Just because strawberries are out of season, doesn’t mean shortcakes have to be. If you think about it, those little cakes full of flaky, buttery perfection are just vehicles for sweet, juicy toppers. And, luckily, some of fall’s best market finds are the perfect for topping your shortcake. So let’s do this!
I’ve got two shortcake shortcuts I always use. First, I grate my butter on a cheese grater before adding it to the dry mixture. The long, thin strips of butter give the shortcakes a higher rise and flakier layers. Plus, you’ll spend less timing mixing, which will keep your butter nice and cold before going into the oven.
Second, instead of using a biscuit cutter, I just shape the dough into one big square and then cut it into smaller squares. It saves time because you don’t have to worry about reshaping the dough for round two, and you won’t have to spend twenty minutes looking for your biscuit cutter. (Spoiler alert: It’s inevitably going to be in the lower back corner of the last kitchen drawer you look in. This is the kind of thing that causes people to be hangry. We’ve all been there. It’s not cute. Use this square method.)
Now, for the fun part. The toppings! My favorite awesomely autumnal topper for sweet, buttery shortcakes is tart, stewed cranberries. Dollop a dreamy cloud of orange and nutmeg spiced whipped cream on top, and it suddenly becomes the thing that fall fantasies are made of.
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For Stewed Cranberries with Orange-Nutmeg Whipped Cream: Place one 12-ounce bag of cranberries, 3/4 cup sugar, a pinch of salt, and the juice of an orange into a sauce pot. Let it cook over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble and cranberries start to burst. Remove from heat and let cool. For the whipped cream, whisk 1 cup of heavy whipped cream. Once stiff, add 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, the zest of an orange, a pinch of salt, and some freshly grated nutmeg.
Of course, if your orchard haul is looking particularly abundant, you should try the Salted Caramel Apple topper: Melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Once melted, add 1/3 cup brown sugar to melt. Once the mixture begins to bubble, whisk in 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Season with the caramel sauce with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add in 3/4 lb. thinly sliced granny smith apples. Let cook until apples soften a bit but don’t lose their shape. For the whipped cream, whisk 1 cup of heavy whipped cream. Once stiff, add 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. It’s sweet and salty perfection.
Or, if you’re looking for a really intriguing pear-ing (hehe), try the Pear-Ginger Compote: Heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon chopped ginger, one cinnamon stick, 1/4-cup honey, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and splash of water. Add the pears (I use Bartlett) and cook until pears begin to soften. Remove cinnamon stick before serving. For the whipped cream, whisk 1 cup of heavy whipped cream. Once stiff, add 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom and a pinch of salt.
Grant Melton is an Emmy Award-Winning Producer of the Rachael Ray Show, food writer and recipe developer. He's a contributor to Food52, NYT Cooking and Rachael Ray Every Day Magazine. He loves cookies, cocktails and kindness.