Erin McDowell's Strawberry Not-So-Short Cake

July  2, 2021
21 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes 1 very tall 9-inch shortcake
Author Notes

This is the grandest and most eye-popping way to make strawberry shortcake for a crowd, and you’re not really baking a cake at all—you’re making three giant drop biscuits and piling on whipped cream and strawberries in imprecise amounts. It’s altogether a lot more like building a Jenga tower than baking anything in the pastry case.
Adapted slightly from The Fearless Baker (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). To read the full story, head here. —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Erin McDowell's Strawberry Not-So-Short Cake
  • Biscuit Layers:
  • 5 cups (602g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (159g) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (24g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (6g) baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3g) fine sea salt
  • 1 pound (453g) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups (302g) buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs (113g, out of the shell)
  • 1 large egg yolk (27g)
  • 2 teaspoons (10g) vanilla extract
  • Turbinado or coarse sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
  • Strawberries & Cheater’s Whipped Cream:
  • 2 quarts (454g) ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) granulated sugar, or more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons (4g) grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon (15g) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 8 ounces (227g) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (76g) powdered sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups (544g) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) vanilla extract
  1. Heat the oven to 350° F (175° C) with a rack in the middle. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans (if you don’t have 3 cake pans, never fear! See note below in step 9.)
  2. Make the biscuit layers: (Note: If your food processor is smaller than 14-cups in volume, it may be easiest to do this in 2 batches.) In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the bits of butter are about the size of peas. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
  3. In a container with a spout (such as a liquid measure) or in a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Use a rubber spatula or your hands to mix enough to begin moistening the flour mixture, then knead gently just until the mixture forms a homogeneous dough. Take care not to overwork the dough.
  4. Divide the dough evenly among the prepared pans (about 525g per pan). Press into an even layer—if the dough is sticky and hard to handle, lightly moisten your hands with water. Sprinkle each layer evenly with about a tablespoon of turbinado sugar. If the dough has warmed up by this point and is getting sticky or melty, pop it back in the fridge until it’s firm and cold, about 20 minutes or so.
  5. Bake until the biscuits are golden brown on the surface and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 28 to 32 minutes, rotating the pans midway if they look like they’re baking unevenly. Cool the biscuits in the pans for 20 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.
  6. Prepare the strawberries: In a large bowl, gently toss together the strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Let macerate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  7. Meanwhile, make the whipped cream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl, using a hand mixer), whip the cream cheese and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. With the mixer running on low speed, add the cream in a slow, steady stream, then whip on medium speed until medium peaks form. Add the vanilla and mix on low speed to combine.
  8. Assemble the cake: Place one biscuit layer on a cake stand or platter. Top it with 1 1/2 cups of the whipped cream, spreading it evenly, followed by one third of the strawberries. Repeat with the remaining biscuit layers, cream, and strawberries. Drizzle the juices from the strawberry bowl over the finished cake, or drizzle a little on each wedge when serving.
  9. Pro tip: If you don’t have three cake pans, just divide your dough into 3 pieces and press into roughly 9-inch disks. Chill the dough until firm to minimize spreading, about 15 minutes in the freezer or 20 to 30 in the refrigerator. The dough can be refrigerated until you’re ready to bake (up to 6 hours), so you can bake the layers in batches if needed.
  10. Make-ahead notes: The components of this recipe can all be made ahead and stored for up to 1 day (though the biscuits are most delicious on the day they’re baked)—biscuits wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, at room temperature, and the strawberries and cream refrigerated in separate airtight containers. Once assembled, the cake should be kept refrigerated and served within 1 day.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Megan Taylor
    Megan Taylor
  • Marnie Hyland
    Marnie Hyland
  • Picholine
  • Lkbixby
  • trish
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

40 Reviews

Meghan B. June 22, 2022
This recipe truly is a showstopper. Was a huge hit at a Canada Day party a few years ago and has been requested again for this July 1. We increase the strawberries too, piling on as many as we can fit, particularly on the top layer. While this biscuit recipe is great, our family prefers the one from the Genius Recipe cookbook: and found that one batch per layer was perfect, baked in the 9 inch pan. It's also a simpler recipe. Like others, we've used the whipped cream from this recipe for other recipes too.
Megan T. June 4, 2021
I made just the cream cheese whipped cream and added it to the top of a chocolate chess pie. It was great, the chess pie was very rich, and this whipped cream cut that nicely. It tasted like whipped cream with a touch of the cream cheese flavor which goes very well with chocolate. I chose this specific whipped cream because it should hold up longer.
Marnie H. May 9, 2021
I made this yesterday and it was gorgeous. But, the biscuits seemed dry to me. I took them out at 28 min and the toothpick was very clean. The oven thermometer said 350 on the dot and I rotated the pans halfway. Maybe less baking time? Or more cream needed?Or is that just the texture of these biscuits? The flavor was ok and we loved the cheater’s whipped cream and strawberries. With the three layers, it just seemed like too much and too dry. I’d like to try it again. Suggestions?
Betsy B. September 7, 2018
This was a showstopping dessert to take to a block party- no leftovers to bring home....
KOGA2 August 10, 2018
I made this two evenings in a row despite some seemingly major problems: I didn't notice until all the dry ingredients were mixing and the flour mixture was flying out the back end of my for processor that you had suggested doing it in batches if the food processor was <14cups, so the dough never got crumbly, and my overall dough was super wet once I added the other ingredients. I stuck it in the fridge for about 15-20 mins, then (despite it still being fairly wet) molded it into the 9" pan and put it into the oven as directed, with the sprinkled sugar. It came out beautiful and delicious in spite of all that! The adults all loved it the first night so I made it again the second night for a birthday celebration. The lemon-y strawberries added a great tang and kick to the overall dish. Thanks for a great recipe.
Hermelinda June 20, 2018
I made this for my birthday and it was the best gift to myself! I made the rounds without the pans and used sheets and shaped the dough by hand, stuck them all in the freezer for about 20min and threw them in the oven. I ended up having three very large biscuits that did not have a level top. However! I ended up with a XL cake that was a party hit! It was pretty spectacular. Yeah, it didn't turn out exactly like the recipe but it was fun and SUPER tasty! great for that ~rustic~ baked look <3
Picholine June 4, 2018
Think this recipe can be halved and if it can would you just add the yolk despite halving other ingredients?
Kristen M. June 4, 2018
I think that should be fine, especially given how much yolk size can vary even within large eggs.
Picholine June 4, 2018
Thank you.
Lkbixby May 30, 2018
I have good and bad things to say about this recipe. The good: it was quite easy, the directions were clear, it was perfect for Memorial Day, and everyone was very very impressed when they saw it. The bad: first, the directions should specify that you need at least a 10-cup food processor in order to make it that way -- and possibly even a larger one. I should have just made it by hand, because then I ended up having to dump everything out into the bowl halfway through. Also, when all is said and done, I just like regular strawberry shortcake better! I felt like I would rather have had either cake or biscuits, not this hybrid. And I definitely prefer regular whipped cream in strawberry shortcake over the one with cream cheese, even though this one is more stable.
Kristen M. June 4, 2018
Thanks for your comment, Lkbixby—I did some digging into the various versions I and our test kitchen tested and I think it's easiest to do this in a 14-cup (or larger) food processor, or to do it in batches. I've added that note to the recipe. Glad it was popular on Memorial Day, even if it's not your personal ultimate version of strawberry shortcake.
shellie May 27, 2018
I made the dough and put it into the pans to bake fresh tomorrow. My dough was much wetter and stickier than in the video. I didn’t really knead it much because of the warning notto overwork it - could i have actually underworked it? It’s almost more like a thick pancake batter. Think it will turn out ok?
Kristen M. June 4, 2018
Hi shellie, I thought I responded to you but something must have gone awry. How did it go? It sounds like something must have been a bit off in the measurements (too much liquid or too little flour) or maybe the butter had started to melt, but hopefully you got something tasty out of it anyway!
Ilyssa May 27, 2018
If I wanted to downsize this ( I know, who wants less biscuit?) Should I freeze batter or freeze baked biscuit? Asking because halving a yolk is hard! Thanks.
Kristen M. May 27, 2018
I get it—this is a lot of biscuit! I'd freeze the unbaked biscuit in its final form (the whole disk or as individual drop biscuits), then bake straight from the freezer.
Ilyssa May 27, 2018
Thx for speedy reply! I am going to make tonight!
Ilyssa May 27, 2018
This was great. My family loved. WIll make again.
Kristen M. May 27, 2018
So happy to hear it—thanks for reporting back!
Carol C. May 25, 2018
How far ahead can I assemble the cake? Does the cream cheese mixture have the abilty to be done in advance?
Kristen M. May 25, 2018
The whipped cream holds up extremely well made the day before and refrigerated, and although I like assembling not long before serving so that the strawberries and cake are room temperature, you can make the cake earlier in the day and refrigerate. (I also added more make-ahead notes to the recipe—thanks for asking!)
Anne P. May 25, 2018
Thoughts on making this with an egg substitute? So often biscuits don’t have eggs, so I was surprised to see it here.
Kristen M. May 25, 2018
I haven't tried it myself, but if you have one you like to use—go for it (and report back). There's an egg in the original drop biscuit recipe Erin modified this one from and I believe it helps a bit with binding and richness:
Carmen May 25, 2018
I made this last night - I'd been emailed the recipe a few days ago and, after reading it, added the ingredients I needed to my shopping list. I ended up using frozen strawberries as I could not get to any fresh ones. It is INCREDIBLE. I made two cakes, a single layer of biscuit with the topping to have for ourselves at home, and a second with the remaining two layers for a dinner party tonight. The biscuit was SO good on it's own (maybe a piece broke off when I was taking them out of the pans...) and I had a slice after dinner...and another slice for breakfast. YUM!
Kristen M. May 25, 2018
Marnie H. May 6, 2021
Love the idea of saving a layer for home and taking the rest to the party. :) I’m totally gonna do that.
Angbeen May 25, 2018
Is there any way to do this without a food processor? With a stand mixer somehow?
Kristen M. May 25, 2018
The best alternative would probably be to quickly pinch in the butter with your fingers or use a pastry blender (then chill it well anytime the butter seems to be getting soft), though a stand mixer could work, as long as you're careful to leave plenty of big cold pieces of butter intact and not overmix it to a homogenous dough.
Angbeen May 25, 2018
Thanks!! And if there are no strawberries where I am anymore, can I substitute peaches?
Kristen M. May 25, 2018
Sounds delicious! (Where are you, by the way? We just got local strawberries in NYC this week after we published this!)
Angbeen May 25, 2018
I'm in Pakistan:) we get strawberries for much too short a time. I have some frozen, but I'm not sure those will be enough!
Kristen M. May 25, 2018
Welcome! Good luck with the peaches—I'll keep them in mind when ours finally show up in August :)
Leila May 24, 2018
Would you give me an idea of how many this would serve? Think of a birthday dessert for my sister who loves strawberry shortcake. This looks over the top!
Kristen M. May 24, 2018
A lot! I'd say at least 10-12, probably with some leftovers for a delicious breakfast.
trish May 23, 2018
Is it possible to convert this recipe to fit the biscuits in 8" round pans? I have 3 of those! Thank you!
Kristen M. May 23, 2018
Yes, the layers will just be taller and need to bake a little longer, but all the same doneness cues still apply!
Beth A. May 23, 2018
Instead of cream cheese I like to use mascarpone cream. It’s so creamy and delicious comptroller cream cheese.
Kristen M. May 23, 2018
Great idea, Beth. You might be surprised by the cream cheese here though—it's crazy delicious, and not as tangy or heavy as you might think.
Sharon R. May 23, 2018
Could I really, really cheat and use refrigerated biscuits in the tube or a mix? Would that work?
Kristen M. May 23, 2018
Sneaky! If it's the kind of refrigerated biscuits that puff a lot into flaky layers, I'm not sure how you'd meld it into an even layer, but maybe you have a vision. And the only mix I'm familiar with is the Jiffy cornbread/corn muffin mix my grandmother uses, which I think would be pretty delish, just different. I will say this biscuit is super easy, and if you don't want to use a food processor, you can just pinch the cold butter in quickly with your hands.
jeanmarieok May 16, 2022
Frozen 'Grands' Southern Style Biscuits work well in this recipe.