Strawberry Shortcake: as classic as a ’63 Mustang. It has withstood the test of time, and is a genuine treat.
My first introduction to what has become my favorite dessert was at the Strawberry Festival, a decades-old tradition that occurs annually in late June at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in downtown Falmouth. The festival has a rich history in Falmouth, which has strawberry-farming roots, and is a celebration that is enjoyed by many. (I missed out on Morning Glory Farm’s berry special event this year.)
One of the most infamous parts of the festival, and in my opinion the very best, is the strawberry shortcake stand. The men and women who run the stand prepare a biscuit with sweet strawberries and homemade whipped cream. Everything is fresh, and the result is a delicious delicacy brought to the people of Falmouth once a year.
Strawberry Festival weekend is one of the best weekends of the year, but for one reason or another, I’ve had to miss it for the past few years — that means no shortcake for me! I have watched through a screen as my parents taunt me with Snapchats (yes, they use that) of their strawberry shortcake breakfast.
This year I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to be in town again, so that just meant I had to take matters into my own hands and replicate what I find at the festival in my own kitchen — something I viewed as an insurmountable feat. You might be thinking: “Strawberry shortcake? How hard can it be? It’s only a maximum of four ingredients combined.” Technically, you are right, but I’m not here for this run-of-the-mill, angel food cake “shortcake,” and definitely not those spongy, supermarket “shortcake” cups that taste like nothing. They’re imposters for the real deal. My shortcake had to have a biscuit base.
My mom picked up an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook about seven years ago, and immediately my family took it upon ourselves to find the best recipes and make them as soon as possible. I picked out a recipe on page 274, a recipe that has been used so many times that the book just opens up to that page, and one that I have memorized by heart: Cat Head Biscuits. Cat head biscuits are a pretty simple twist on your classic buttermilk biscuit — the only noticeable difference? They’re supposed to be as big as a cat’s head.
Why was I drawn to this recipe? As a child, when my family traveled to Nashville, not only did I catch the Taylor Swift bug, but I caught the biscuit bug. I haven’t been able to shake off either to this date. In this case, that was to my benefit.
The biscuit recipe is simple, but you have to be willing to get down and dirty. You first mix together 1½ cups of flour, 1½ cups of cake flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, ½ teaspoon of baking soda, and a teaspoon of salt. Next, you add cubed pieces of butter (8 tablespoons) and vegetable shortening (4 tablespoons) to the dry mixture. This is the messy part: You have to knead those cubes into the mixture until a uniform dry dough forms. Finally, you stir in 1¼ cup of buttermilk (I prefer fresh), until the dough is cohesive — don’t stir too much!
While the biscuits cook in a greased pan at 425° for 20 minutes, take care of the strawberries. Of course, the first step is to wash them. Next, chop them into bite-size pieces. Make sure to sprinkle sugar on top to draw out some juices and to sweeten the fruit — after all, this is dessert! Mash them up a little, and refrigerate them while your biscuits continue to bake.
Finally, I opted for a whipped cream topping, as a light addition to this summery dessert. Making your own whipped cream is fairly simple, so you should wait to make it until your biscuits are cooled. All you need is 1½ cups of heavy whipping cream, ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar, and a tablespoon of vanilla. Whip them up with a mixer until you see fluffy peaks start to form — and once again, don’t overmix, or you’ll start to make butter!
This treat is one that’s too good not to share. The next time you’re headed out to a summer cookout and you’re asked to bring a dessert, don’t hesitate to pull out this old classic with the homemade biscuits. It’s sure to sweeten someone’s day.