James Beard was a sucker for his mother’s strawberry shortcakes — and with good reason, too. Her recipe for sweet biscuits included a secret ingredient to guarantee perfect dough: hard-boiled egg yolks. Of course, what American culinary icon would Beard be if he didn’t love this treat? They might be red, white, and beige, but strawberry shortcakes are about as American as a dessert can get.
In the 1850s, strawberry shortcake parties were a popular way to kick off summer in the States. (The fact that this is the only sort of strawberry shortcake party to happen these days is something of a tragedy.) They’re not celebrated in the same way anymore, but shortcakes are still as well-liked as they used to be — if not more. Today, the classic dessert has extended far past its original model of a biscuit, strawberries, and softly whipped cream.
The crispy biscuit frequently gets substituted out for a tender cake — be it sponge, angel, or pound. And while strawberries may still be the favored fruit for shortcakes, they’re gaining some competition. Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries all make for equally delicious alternatives, and stone fruits are slowly working their way into the mix, as well.
Yesterday, Driscoll’s stopped by The Daily Meal office to showcase their seasonal strawberries. Can you guess what dish they chose to make for a bunch of hungry food writers? (Clue: James Beard would have been a fan.)
Laura Baddish, president of the public relation agency for Driscoll's, took the time to share some shortcake tips with us as she whipped cream to fill and garnish the biscuits.
First, to keep berries fresh as long as possible, put them in the fridge right after you get home from the grocery store — but don’t wash them just yet. Only rinse the berries immediately before use, and make sure you dry them thoroughly afterward.
When we asked her opinion on one of the greatest debates in shortcake history — are the layers cake-berries-cream or cake-cream-berries — Baddish was firm in her response: “Cream first, so the berries have something to get centered on, like a cushion.” Not to mention, it helps prevent biscuit sogginess.
According to a poll that Driscoll’s conducted to celebrate National Strawberry Shortcake Day (today!), 37 percent of respondents said their favorite “cake” for strawberry shortcake is — get this — angel food cake. “Believe it or not,” said Baddish, “biscuits are not number one.”
The Loveless Café in Nashville is all about reinventing the dessert. Pastry chef Alisa Huntsman makes an angel food cake shortcake with a strawberry-rhubarb compote, plus a pound cake shortcake with peaches and a bourbon-spiked caramel sauce.
So don’t feel too badly about ditching mama Beard’s classic and getting a little creative in the kitchen, and check out our recipes for inspiration on how to create your own. Just no cartoon napkins, please.