I’ve been honing my shortcake recipe for as long as I’ve been baking (so...about 16 years). It was easy enough to try my hand at it when I was first starting, and it continues to be my go-to when I feel like celebrating good spring and summer produce. It’s easy, not-too-sweet, and everyone always devours it. I’ve made a lot of shortcakes through the years, but my favorite recipe starts with something I’ve been eating even before I’d learned to bake myself: my mama’s biscuits, which she called “scones.”
I’m a loud and proud lover of a biscuit base for shortcake. I’m not referring to a flaky, layered biscuit here—I’m talking drop biscuit, which is crispy on the top and tender on the inside. All she did was pulse a simple mixture of flour, a little brown sugar, leavener, and salt with butter in a food processor. Finally, she’d add buttermilk and eggs to create a slightly tacky batter.
She’d add toasted nuts or dried fruit to one half of the batter for her and my dad, and chocolate chips to the other half for my brother and me. The resulting “scones” would get golden brown on top, but stay incredibly soft inside. I loved them when I was a kid, and in a bout of homesickness from my first apartment kitchen, I called and asked for the recipe. As I ate them over my kitchen sink (big glass of milk on the side), I realized that while I still loved the gooey chocolate version, I’d indeed grown up, because the biscuit was insanely good all on its own. (It also occurred to be more recently that by adding chocolate to pacify us kids, my mom had inadvertently created the precursor to the super doughy cookies at New York’s Levain bakery.)
So I started baking that biscuit, a lot, and turning it into all sorts of other desserts, like shortcake. Her recipe still stands strong, and only needed a few tiny tweaks and a generous sprinkling of turbinado sugar, which adds a lovely caramelized crunch that I adore. But all in all, it’s still the same recipe: super easy, made with a food processor, perfect for piling high with cream and fruit.
But as much as I love traditional, single-serving shortcake, I loved the idea of dressing it up a bit to serve to a crowd. The first way I did this was for my book, The Fearless Baker, where I tripled the biscuit recipe and pressed the dough into three 9-inch cake pans before baking. The result is one of my favorite recipes in the whole book: my Strawberry Not-So-Shortcake, featured in this week's Genius Recipes.
Such a big cake necessitated a more stable alternative to whipped cream, so I started making an ultra-thick version that starts with cream cheese. I beat room temperature cream cheese with powdered sugar, then add cold cream and whip it to stiff peaks. It’s not only luxuriously creamy, it holds for hours (even at room temperature!) and the cream cheese gives it a really nice little bit of a tang. It’s one of those layered desserts that’s still relatively effortless, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned baker, and it always looks like a million bucks.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was tasked with bringing a dessert to a birthday party for a friend. The party was an outdoor barbeque, and I found myself wishing for a slightly less fancy version of my big shortcake that would still impress. On a whim, I pressed the biscuit dough into a greased baking sheet. I added a wash—one egg mixed with 2 tablespoons heavy cream—before I added the coarse sugar. I increased the cream and fruit to be sure I could generously cover the whole thing. Then I slathered the cream over the top of the biscuit like a sheet cake, and finished with mounds of fruit. The finished slab shortcake was better than I could have dreamed: still easy, still a delicious vessel for seasonal fruit, and best of all, ridiculously easy to slice and serve. I can’t wait to bake this for years of barbecues and picnics to come!
And mom, if you’re reading: I still bake the chocolate chip versions every time I’m homesick. Thanks for giving me a memory and a recipe so good that it spawned so many more.
And For Another Simple Stunner...
Slab Shortcake Biscuit
- 5 cups (602 g) all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (159 g) light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons (24 g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon (3 g) fine sea salt
- 1 pound (453 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 1/3 cups (322 g) cold buttermilk
- 2 (113 g) large eggs
- 1 (27 g) large egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons (10 g) vanilla extract
- 1 egg + 2 tablespoons heavy cream, for egg wash
- 1 handful turbinado sugar, as needed for finishing
- 12 stalks rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch segments
- 1/3 cup (67 g) granulated sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 12 ounces (227 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup (113 g) powdered sugar
- 3 1/2 cups (846 g) cold heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons (10 g) vanilla extract