State o’ bliss

I was first introduced to the concept of strawberry shortcake made with biscuits, rather than with yellow cake, when I moved to Maine as a new bride, over 30 years ago. We settled down midway up the coast, entranced by the restless sea bordered by lines of fir trees, and the shoreline snaking in and out of countless rocky coves. Little did we know, at the time, that the rocky shore made for problematic “beachcombing”; and the ocean, while lovely to look at, was brutally cold to swim in.

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Camden, Maine— “Where the mountains meet the sea.” My 14 years there taught me all kinds of things, including how to make biscuit-based strawberry shortcake.

But that knowledge came later, along with all kinds of other “insider” intelligence: where to eat out during the summer, when tourists filled all the usual haunts; the best places to buy fresh shrimp, just-picked blueberries, and lobster right off the boat; and—a lasting lesson—how to make Maine strawberry shortcake.

Coming originally from Connecticut, I was used to strawberry shortcake being served in little sponge cake cups, bright yellow, springy cakes that came wrapped in plastic from the grocery store. But the first time I encountered this strawberry shortcake, at the American Legion’s weekly supper—huh? Where’s the cake? I watched the veterans’ wives preparing dessert, and they were dishing sliced strawberries and mounds of soft whipped cream onto—biscuits? Yup, biscuits. EEEWWWW! But I’ve always approached food (and life) with an “I’ll try anything once” attitude, so I went through the line, grabbed a paper plate of shortcake, and sat back down.

Tentatively digging in, I saw that strawberry juice and heavy cream had soaked the bottom half of the biscuit; it crumbled into a sweetly comfortable melange of bread, cream, and fruit at the touch of my fork. The top half, crisp and perky, held just a small dollop of whipped cream, and a single strawberry; it played an ascetic counterpoint to the luxuriant berry/biscuit combo below.

Later, after I’d learned how to bake a decent biscuit, I added my own touches. Starting with an oven-hot biscuit, I’d butter it, then spoon on some heavy cream (unwhipped), then strawberries, then whipped cream, then add the top (buttered) half of the biscuit, and more lightly whipped cream, which would flow like lava down the strawberry-biscuit mountain. This dessert, enjoyed outside at the picnic table on a soft Maine night in June (on the rare occasions when blackflies weren’t enjoying me while I enjoyed my shortcake), is the essence of Maine living: sweet, comforting, a throwback to an earlier America.

Strawberries are available year round now. We don’t have to wait for their short, sweet season like we used to. And sometimes I regret their new ubiquity… what’s common can become commonplace. Still, Maine strawberry shortcake, made with oven-warm biscuits, is always a pleasure. Just like Maine itself.

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Here’s the easiest way to make biscuits. No cutting in butter; all you do is combine flour with salt, baking powder, sugar, and heavy cream. (If you’re a fan of butter-based biscuits, try the simple recipe on the back of the Maine Bakewell Cream can sometime. It’s particularly apropos for this Down East shortcake.)

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Stir till the dough comes together.

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Gently pat it into an 8” circle. It’ll be about 3/4” thick. Cut 2” to 2 1/4” biscuits using a sharp biscuit cutter.

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Can you see the difference between a biscuit cut with a sharp biscuit cutter (on the left), and one cut with your grandma’s favorite tool: a drinking glass (on the right)? You want good, clean edges, not edges that have been squashed down. A clean edge makes a higher-rising biscuit.

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When you’ve cut 8 biscuits (or as many as you can cut from the dough on the first pass), gently shape the scraps into an oval, and two last biscuits. You don’t have to use a cutter for this; just cut the oval in half, if you like. The resulting biscuits won’t be perfect circles, but you will have efficiently used up all of the dough.

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Dip the top of each biscuit in melted butter…

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Then space them out on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet.

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If the biscuits are bound for shortcake-dom, it’s nice to sprinkle their tops with a little bit of coarse sugar.

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A short bake in a hot oven, and oh boy… biscuits! Biscuits are best eaten hot, so don’t stand and admire your handiwork TOO long before getting back to business.

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You’ve prepared your strawberries ahead of time, cleaning, slicing, and sprinkling with a bit of sugar, so they’re nice and juicy.

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Now, you can go two ways with these hot biscuits. My way is to break a biscuit in half, spread the bottom half with butter, and drizzle with some heavy cream.

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A less decadent treatment is to simply spoon some strawberry juice over the cut biscuit.

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Next comes a big spoonful of very lightly whipped cream. This cream is barely holding its shape, as you can see. That way, some of the cream seeps into the biscuit. And when you take a spoonful of shortcake, you get warm biscuit crumbled in cream, which is a truly ethereal culinary experience.

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Add strawberries and juice…

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More whipped cream…

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…the top half of the biscuit (which I usually butter), a dollop of whipped cream (or a lava-flow of whipped cream—your choice!), and a piece of strawberry, like the cherry atop the sundae. See the coarse sugar? It adds visual appeal, as well as crunch and flavor. What are you waiting for? Dig in!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Trisha

    I must admit, I was always a fan of the cake-based shortcake (even though I grew up in New England), but yours looks so good I’m gonna re-visit the biscuit shortcake!

    Reply
  2. Bakerina

    Oh, that is some beautiful stuff there. It makes me long for local strawberry season, which is still a good three months away, but maybe, just this once, I might be persuaded to try this with the California strawberries appearing at the greengrocer’s around the corner.

    Your experience with biscuit shortcakes vs. sponge cake shortcakes is similar to my husband’s; he grew up eating strawberry shortcake made with those sponges that are sold in produce sections in supermarkets. He was surprised to learn that I’d grown up eating biscuit-based shortcakes, but he took to ‘em like a champion. For my part, I learned to love sponge-based shortcake, but it’s a lot easier to love them when the sponge is homemade. ;)

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  3. PJ Hamel

    Bakerina, I have to say the Florida strawberries we get here, though not, certainly, as tasty/juicy as local, are a worthy substitute – i other words, they ain’t bad! Now, I have to admit I’ve never made my own spongecake cups, in the little maryann pans; but I’m sure they’d be tastier than the Twinkie-like cakes found, as you say, stacked up next to the strawberries. Not to dis Twinkies, which have their place in the food universe (and someday I’m going to at least TRY a deep-fried Twinkie), but they’re a disconnect with something as sumptuous as strawberries and cream, eh? – PJH
    P.S. Bakerina, love your blog!

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  4. laura

    Oh, now I’m craving June when the local strawberries are so ripe they melt in your mouth! Last year I made a giant strawberry shortcake for my dad’s birthday (June 24-prime strawberry season in MA) and I think that will be a tradition from now on! Aside from homemade strawberry shortcake, I think the best I’ve had was from the Fireman’s food tent at the Freyberg Fair!

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  5. Lorna

    I had a Southern friend who used to pat her bisquit dough into a rectangle and use a serrated knife to cut it into triangles. No waste, and the edges SEEM pretty clean and unsquashed. Do you recommend a cutter instead? Is it just a matter of circle vs. triangle?

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  6. Heidy

    This looks absolutely fabulous. And smearing butter on the biscuits can NOT be bad… We were raised on a shortcake made from Bisquik (my grandma seemed to use it for everything) baked in a sheet cake pan, cut into squares which each square halved and berries and cream in between and on top. I had never had actual biscuits as the shortcake until recently, but I am definitely a fan! Thank you for the wonderful recipe and beautiful pictures.

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  7. PJ Hamel

    Lorna, a serrated knife would work just fine. The only thing you don’t want to do is use something dull that squashes the edges, rather than cuts cleanly. And certainly, making squares or triangles is fast, easy, and perfectly fine for shortcake—in fact, I’d call it pretty festive!

    And Laura, we regularly went to the Fryeburg Fair. I’ll never forget the row of “church lady” booths selling pies, “squares,” cake… All the area churches had their own food booths, and I think there was a quiet competition among the women to see whose booth would attract the most customers!

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  8. Janet Gordon

    Scrumptious!! Thanks for the great pictures & instructions! As noted, CA and FL berries aren’t bad this time of year, especially when there’s still 3 feet of snow on the ground in VT! It’ll be a long wait for berries this year!

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  9. Jean Connor

    I can’t wait to try these biscuits — with or without strawberries! My mouth is watering!! As a child, we also had the spongecake type….with frozen strawberries in syrup if it wasn’t fresh strawberry season. I definitely will buy a biscuit cutter as my biscuits never seem to rise properly and now I know why. Thanks for the tips and the beautiful pictures of both Camden (which I love) and the mouth-watering strawberry shortcake with biscuits which I definitely will try.

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  10. Janet Gordon

    Had to add a PS…I love my KA flours, but I do have White Lily southern soft wheat flour brought to me by a friend from SC, that I’m anxious to try. My Nana always made biscuits from scratch, and ‘once in a blue moon’, we had strawberry shortcake made with angel food cake that she made from scratch – big treat! Back then, it was only with local berries in season….none trucked in from warmer climes.

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  11. Susan

    I was already to disagree with your statement that yours was the “best” strawberry shortcake until I read your recipe and discovered that yours is the same as my mother’s…. which everyone who ever tried it agrees is the BEST! This is the first time I’ve seen a recipe made just like hers. One of my favorite memories is her shortcakes during strawberry season. Thanks for reminding me!

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  12. PJ Hamel

    Susan, was your mother from Maine, by any chance? You usually don’t see strawberry shortcake made with BARELY whipped cream, which I think is the hallmark of this particular version. It has to be whipped gently enough that it doesn’t just sit on top of the biscuit, but soaks in, making this wonderfully soft, nubbly, biscuit-cream-strawberry combination… Oh boy. Wish I had some right now. (But my waistline is glad I don’t!) I can’t wait till late June/early July, when we get our own fresh strawberries here in Vermont. though the “imported” ones are certainly good, there’s nothing quite so fine as “locals.” Cheers!

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  13. Nancy

    My grandmother made homemade biscuits every week for Sunday dinner. I can’t wait to try this recipe since I can make both the biscuits and dessert! I can’t go wrong with step by step instuctions. Just love what KA flour does for my baking.

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  14. PJ Hamel

    All right, Kyle, all right… SIGH. I’m going to the store to buy the Velveeta right now. Stay tuned…

    Reply
  15. Shirley

    Dare I suggest another version? My mother and grandmother also made strawberry shortcake (always and only with strawberries right out of the garden) with piecrust sprinkled with sugar. Sometimes the shortcakes were made with two crusts formed in cake pans, filled and stacked one atop the other. Just milk or cream were the usual garnishes. I’m so eclectic in my tastes that I love all three versions. Does that earn me three times the usual number of servings each summer?

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  16. Roger Strong

    I am 70, first of all , to establish my timeline as ancient. When I was in my early teens, my grandmother tended a large strawberry patch which in season, she would hire all the kids around to pick her strawberries. No pay but we sure got to stuff our mouths with juicy strawberries. She would make a rectangle biscuit dough about 12 inches by 8 inches and bake it. Right out of the oven, she would cut it horizontally and slather the bottom half with homemade butter, top that with a layer of strawberries, replace the top and put it back in the oven to get hot. Then, and only then, would we get a pie shaped slice of shortcake. More strawbrerries went on top and cream over that. Not until I was married did I encounter the use of whipped cream which I don’t prefer and do not like the sponge variety of shortcake. Your recipe is similiar to what I remember to some extent. Thanks for the recipe though. I intend to try it.

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  17. andrea

    I do love strawberry shortcake with biscuits almost as much as with poundcake. It has to be really good poundcake, though–actually, my favorite is from the Costco bakery.

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  18. Doris Carrubba

    Here I am at 1:30 in the morning getting hungry looking at your blog about strawberry shortcakes. Thinking about making that as dessert for Easter dinner. We don’t raise strawberries in Arizona, but California is close enough to say their berries are our local berries. I’ve made shortcakes from scratch, but yours look devine. Here’s for ‘Easter dinner!!! I just today picked up 5 lbs. of K.A. from our local Fry’s store. Thank you for having K.A. here in Phoenix area.

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  19. Kathryn

    The State O’Bliss induced by the biscuit version of strawberry shortcake is indeed a statewide phenomenon in Maine. This is the kind of shortcake one of my grandmothers made in Aroostook County in the north and my other grandmother made in Somerset County in the west of the state, both counties at the edge of the great north woods. The author locates the eastern boundary of the recipe at the ocean’s edge. My own experience of the southern extent of the recipe places it in central Massachusetts where my in-laws strongly disagreed about the proper way to prepare a shortcake. My father-in-law, an old Yankee, was of the biscuit persuasion. My mother-in-law, proudly pure Irish, favored sponge cake. However, all agreed that true bliss requires native strawberries. I suppose an argument can be made that Florida berries at least suffice to trigger memories and the promise of better things to come in June,

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  20. goodfood4ursoul

    There’s no doubt that it LOOKS delicious, but every time I see those golden crusty edges on the biscuit my mouth starts to feel raw.
    Every time I eat a biscuit-shortcake, with all the soft ripe berries & velvety whipped cream, the harsh crunchy edges of the biscuit rip open my mouth. And it never tastes as good as a strawberry shortcake made with fresh homemade golden yellow or even white cake, covered with fresh strawberries & whipped cream, all soaking into the layers of the cake.
    I LOVE biscuits, made with fresh soft southern flour, butter and buttermilk, but when I want strawberry short CAKE I go for the cake, not the biscuit.
    I think too, it really depends what you grew up with.
    Most people really LOVE what they are confortable and familiar with.
    I say go with what you love be it cake or biscuit.

    Reply
  21. Billie

    My question is, “Why would anyone want to make bisquits by cutting in the shortening, when you can just use heavy cream and — VOILA! — you are ready to pat them out, cut and bake them?!!!” I have made mine this way for a long time, even as savory bisquits for the main meal — so much easier. Didn’t know there was a “recipe” for them, I just tried it and it worked. (Ya, I know, I’m lazy!)

    ALL those pictures at the begining of this blog are fabulous! Keep up the lovely commentaries!

    Reply
  22. Jean Clevenger

    Biscuits hold a lifetime of memories for me which is why this caught my eye. My dear Mother, Caroline was famous for her Baking Powder Biscuits. She loved a hot one out of the oven, buttered with lots of home grown maple syrup. My Mom is gone and I carry on her tradition of biscuits with maple syrup. King Arthur’s recipe is the same recipe, except for the heavy cream. Mom used Crisco. You can bet I will be making the cream biscuits for Easter, using those wonderful fresh strawberries from Costco. I live in So. Orange County, (the OC) and watch the strawberry fields being planted, tended and harvested. MMMMMM, I can hardly wait! I am originally from PA and also remember my Dad collecting sap and boiling it down to a wonderful maple syrup and a little maple sugar candy. Hence, my pension for maple syrup.

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  23. Alvara Tompkins

    P.J., I just love your recipes. I am 72, so my kids are in their 40’s and barely 50’s and they always want strawberry shortcake for their birthday. But it has to be on biscuits (none of that store stuff for them). I never dipped my biscuits in butter like you did but I will try it next time. I have your round cutters with the little handles. Your pictures are mouth watering. I have been ordering from your catalog since the ’90’s when I lived in SC. The mailman had put my neighbor’s catalog in my mailbox. I called in an order and then gave my neighbor her catalog.
    Please keep blogging!

    Reply
  24. Sharon

    Yum! The pictures made me drool, so I treated my family to these delicious shortcakes for dessert immediately. We slurped up every drop of biscuit, cream and sweet fruit. They have been asking for more ever since. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  25. Rebecca Boren

    One quick amendment to the recipe — if you live in the Land of No Humidity (i.e. Tucson, Arizona), you will need about 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream to make these biscuits. I know — I made 80 of them last week. Thanks to PJ for keeping me honest — I had committed to baking and stuffing ham biscuits for my church’s choir and orchestra breakfast on Easter. I had almost persuaded myself to slither by with a mix. Then I read this recipe and realized I would not have to cut in butter!
    They were an enormous hit — and ruined my plans to use the leftovers for shortcake. Leftovers?
    Rebecca

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  26. Nonni

    Well, PJ, my friend — you’ve exonerated yourself! We became great friends when I questioned your sanity for putting thyme in a New England Fish Chowder (haven’t stopped questioning, either! :) But, you have done us Mainers proud with your shortcake. Never served it in little tasteless spongy cups in my 70 years and sure wouldn’t start now. Your methods of using cream intrigue me and will go with the Hamelization next time. If we ever dig out of winter in Maine, maybe we will find some strawberries waiting underneath!!
    LOVE your blog!!
    Nonni

    Reply
  27. PJ Hamel

    Nonni, I knew I could count on you to approve of this shortcake! As a TRUE native, your opinion means a lot—thanks for taking the time to connect. And I hope April and May up there in Old Town bring crocuses and daffodils, not blizzards and ice storms. And that June brings a bountiful crop of strawberries—along with the swarms of blackflies! Cheers, girl-

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  28. Kimberly

    I am from Michigan and I grew up with my Mother making biscuits for strawberry shortcake. I didn’t have the little sponge cakes to years later when we thought we would try them. For I grew up in a family of six with three brothers, biscuits were cheaper to make than buying those little yellow sponge cakes and also more feeling, stick to the ribs type food.

    Reply
  29. Annapurna Moffatt

    Living in New Brunswick, Canada and right on the border with Maine, I have always had shortcake made with biscuits. The first time I had the cake version was at a pot-luck during my 2D Design exam last December. I definitely prefer the biscuit version–the cake was sooo squishy! :-P I like the contrast between the crunchiness of the biscuit and the softness of the strawberries and cream. Oh, now I’m craving shortcake. It’s bad enough that strawberries are one of my favourite fruits!

    Reply
  30. Pam C

    I’m in a baking group and we are making this recipe for our July challenge. I am high altitude 7200 feet is there anything I need to do to adjust this recipe.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Pam,
      What a fun idea! We do have a great page of tips, plus the phone number and links for the Colorado State Extension group who really know their stuff. I hope you find it helpful. Have fun! ~ MJ

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