What Exactly Is A Shortcake, And What Makes It Unique?

There are at least two schools of thought when defining what exactly a shortcake is. In some parts of the world, a shortcake is sweet and comparable to a vanilla cake. In others, it's closer to a biscuit and has a salty, crumbly texture. Both types of shortcakes are delicious, and both deserve a spot in shortcake dessert history – don't make the mistake of thinking that these cakes are named for their size.

Shortcakes are not necessarily physically short; the name refers to an Old English term meaning something crisp with the addition of lard — i.e., shortening. Whether or not the cakes made during the 16th century had anything to do with fruit is debatable, as some claim that the shortcakes we know and love were an American invention. What makes shortcake (in its traditional biscuit-like sense) so unique is that the cake itself is versatile, and if you make a mistake while creating a strawberry shortcake, it's easy enough to fix. 

Shortcakes can be sweet or savory

Typically, shortcakes are made with strawberries and English cream or whipped cream, but there are several other ways to prepare this cake. At some point in American history, home bakers began layering shortcakes with everything under the sun, including savory options like tomatoes and chicken pâté.

Shortcakes can also be served with almost any fruit, from blueberries and standard strawberries to bananas and raspberries. Since preparing fruit for a shortcake is simple (adding sugar to the fruit to release its juices), making a shortcake with leftover fruit can create a creative and unique dessert, and you can even combine several fruits to turn things up. The shortcake can also be cut with a round cookie or biscuit cutter and baked to create smaller, individual-sized cookies or personal stacked shortcakes. The sky is the limit when it comes to this classic dessert.

A simple dessert to prepare

Shortcake consists of a few ingredients that you likely have on hand. The basic biscuit dough includes flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter. Since shortcakes are essentially biscuits, you do not need a mixer to prepare the dough (in fact, using a mixer to make biscuits can result in a tougher dough and is not recommended). Mixing this dough by hand with a biscuit cutter is the best way to create a flaky shortcake.

Strawberry shortcake is so famous that it has inspired ice cream flavors, candy flavors, and even a famous cartoon character name for the dessert. Strawberry-flavored shortcake is often a summertime staple and is a simple dish to prepare and bring to any gathering — don't add the strawberries and whipped cream too far in advance, or they may melt. These unique biscuit cakes have come a long way since the 16th century and are still among today's most popular desserts.