Oh, no. There’s that word again, that five-letter word that I NEVER want to see linked with my favorite pastime, baking.

F-A-N-C-Y.

Fancy baking. Think shaping perfect roses out of sugar fondant. Applying meringue to the top of a pie in masterful swirls, then creating equidistant, droop-top peaks. Or how about a six-strand challah whose shape leaves ASOLUTELY NOTHING to be desired?

I don’t have the skill, the patience, nor the time for fancy baking. In my book, “How does it look?” is way, WAY down the list from “How does it taste?”

But there comes a time in every baker’s life when fancy is demanded. Just as we change out of jeans and put on black slacks for holiday dinner, so do our cakes, pies, and even cookies need to dress up for special occasions. Think wedding cakes. A golden pumpkin pie, edged with rosettes of whipped cream. And decorated Christmas cookies, of course.

Valentine’s Day is such a time. I’d no more make my favorite oatmeal cookies for Valentine’s Day than I’d wear my bathing suit to a job interview. It’s just not fitting (double entendre intended).

Special days require FANCY treats.

Which doesn’t mean I spend hours on the path to Fancy. There are those (scrapbookers, quilters, creators of faux-Fabergé eggs) who enjoy the journey, probably more so than the destination. Not I. I prefer the balance of a short, brisk workout followed by a quick reward (e.g., brownies), to a marathon (the aforementioned wedding cake) whose result might be barely so-so.

When it’s time for fancy, I’m the Queen of Quick, a veritable Sovereign of Shortcuts. And this trifle is a great example.

Strawberry shortcake is a universal favorite, and with fresh strawberries available pretty much year-round, always a possibility. So how do you make this plebeian dish fancy?

Turn it into strawberry trifle. Tiny little biscuits, layered in pretty barware with pastry cream, topped with carved-heart strawberries. Fancy—and EASY.

Trust me; I’d never lead you astray. I know the path to Easy WAY too well to lose my way amid cake combs, piping tips, and fondant pins.

Read our Easy Strawberry Shortcake Trifle recipe as you follow along with these pictures.

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First, the biscuits. Mix flour, cornstarch (for tenderness), sugar, salt, and baking powder, then add cold heavy or whipping cream. Stir to combine. That's it. Easy so far, right?

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Scoop the dough into a 9” x 9” square pan lined with greased parchment. You can skip the parchment and just grease the pan, but parchment ensures easy release.

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Pat the dough into the pan.

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Keep patting till it reaches the edges of the pan.

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While not strictly necessary, it's a nice touch to sprinkle the dough with coarse white sparkling sugar. The sugar gives the biscuits flavor and subtle crunch. This is your first step towards fancy.

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Pat or roll the dough as level as you can, for best-looking biscuits.

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Bake the biscuits till the edges are beginning to brown; the top might show some faint signs of browning, too.

 

 

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Turn out of the pan, onto a giant spatula, if you have one.

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The spatula makes it easy to flip it right-side up again.

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Use a tiny biscuit cutter to cut out circles.

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I used a 1 1/8” cutter, and was able to cut out 35 tiny biscuits. Second step towards fancy.

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Munch on the leftover scraps, or make some not-so-fancy trifles that can hide in the back of the fridge till you’re ready to enjoy them in private.

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Buy some medium-sized, well-shaped strawberries (third step towards fancy). Cut off the stems as close to the top as possible.

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Halve them vertically. If they’re rather flat shaped, position the knife so that when you halve them vertically, you’ll end up with two wide halves, rather than two narrower ones.

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Now, notch out a “V” at the top of each one.

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FANCY that! You’ve made strawberry hearts. Fourth step.

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Next, pastry cream. Instant pastry cream, my favorite kind. I learned this trick long ago, and now all of us in the test kitchen use it. Combine 2 boxes of vanilla instant pudding mix with 3 1/2 to 4 cups cream (light, heavy, or whipping); half and half; or any other milk, right down to skim. The richer the dairy product, obviously, the richer the pastry cream. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla. Whisk till thickened; the less liquid (and the higher in fat it is), the thicker the cream will be. Fifth step towards fancy.

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Pour or dollop the cream/pudding into a pretty cocktail or wine glass. (Sixth step). Dessert shot glasses make VERY cute little desserts.

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Set a biscuit atop the cream…

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…then add more cream, and another biscuit. A strawberry too, if you like. Continue layering till you reach the top of the glass. Final step: garnish with a heart strawberry, and partially submerge one final sugar-topped biscuit.

Still not satisfied? Add a dab of whipped cream, which you’ve made by whipping heavy cream and a touch of sugar with a cappuccino frother, as one of our readers recently suggested.

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FANCY that!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Easy Strawberry Shortcake Trifle.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Sorry, I couldn't fine an equivalent for comparison.

Bake at home: To make 12 to 16 medium-sized trifles, each using about 2 to 3 biscuits and 1/3 cup pastry cream, $1.14 each.

PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

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