Strawberries are at their peak at this time of year, and I am finding it impossible to walk past a tower of fragrant red strawberries without picking up a punnet or two. If you manage to summon the super human power necessary to resist just picking them up by their green stems and munching a punnet away, then you are a stronger willed person than I. They are so perfect right now, though, that I couldn’t resist picking up an extra bunch to put aside and enjoy with a little thick cream and something sweet.
My weapon of choice so far this summer is the strawberry shortcake, a uniquely American concoction. They are described on one of my favourite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, as “…lightly sweetened cream biscuits, rich and buttery, coming to a crunch at the edge (often hastened by a sprinkling of coarse sugar)”. As if this description was not enough to send me scrambling to the kitchen, my guru, Nigella, happens to include a recipe in her seminal baking work – “How to be a domestic goddess”. So now two of my kitchen idols have directed me shortcake-wards, and who am I to resist? (*snaffles strawberry)
This recipe is laughably straightforward, like scone dough, but with much, MUCH more butter. I cannot make any claim as to the authenticity of the recipe that I have used, though I can vouch authentically for its deliciousness. I would liken the cakes that this recipe produces more to shortbread, than to any biscuit or scone recipe. As I say, they are choc full of butter, and you really get to enjoy the flavour therein. An egg and some baking powder do an admirable job of lightening the mix though, so they really are cakes; soft and tender rather than crunchy.
According to the World Wide Web, “purists” insist on buttering the split shortcakes before filling them. Fond though I am of butter, this seems like overkill to me. From what I’ve read, a plainer biscuit may be better suited to this treatment, and probably was the original “shortcake”. It’s also customary to use whipped cream to fill your cakes, but to me a just-warm cake and a tumbling pile of ripe-to-bursting macerated berries are better accompanied by a thick dollop of double or clotted cream. On this, I am flexible; you may choose your poison.
325g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 tablespoons caster sugar
125g salted butter, fridge cold, even frozen
1 large egg, beaten
125ml cream, plus extra for brushing
Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
1 punnet strawberries
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or extract
Double or clotted cream, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 220ºC/gas mark 7.
- Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a bowl. Grate the butter into these dry ingredients periodically tossing the butter with the flour as you go – I use a fork. Whisk the egg into the cream, and pour into the flour mixture a little at a time, using the same fork to mix. You should end up with a soft, slightly sticky dough
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and pat gently to a thickness of about 2cm. Dip a soft drink can* sized cutter in flour and cut out as many rounds as you can. Pat the scraps back together and keep-a-cutting until all used up. Place the shortcakes on a lined baking sheet and brush the tops with the extra double cream sprinkling them with Demerara sugar as you go.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden-brown. Meanwhile, slice up your strawberries, however irregularly you like, and sprinkle with 2 tsps of caster sugar and a dribble of vanilla bean paste, or extract.
- The shortcakes should be eaten while still warm, so split each one across the middle pile up some marinated strawberries on top, and add a dollop of thick double or clotted cream. I used some beautiful meander valley double cream. Yum!