A little while ago I was clearing out my mum’s house and found the Strawberry Shortcake pencil-eraser that I had loved as a little girl. What was nearly as surprising as her keeping it was that – probably 30 years after it was bought – it still smells exactly as I remember. Sweetly, cloyingly, strawberry-y. With none of the zing of real strawberries.
But that burst of childhood memory did get me thinking about Strawberry Shortcake dessert. An American classic that is rather timely as the fourth of July falls slap-bang in the middle of strawberry season. An American classic which is actually rooted this side of the Atlantic.
The shortcake base – a crumbly cross between a scone and a biscuit – was appearing in European recipe books long before the clever Yanks layered it up with (very British) strawberries and cream. A combo which was such a smash-hit Strawberry Shortcake Parties were all the rage in the US of the mid 1800s.
The recipe here is based on Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book published in 1896. Fannie was – actually, she still is – an authority on American cookery of that period. I like these for their touch of nutmeg spiciness that takes the edge off the sweetness and cream.
The shortcake bases should be made on the day you want to eat them.
Strawberry Shortcake – serves 4
For the shortcake bases:
300g plain flour
60g caster sugar
4tsps baking powder
2 egg yolks
80g butter – cold
Preheat the oven to 200C.
1. Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt with a few good gratings of nutmeg. Sift all of these twice.
2. Grate in the butter and rub into the dry ingredients until fully worked through. Beat the egg yolk and then add that with the milk. Work it with your hand into a dough but it won’t come together smoothly like a scone dough. It’ll be crumblier and that’s a good thing.
3. Roll out to an inch thick. Use a 7-8cm biscuit cutter to stamp out the shortcake pieces. They go onto a tray that’s lined with baking paper. Bake for 15-17 minutes. You want them nicely browned and cooked through. Cool on a wired rack.
For the strawberries:
You will need a handful of hulled and halved strawberries per shortcake. Let them sit for a few hours in a few tablespoons of madeira or red wine and a little sugar. That’ll get the flavours going nicely.
Split the bases in half. Give the strawberries a gently press with a fork and then lift them out of their booze and spoon over the bottom half of the shortcake. Top with freshly whipped cream, more strawberries and the upper half of the shortcake. Finish with a dusting of icing sugar.