For many American readers, strawberry shortcake evokes visions of packaged rounds of yellow sponge cake waiting patiently in the front of the produce section of the grocery store. They serve as a signpost for the summer months of plentiful strawberries, and I’m sure more than a few of us – myself included – have enjoyed them topped with some sliced strawberries and whipped cream from a can.
Interestingly, those disks of cake aren’t shortcake at all. The “short” in shortcake refers to the shortness of the dough. That is, very little gluten development and a rather dry, crumbly texture. Think biscuits. While the original dish utilized shortcake of one type or another (some earliest versions called for piecrust), these days you find strawberry shortcake composed as often with a sponge cake as a shortcake. So while the yellow sponge disks aren’t historically accurate, they still qualify as a base for strawberry shortcake. It just so happens we’ll be using a sponge cake for this week’s recipe too….perhaps the spongiest of them all….Angel Food cake!
Next we have the strawberries. It goes without saying that to get the best strawberry shortcake, you need the best strawberries. Those rarely, if ever, come from the grocery store. If you happen to have a farmer’s market near you (or live in SoCal with access to Harry’s Berrie’s you lucky sonofa…) then please purchase strawberries there. If all you can get are strawberries at the grocery store, try and get organic, and don’t be afraid to try one out of the package first. I won’t tell.
As you’ll see in the video recipe, we macerate the strawberries to sweeten and soften them and create the base for a sort of sauce. Maceration is simple applying sugar to the berries and allowing their water-attracting nature to pull strawberry juice out of the berries. DFK strawberry shortcake takes things just one step further, thickening that sauce slightly, which I think creates a more pleasant finished dessert.
The earliest recipe of shortcake was found in an English cookbook in 1588, and as mentioned before, it called for biscuits topped with sugared berries, hot butter, and sweetened cream. The French eventually decided to whip said cream in the early 1900’s and what we know as strawberry shortcake had arrived.
For those curious about this sort of thing, the largest strawberry shortcake ever made was created in the Philippines in 2004. It’s reported that the damn thing weighed 21,213lb (9,622kg), although how much of that was shortcake or strawberry or cream I can’t say. Regardless, ours will be a more manageable size, and I think now is a good time to get started!
Cheers – Chef Scott