How to Make Strawberry Shortcake From Scratch
Nothing says summer like strawberry shortcake: rich and crumbly homemade biscuits layered with juicy strawberries (or any other fruit, for that matter), and topped off with real whipped cream. You can serve strawberry shortcake for dessert, picnics, and even for breakfast. Read on to learn how to make the best homemade strawberry shortcake.
Follow along with Chef John’s Classic Strawberry Shortcake recipe as I share tips and tricks to making the perfect biscuit base, strawberry topping, and homemade whipped cream..
How to Make Strawberry Shortcake
Making the Biscuit Base
Biscuits are the classic base for strawberry shortcake. They're sturdy enough to bear the weight of piles of strawberries and mounds of whip cream, yet they still have a tender, flaky texture. They're an easy-to-make quick bread, too: No yeast is needed to give them their rise; just baking powder or soda.
Here are a few tips to get your shortcake biscuits to turn out just right.
Most biscuit recipes call for cold butter, milk, and cream. Why? When the butter melts while baking, it releases steam and creates little pockets of air, making the biscuits flaky and airy. However, this recipe uses browned butter. Browning the butter gives the biscuits a subtle nutty flavor, which pairs perfectly with the sweet strawberries. If you don't want to brown your butter, no problem: Just cut in the same amount of cold butter with a pastry blender until it resembles small peas.
When you're combining your wet and dry ingredients, be careful not to overwork your dough. In other words, you're not kneading the dough like you would if you were making bread. Handling the dough too much results in tough, hard, and flat biscuits. Instead, mix everything in a bowl until it just comes together and looks a little crumbly.
After your dough comes together, turn it out onto your work surface. I like to lay down a sheet of parchment paper instead of flouring my countertop. No need to use a rolling pin to shape your dough into a rectangle. Instead, fold and shape it gently with your hands. Folding the dough will help you achieve those flaky layers you want.
Shape the dough into a large rectangle and mentally divide the dough into three pieces. Fold one side towards the center, then the other side, to create a book. Flatten the dough to a 1-inch thick rectangle again. That's it, layers complete!
Cut the dough into squares. Why cut squares instead of cute little circles? First, it's easier to cut squares out of a rectangle without leaving behind any scraps to re-roll and cut again. Second, the re-rolled scraps can get pretty tough once they've been worked over. Cut the dough with a sharp knife (or even a pizza wheel), and you'll get cleaner cuts and edges resulting in a higher rise and lighter biscuit.
Finally, brush the top of the dough with a little bit of cream and sprinkle with sugar. This gives the dough a lovely golden brown color and a bit of a sheen when it bakes.
Tip: For an even higher rise, bake the biscuits so that the edges are just touching: It will help keep them tall.
Normally, nothing is better than a fresh biscuit from the oven, slathered with butter. But, for strawberry shortcake, you'll want to let them cool before you slice them.
Tip: Yes, you can make the shortcakes ahead of time. The strawberry juice and whipped cream you top them with will help to perk them back up with extra moisture and flavor. To store your make-ahead strawberry shortcake biscuits, be sure to wrap them tightly and keep at room temperature for no more than a couple of days. You can also make the dough, cut, cover, and freeze them to bake at a later date. Wrap them tightly so they don't get freezer burn. They can go straight from the freezer to your preheated oven, adding a few extra minutes bake time.
How to Make the Topping for Strawberry Shortcake
Fresh strawberries harvested from your own patch or picked up at the local farmers' market are the peak of berri-ness, but supermarket berries can be delicious, too.
- Prep the berries. Slice the green tops off the berries. Small strawberries can be halved or even left whole. Larger berries should be diced large – it makes them easier to eat and helps to release their juices.
- Sprinkle with sugar and let sit. This step is called maceration. Macerating in sugar softens the berries and helps them release their juices, creating the perfect syrup for drizzling. For best results, macerate the strawberries 2 to 3 hours before you're ready to assemble the shortcakes. Let the berries and sugar sit at room temperature for 1 hour, then refrigerate.
Tip: Add sugar to suit your taste: If the berries are super sweet, let their own flavor take the lead. If they're a bit tart or less flavorful, add a little more sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, which helps to "pop" the berry flavor.
If you don't have fresh strawberries on hand, don't fret. You can easily use frozen berries. If you're in a rush, you can pull your berries from the freezer, place them in a bowl, and mash them with a potato masher (make sure to leave some chunks). Then stir in your sugar and let them macerate while you prepare your other ingredients. The berries should warm up to room temperature by the time you are ready to serve.
If you would like a warmer topping, place the frozen berries and sugar in medium saucepan over low heat, and gently stir to thaw. If the sauce is a bit too runny, make a cornstarch slurry (1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water) and slowly mix it in until you reach your perfect consistency.
When strawberries aren't in season, try other fruits like peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, blackberries, or raspberries.
Homemade Whipped Cream
Whipped cream not only adds moisture to the biscuits and a creamy and fatty counterpart to fresh, tangy berries, but it also helps to build your shortcake layers.
When you make whipped cream, either by hand or with a kitchen gadget, you're incorporating tiny air bubbles into the fatty liquid, essentially making a delicious foam. You can whisk by hand, use a stand or hand-held mixer, or even an immersion blender. Learn how to make whipped cream.
Tip: Use whipping cream or heavy cream, not half-and-half or milk. Standard pasteurized whipping cream whips up a bit more easily and has a better flavor than ultra-pasteurized cream, but both will work fine.
How to Make Whipped Cream
- For best results, chill your cream, bowl, and beaters in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. The colder all of the components are, the better whip you'll get.
- Whether you're using a whisk, a beater, or a stand mixer, start off slow until the cream starts to thicken (you'll see little "trails" in the bowl).
- Add the sugar in a slow stream. You can then increase your speed to medium-high and beat until your preferred texture. We like to aim for a medium peak, which gives just enough structure to hold your shortcake together, but soft enough to taste like you’re eating a cloud. How do you know if you've reached medium peaks? When your whisk or beater is removed from the cream, you should be left with a little peak that droops a bit to the side, but doesn't hold its shape entirely. Make sure to watch the cream carefully. It can go from liquid to solid butter very quickly.
Tip: You can use regular granulated sugar, superfine castor sugar (which has a smoother texture), or confectioners' sugar (with has a bit of cornstarch and helps stabilize the whipped cream).
Building a Strawberry Shortcake
- Using a serrated knife, slice the cooled biscuits in half horizontally to create a top and a bottom.
- Drizzle the bottom layer with a little of the strawberry juice and even a little extra heavy cream. This will help restore a bit of moisture to biscuits that might be a day or two old, giving back that tender texture.
- Spoon some strawberries on the bottom layer, then top with a generous dollop of whipped cream (this helps hold the top biscuit in place).
- Place the top biscuit on the cream and reverse the process: Spoon more whipped cream on top and drizzle with some strawberry juice, and top with a few more strawberries.
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