It’s strawberry season, now what’s a shortcake?
The farmers market in my neighborhood just opened for the season with a strawberry festival. I love strawberries! As a child, I picked tiny wild ones from my great aunt’s yard. Now I enjoy medium sized locally grown or gigantic shipped-in berries. My favorite way to eat them is right off the stem, but strawberry shortcake makes me happy as well.
My grandmother and mother called traditional pie crust sprinkled with sugar shortcake. Thin, flaky, and crisp, it played well against partially mashed, sweetened strawberries and whipped cream. There’s a restaurant in my area that serves this style of shortcake two layers tall. It is divine!
I can’t say crust-based strawberry shortcake is widely known. My grandmother’s house, my mother’s house, and that one restaurant are the only places I’ve eaten it. I suppose in the strictest sense, sweetened crust fits one of the original requirements of shortcake in that it contains fat that has been cut into the flour. The only problem is that it’s not really a cake.
But is shortcake really cake or is it a scone or biscuit? The first recipe for shortcake appeared in an English cookbook in 1588, but I don’t know what it said. That makes it difficult to determine exactly what sort of crumb it had.
A quick scroll through several culinary guides failed to find mention of shortcake. Shortbread is often included, but not shortcake. Perhaps that’s because there are too many versions to narrow down a definition. Or perhaps it’s because perfectly ripened strawberries sweetened and topped with whipped cream are so good they don’t really need any sort of biscuit, cake, or crust. Anything that absorbs and delivers that scrumptious juice will be appreciated and well received.
When shortcake is mentioned in culinary articles, it is often differentiated from sponge cake. This is sort of amusing because I’ve probably been served strawberry shortcake made with sponge cake more often than any other kind.
So what’s a shortcake? Whatever vehicle you prefer to deliver sweetened strawberries and whipped cream. Most of us probably gravitate to the version of shortcake that is most familiar. I prefer pie crust to squishy cake. I’ll take a sweetened biscuit in a pinch. You may prefer a butter-rich cake or corn muffin.
Whatever you place it on, a combination of fresh strawberries and cream sweetened or not, whipped or not, will provide a delicious summer treat!