in the fridge (or even on the way home from the market – you might just eat them out of the cardboard pint box before you even get home). (Store them unwashed between sheets of paper towel in the fridge to save for a couple days max.)
If you do get the strawberries home (we recommend buying a pint more than you expect to need), there are tons of ways to prepare them – including just washing, trimming and mixing with yogurt, creme fraiche, whipped cream or ice cream. But strawberries are also perfect for a variety of delicious uses:
- Savory, as a bright and juicy addition to a salad. Try the recipe from Portland's Ox restaurant for fresh kale and lettuce salad with feta ranch dressing, fried chickpeas, olives, and strawberries.
- Sweet baked desserts like crumbles, cobblers or pies (try this grilled rhubarb-strawberry crumble, recipe from chef Eric Bechard) or a compote of fresh and dried fruits.
- Drinks - infuse tequila with fresh strawberries and make a Saucebox-style S-s-s-s-Strawberry Margarita.
The classic strawberry concoction, though, is the strawberry shortcake. Shortcake is a slightly sweet, biscuity cake that became popular in the mid-nineteenth century when baking powder became commonly used. Any fruit can be used with the shortcake and whipped cream creation, but strawberries, with their intense color and juicy, soft texture, are probably the best.
Here’s a classic recipe of the classic, adapted from Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison’s American Home Cooking.
For the berry mix:
5 cups halved strawberries, or 3 cups halved strawberries with 2 cups raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, or marionberries
3 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste)
For the shortcakes:
2 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable shortening, well chilled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, well chilled
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the whipped cream topping:
1 ½ cups whipping cream, well chilled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar (or more to taste)
- Stir together the strawberries with the sugar, mashing them very lightly with a fork to help release the juice. (If using other berries as well, keep them separate for now.) Set berries aside at room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl (preferably a shallow one).
- Cut the shortening and butter into small chunks, and add them to the dry ingredients.
- Combine flour and shortening mixtures with a pastry blender just until a coarse meal forms.
- Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk and vanilla. With your fingers and a few swift strokes, combine the dough just until it’s a sticky mess. Turn out onto a lightly floured board or, better, a pastry cloth. Clean, dry and flour your hands. Gently pat out the dough and fold it back over itself about a half-dozen times, just until smooth. (Using a dough scraper helps this step.) Pat out again into a circle or oval about ¾ inch thickness. Cover the dough lightly and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
- Cut dough with a biscuit cutter, trying to get as many shortcakes as possible because dough toughens if it needs to be rerolled. Aim to get about eight 3-inch or six 3 ½ inch biscuits from the dough. Make the shortcakes with a quick, clean straight-down push of the cutter, avoiding twisting it (so as to avoid uneven shapes).
- Bake the shortcakes in center of oven, turning the baking sheet around once halfway through baking time. Bake 3-inch shortcakes for 10-12 minutes total, larger shortcakes for 12-15 minutes, until raised and golden brown.
- Prepare the topping, beating together the cream with the vanilla and sugar with a whisk or in a chilled mixing bowl with chilled beaters over medium high speed. Beat the cream only until soft peaks form.
- If you are using other berries along with the strawberries, gently stir them into the strawberry mixture now.
- Split a shortcake in half and place the bottom portion in a broad shallow bowl or on a dessert plate. Spoon several tablespoons of fruit and juice over it. Spoon a dollop of whipped cream. Place the shortcake top over the cream and add another layer of berries and whipped cream. Repeat with remaining shortcakes, berries, and cream and serve immediately.