This Surprising Ingredient Is the Secret to the Best Strawberry Shortcake You've Ever Had

Food legend James Beard says so. Who are we to disagree?

a white plate stacked with strawberry shortcake biscuit
Photo: Meredith

James Beard was a ground-breaking American chef, cookbook author, TV personality, and teacher. He is also the namesake for one of the top awards for restaurants and food writing today.

But before Beard published any of his 20 cookbooks, hosted any of his cooking shows on TV, mentored countless fellow chefs, and changed the game of modern cuisine, his mom was whipping up one seriously delicious — yet delightfully strange — shortcake recipe.

On a quest to find the absolute best strawberry shortcake recipe this summer (tough "research," I know), I stumbled upon "Jim Beard's Shortcake" on the James Beard Foundation website.

In the recipe headnote, it nods to the matriarch of the family: "When James Beard shared his mother's recipe for shortcake with his friend Larry Forgione, the future JBF Award winner put the dessert on his menu at An American Place in St. Louis."

The next part is what really convinced me that this rendition simply must be on my shortcake shortlist: "Finely crumbled hard-boiled egg yolks, which enrich the dough without toughening it, contribute to the baked cakes' perfectly tender crumb."

Wait, what?! Hard-boiled eggs in dessert?

That's right, and the technique has also appeared in recipes presented to the judges on The Great British Bake Off in 2018: Briony incorporated cooked egg yolks into the battery for her Empire biscuits to give the final product a crumbly and light texture.

The method is actually fairly common in Northern European baking, where savvy bakers discovered that the small egg yolk bits prevent too much gluten from forming in the dough, which keeps baked goods(like shortcakes) ultra-tender.

Beyond the yolk-stoking suggestion, James Beard was also a big advocate for using real, fresh ingredients in sweet and savory recipes. And that mindset shines in these shortcakes, which call for three cups of fresh berries (in addition to plenty of heavy cream and butter).

How to Make James Beard's Shortcake

  • To make Jim Beard's Shortcake, sift together all-purpose flour and baking powder, then stir in sugar and salt. Use your fingertips to blend cold cubes of unsalted butter into that dry mixture until it looks like coarse crumbs.
  • Now here comes the fun part: Pass a couple hard-boiled egg yolks through a fine mesh sieve, then mix them into the batter. Pour in cold heavy cream slowly, stirring to absorb before adding more. Gently mix until this just comes together.
  • Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and gently knead two or three times until it becomes a smooth ball. Pat the dough into a one-inch-thick slab, then use a round biscuit cutter to cut out six shortcakes.
  • Before baking, brush the tops with a little heavy cream and sprinkle sugar on top. (Beard calls for granulated; I love the texture boost coconut or raw turbinado sugar offers.)
  • Pop 'em onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate for an hour. Just before baking, brush the shortcake tops with heavy cream and sprinkle on some granulated sugar.
  • Bake until firm and golden brown, or for about 15 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool, then layer them with macerated strawberries and freshly whipped cream.

Now all that's left to do is grab a fork, and dive in. If you're anything like me, only crumbs will remain in a matter of minutes. With the berries and cream, the result is so beautifully balanced, decadent-yet-light and one of those desserts I'll truly dream about in the cold of winter.

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