Dueling Strawberry Shortcakes

We are now in the height of strawberry season, but without a Strawberry Festival to mark the time, we must make a festival ourselves. Luckily, there are so many wonderful ways to celebrate this fruit of June.

This month we present to you two dueling strawberry cake recipes — one a more modern take, with sponge cake in the style of a more formal layer cake, and one a very classic but sublimely moist take on the traditional biscuit strawberry shortcake.

Here in our test kitchens, we are having quite a difficult time deciding which of these we prefer. You had best try both. But do it soon. Strawberry season will last just for June.


Strawberry Cream Cake

One fat layer of sponge split in half is the way to go. This way you get a high ratio of fruit and cream to cake. Whenever I am making a pie or cake with berries, I like to add a tablespoon of jam of the same variety to enhance the flavor. The angel flake coconut makes the cake moist and chewy, but it will still be good if you leave it out. Only local strawberries in season please. Out of season berries are flavorless and inferior. 

The Sponge
2 Sticks unsalted butter softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract 
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. Fine sea salt
2 Tbsp. Angel flake coconut ( optional)

Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan and place a circle of baking parchment in the bottom of the pan. Place the softened butter and sugar in the bowl of your mixer and beat on high speed until pale and creamy. Add the vanilla extract and slowly add the eggs, beating  thoroughly after each addition. Fold in the coconut. Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl. With mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture until just blended. Do not over-beat.

Pour the mixture into prepared pan and bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Cake is done when it is golden brown on top and springy to the touch. After 10 minutes, remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. When cold, wrap tightly in cling wrap or place in an airtight container. You can freeze the cake if you are not using within 24 hours.

Strawberry and Cream Filling
3 cups strawberries, trimmed and sliced into small pieces 
2 Tbsp. Sugar
4 tbsp. Good quality strawberry jam (I use Bonne Maman)
3/4 cup organic heavy cream
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar to dust top

Mix the chopped strawberries with the sugar and set aside to macerate at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Place the cream in a bowl and whip until very thick . Beat in the sugar and vanilla. Set aside to chill for up to one hour.

To Assemble

Split the cake into two equal layers and place the bottom layer on the serving plate or stand,  cut side up. Spread a thin layer of strawberry jam over the layer, before lightly spreading half the whipped cream over the jam. Pile all of the strawberries into the bottom layer and cover with the remaining cream. Lightly press top layer onto cake and chill for 30 minutes to an hour. Sift a thin layer of confectioners sugar over the cake just before serving. The cake can be stored for up to two days in the fridge if well wrapped.


Strawberry Shortcake

These biscuits are a little softer than the traditional recipes. I add lots of butter and make a very wet dough, so they will be slightly flatter as they come out of the oven. The less you handle the dough, the better. They are best served the same day, but freeze well. I add a little softened butter before piling on the jam, cream and berries. You can omit if you are trying to be just a little bit healthier.

Biscuits
3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups unsalted butter, cut up
1 cup buttermilk
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg

Filling
2 cups strawberries, cut up, plus some whole for garnish
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
4 Tbsp. strawberry jam
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Method:

For the biscuits, place the flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly to blend. Add the butter and blend until well mixed and there are no large lumps left. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and add the sugar. Beat the egg and buttermilk together and add to the mixture, blending lightly with a fork. Do not overmix. Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a floured surface. Lightly roll out until about one inch thick and cut into 3-inch rounds. Place biscuits on a heavy sheet pan, allow space for expansion. Bake in a 390 degree oven for about 15 minutes until tops are golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Assembly:

There are two ways of serving. Both layers piled atop each other, or side-by-side. If you like more filling, go with the latter version.

Toss the sliced strawberries with 2 Tbsp. sugar. Whip the cream with the remaining sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract.

Split the biscuits and place on a small plate. Spread a thin layer of butter on each half, then a layer of jam and then cream on top. Top with sliced strawberries and garnish with whole strawberries.

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