Strawberry Shortcake. For those of us from a certain generation, it was the name of a doll and cartoon character, as well as the most scrumptious summer dessert.
There is something so charming and rather retro about strawberry shortcake. Cake, whether it is a sponge cake, an angel food cake, or even pound cake can be the base. So can biscuits, or even sliced cupcakes. Layering cake, then berries, then whipped cream, and repeating is such a fun way to get our cake and berries in one colourful swoop.
Through the years I have made this so many ways, and often on the fly. Last minute company often meant running into the grocery store, picking up an angel food cake from the sweets counter, some whipping cream from the dairy aisle, and of course the bright red strawberries from the fruit section. At home it would just be a matter of slicing the berries, tossing them with sugar (and perhaps some alcohol!) and letting them macerate while I whipped the cream and sweetened it just a tad. Then slice up the cake, and let the layering begin. Done! Dessert that would appeal to the crowd.
These days, I often make biscuits, almost as free therapy! And if I make them less savoury, they also become an option for this classic dessert. So I’m sharing a perfectly balanced biscuit recipe that can lean either sweet or savoury, depending on how you serve it. It’s a classic folded biscuit recipe (see my love of folding biscuit dough in my Kefir Herbed Biscuits, and in my Everything Bacon and Apple Breakfast Biscuits) The dough is lovely and tender thanks to fresh ricotta and buttermilk (you can also replace this with kefir) I add some oomph with fresh thyme leaves and cracked pepper. The reason for the pepper is that if you decide to use any leftover biscuits for breakfast the next morning, they will have a great little kick, perfect for a slather of butter. But pepper and strawberries also play together very well, so I know that these will be a great base for the sweet toppings to follow.
This recipe comes together so easily- two bowls, spoon or whisk and a rolling pin are all you need. It’s just a matter of blending the ricotta cheese and buttermilk together. In another bowl you’ll mix the dry ingredients, including the fresh thyme and pepper. Then you’ll grate a frozen or really cold stick of butter into the flour mixture. Gently toss with your fingertips to keep the butter as cold as possible. Then add the dairy, fold together gently, and then turn the mass onto a counter. Finish kneading till it becomes a cohesive dough.
Next, it’s just a matter of flouring the counter and your rolling pin, and begin rolling and folding. The folding over of the different layers is what will achieve the perfectly layered baked biscuit. Instead of using a biscuit cutter this time around, just pull out your pizza cutter to cut the final trimmed square into equal squares. You want to trim away the edges first- these will expose the layers, removing any folds that are on the outer edges. They will rise wonderfully.
Here are some suggestions for these biscuits. I have you brushing the tops with a bit more buttermilk for a lovely sheen that will develop as they bake. If you know that you will use all these biscuits for the shortcakes, sprinkle some turbinado or raw sugar over the tops before they bake. This will give them a lovely crunchy and sweet crust. You can also up the amount of sugar in the recipe, to truly make them a sweet biscuit. I hesitate to add more sugar usually, since I know that I may want to use leftover biscuits for scrambled eggs the next morning. But if you know that the batch you are making will get used up for a sweet reason, go ahead, sugar them up!
The berries and the whipped cream are easy. You’ll use as many berries as you think will generously cover each biscuit serving. These will get sliced and put into a medium to large bowl. I create a simple syrup just so that there won’t be any grit from unmelted sugar grains. I also add some sort of liquid. You could keep it at cider or a bit of squeezed lime if you know that there will be children enjoying these treats. If not, go for a lovely Rosé, Prosecco, or even a sweet bourbon! It just takes the berries to the next level. I also love to add some chopped fresh mint. It cuts through the sugary aspect and brightens the entire dish. And if you just want to make the berries and serve them over ice cream, I will applaud you!
The cream for these babies is a little decadent. Sure you can use just good ole whipping cream. But why, when there is Mascarpone?! Not only does it add a richness to the cream, it also stabilizes the cream, so that if you are setting it out in a decorative bowl, so that everyone can make their own shortcake, it won’t start deflating and get watery. It will stay nice and fluffy and firm. Plus it just tastes amazing! So in the recipe below I will give you the ratios for both the berries and the cream, but you go ahead and make it your own. Perhaps you want to sweeten the cream. Go ahead. I actually don’t, since the berries are pretty sweet, and I like the fresh, creamy contrast. Make more berries if you want to really have the dish abundant with berries. Make extra whipped cream if you want some for the next morning- the berries and whipped cream would be amazing in crepes or over waffles!
If strawberry season has passed, does that mean that this recipe needs to be shelved till next year? Nope. You can do all of the above, using blueberries, blackberries, even sliced peaches, apricots or plums. So this can be a dessert that travels throughout the year. Can you imagine making it with caramelized sautéed apples, with a drizzle of Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce over it all!?? (I have a thing for bourbon, it seems!) So many possibilities!
Strawberry Shortcakes, Thyme and Pepper Ricotta Biscuits
A great little versatile biscuit is the base for this classic summertime dessert. Fresh berries are macerated in a simple syrup and Rosé or Prosecco, and the whipped cream has mascarpone for additional flavour and stability.
- 3/4 cup Smooth Ricotta
- 1/4 cup buttermilk plus more for brushing the tops
- 2 cups AP flour plus more for dusting
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped thyme leaves
- 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 2 tsp sugar or up to 4 tsp more, if you know you will use all the biscuits for this dessert
- 8 tbsp 1 stick frozen or very cold unsalted butter
- 4 tsp turbinado or raw sugar , optional
- 3 cups fresh berries cleaned and sliced (can use strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or even apricots, nectarines or peaches)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 3-4 tbsp Rosé optional. Can also use Prosecco, or even bourbon
- 3 tbsp fresh mint chopped, divided
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp bourbon optional
Place oven rack in centre position and preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Whisk the ricotta and buttermilk together in a small bowl.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, thyme and pepper, and blend with a fork.
Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the flour mixture. Toss to combine. Be gentle, trying not to over handle the butter with your fingers, to keep it as cold as possible.
Add the ricotta mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until just combined.
Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and knead until it all comes together. If needed, you can add an extra bit of flour. It may seem to take a few minutes, but then it will suddenly come together. Once there, stop.
With a well floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12 inch square.
Using a bench scraper or spatula, fold 1/3 over to the middle.
Then fold the other side over, like folding a letter. Then fold this in half. You should have a rough rectangle.
Press down with the rolling pin and repeat this process one more time.
After the second round of folding, roll out the dough into an 8 1/2 square. Trim 1/4 inch off of all sides, with a sharp knife in clean strokes. Do not cut back in forth in a sawing motion, as this will close up the layers, and the biscuits will not rise properly. I find that using a pizza cutter works wonderfully for this.
Cut the 8 inch square into 9 even square biscuits. Cut using the same motion as above, do not cut back and forth. Clean cuts will allow the biscuits to rise perfectly in the oven. This means two cuts in both directions, creating three rows of three biscuits per row.
Transfer these to the parchment lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch in between each.
Brush the tops with some more buttermilk. Sprinkle some turbinado or raw sugar over the tops (if you know that they won't all be eaten as dessert, just sprinkle the ones you want to with the sugar and leave the rest un-sugared. Then you can have these ones for an egg sandwich the next morning!)
Bake for 15 minutes, or until well risen and a lovely golden brown colour. Rotate the pan half way through the baking.
Let cool for 5 minutes. You can also make these in advance and re-warm before serving, while the berries are macerating.
In a small pot, heat the sugar and water over medium high heat.
Once the sugar is completely dissolved, you can add the alcohol, and cook for another 3 minutes or so. This will allow the alcohol to burn off. If you don't want to add alcohol, a splash of lime juice is a nice fresh addition.
If you are serving adults, you can remove the sugar syrup off the burner and cool slightly before adding the Rosé. Let cool.
Place the berries into a medium sized bowl. Pour the syrup over them and let them rest for 10-15 minutes. (If using stone fruit, let them rest for 30-40 minutes) Stir in 1 1/2 tbsp fresh chopped mint.
With a hand held mixer or in a stand mixture, whip the cream till starting to get thick. Start at a low speed, increasing every 30 seconds or so.
Add the mascarpone and the sugar. Beat until starting to get firm.
Add the bourbon if using. Continue beating until it has become thickened, with nice peaks.
Assembly: Place one still warm, sliced biscuit per person on a plate. Spoon some berries on top.
Then add some of the whipped mascarpone. You can either spread the berries on the two halves, finishing with the whipped mascarpone, or you can use one half of the biscuit as the top, and the other as the top. Top with a bit more cream in this case.
Finish with more chopped mint. Enjoy!
You can use all sorts of fruit, all year round with this recipe. Apples and pears would be great in the fall and winter. Top them with a drizzle of Caramel Sauce!
The biscuit recipe is just an all around versatile biscuit recipe. You can omit some of the sugar and bake up a batch for breakfast or a brunch basket. Warm with a slather with butter or fresh jam is sheer perfection!
Biscuits can also be frozen and rewarmed in a toaster oven at 300F