What's the difference between shortcake and biscuits?

Technically speaking, shortcake is just a sweet biscuit.

But when you think of shortcake, you probably envision STRAWBERRIES AND WHIPPED CREAM and... a biscuit.

Or not.

Many of us grew up not with the classic baking powder biscuit as base for berries and whipped cream, but with a round of bright yellow spongecake, complete with a well in the center to hold its much-anticipated filling. These yellow cakes came in a plastic-wrapped package from the grocery store.

Really, it wasn't like your mom was going to bake anything that perfectly shaped, with its wonderfully Twinkie-like flavor and consistency. Mom simply unwrapped the package, and added Dream Whip or a generous squirt of Reddi-wip, followed by thawed frozen strawberries.

It wasn't until I moved to Maine, in 1976, that I first encountered biscuits as a base for shortcake. I've written about the experience in an earlier blog post:

"Coming originally from Connecticut, I was used to those little sponge cake cups. But the first time I encountered Maine-style strawberry shortcake, at the Camden American Legion’s weekly supper – huh? Where’s the cake?

"I watched the veterans’ wives preparing dessert, 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."

The following biscuits/shortcakes are every bit as good as those original Maine biscuits I enjoyed over 30 years ago. But this newer version includes something all of us seem to be looking to add to our diets, albeit painlessly: fiber.

Like this: Hi-maize Fiber, the best way EVER to "sneak" fiber into your family's diet.

Looks like white flour, doesn't it? Or cornstarch, its close cousin; Hi-maize is a dietary fiber derived from corn. And it acts very much like cornstarch in baking, effectively lowering the gluten of the flour you use, by substituting starch for protein.

Hi-maize can stand in for some of the flour in many of your recipes (though we don't recommend going over about 1/2 cup in a typical yeast bread recipe, since high-rising loaves need their gluten). In most recipes, try substituting Hi-maize for up to about 1/4 of the flour; gradually increase from there if you like the results.

And here's the best part: one serving of Hi-maize (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) contains 6g of non-soluble dietary fiber: the same as a REALLY high-fiber slice of whole-grain bread, or a serving of seriously high-fiber cereal.

Ready for shortcake – high-fiber shortcake? We're almost there, but speaking of Maine biscuits...

...there's nothing like Maine's Original Bakewell Cream for making great biscuits (or shortcakes). Don't take my word for it; look at what a few of our customers say about Bakewell Cream:

"I've been looking at this product for years and finally decided to try it. I could not believe the results I got using Bakewell Cream! The biscuits rose so high. It was quite impressive." - mercoxdesign, KAF community

"I have been married 53 yrs and have NEVER made biscuits like these." Bonnie Jean, KAF community

"Made the biscuits from recipe on back of can. Best biscuits I ever made, and I have made some good ones." dbcarpenter1, KAF community

OK, done with the sales pitch. But I couldn't resist; when something works, you just want to tell the world about it!

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment.

White on white on white... kinda like snowfall in the Antarctic, eh?

Whisk together the following in a mixing bowl:

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup Hi-maize Fiber
1/2 cup (3 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon Bakewell Cream + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda*
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons buttermilk powder, optional, for flavor

*Substitute 4 teaspoons baking powder for the Bakewell Cream + baking soda, if desired; your shortcakes won't rise quite as high.

Add 6 tablespoons cold butter, diced or cut in pats.

Work in the butter until the mixture is irregularly crumbly. Your fingers are a great tool for this task, though a pastry blender (or your mixer) do a good job, too.

Now for the liquid. Stir 2 teaspoons vanilla extract into 1 cup milk.

Add 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind (lemon zest)...

...or 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil.

Yes, just 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil gives these shortcakes the perfect hint of lemon.

Lemon and berries are a lovely pairing. But if you don't have either a lemon or lemon oil, no worries; continue without them.

Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until everything is moistened.

Turn the soft dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; a rolling mat works well here, and makes cleanup a breeze.

Knead/fold the dough over once or twice.

Pat it into a circle about 7 1/2" in diameter.

The dough will be about 1" thick.

OK, let's cut some shortcakes. Use a 2" biscuit cutter to cut out about 14 circles, re-rolling the dough scraps if necessary.

Why use a biscuit cutter, rather than a drinking glass?

Because the sharper your cut, the less the dough is squashed down, the higher your shortcakes or biscuits will rise. See how this shortcake shows cut (rather than flattened) sides?

Now, I never liked re-rolling dough scraps; the more you handle the dough, the tougher it gets.

Here's an alternative: each time you cut a shortcake, gently curl the "scrappy" part onto itself so it butts up against the circle of dough. As you cut and curl, the dough circle will get smaller and smaller...

...until finally you're able to cut just a couple more rounds. At that point, squeeze the remaining scraps into one shortcake.

Ta-da! No re-rolling scraps.

You can bake the shortcakes as is, but I like to brush their tops with something: milk, melted butter, cream...

...or this special glaze, which gives them a crisp/sugary top, perfect for fruit shortcake.

Mix 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon cold water. Stir until the mixture liquefies. Brush atop shortcakes.

Another way to attain a crunchy/sweet top crust is simply by sprinkling milk-brushed shortcakes with coarse white sparkling sugar.

Bake the shortcakes for about 14 minutes...

...until they're golden brown.

Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the baking sheet.

See why I call these cloud shortcakes? Their tops puff up like thunderheads!

Slice shortcakes, and fill with whipped cream and berries – simple as that.

At this time of year, raspberries and blueberries are a tasty combination.

And shortcake made from sweet, juicy summertime peaches is absolutely divine...

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Cloud Shortcakes.

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, three dogs, and really good food!

View all posts by PJ Hamel