Early in her marriage, my mother made strawberry shortcake for supper one evening. My dad looked around and asked where the rest of the meal was.
My mom and grandparents had customarily made early summer supper out of nothing but a generous wedge of shortcake, several spoons full of sliced, sugared strawberries and a load of whipped cream. It was an old-fashioned late-day tea, really, when perhaps the main, hot meal of the day had been at noon.
At any event, my mother never attempted a shortcake-only supper until both my parents were quite elderly and their appetites had diminished. Then, as she had done during my youth, Mom made her shortcake out of instant biscuit mix. Our family did not consider little spongecake rounds as suitable for shortcake as, I suspect, most Mainers don’t. Sweet, buttery biscuit shortcake is the ticket.
Still-warm shortcake under fresh strawberries is part of the allure of the dish, as is slicing the berries early in the day in order to allow the sugar to form a divinely red, intensely strawberry-flavored sauce to soak into the shortcake.
Shortcake is called short because of the butter — shortening — in the mix. For a dessert like this, sugar is required and ought to be considered a seasoning, more or less added according to your taste.
As usual, I prefer to make my shortcake from scratch (cheaper, no mystery ingredients). You can use the dough in the recipe that follows to make one large shortcake to cut into serving sizes, or you can use a biscuit cutter to make individual shortcakes.
I find a pint of strawberries, sliced, will feed me plus one hungry man or adolescent. Plan on using a quart for four to five people. A couple of tablespoons of light brown or raw sugar adds more flavor than white, and a splash of brandy deepens the flavor. I use raw sugar in the whipped cream, too, and a bit of vanilla extract.
Makes eight 3-inch shortcakes
2 cups flour
3-4 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
½ cup milk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, or whirl in bowl of food processor. Chop butter into small chunks and add them to dry
mixture, cutting it in with a pastry cutter or processing in a processor until it looks like cornmeal. Add milk, tossing until dry ingredients are gathered up, kneading lightly. Pat
or roll out. Spread half with soft butter and fold unbuttered portion over it, and cut into round or squares. Put on greased baking sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes until shortcakes are golden brown. Pry shortcakes apart, and spoon sweetened strawberries over them. Top with whipped cream.
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