June 14th is National Strawberry Shortcake Day, which can mean anything from a layer cake with strawberries in the filling (photo #3), to a biscuit topped with whipped cream and strawberries (photo #4)—the latter of which, in fact, is the original Strawberry Shortcake.
Today, Strawberry Shortcake gets reimagined as a stunning stack cake (a.k.a. naked cake), perfect for summer entertaining (photo #1).
Don’t be intimidated by its beautiful presentation: This cake is actually quite easy to assemble.
You don’t have to be an ace of cakes to turn out this beautiful layer cake recipe. That’s because no frosting skills are required!
> The history of strawberries.
Thanks to Go Bold With Butter for this delicious recipe.
Prep time: is 30 minutes, and cook time is 30 minutes. Total time: 1 hour. Yield: 12 servings
You can serve Strawberry Shortcake with sparkling rosé. The berry fruitiness of sparkling rosé echoes the fragrant strawberries in the cake.
For The Cake
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour the parchment paper to keep the cakes from sticking.
2. BEAT the butter and sugar on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until pale and creamy, about 3-4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
3. COMBINE the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl between each addition.
4. DIVIDE the batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake until the tops are barely golden brown and spring back when lightly touched, about 30-35 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Cover the cake layers with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
When ready to assemble the cake and serve…
5. PREPARE the strawberries. Toss the sliced strawberries, sugar, and vanilla extract in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes.
6. PREPARE the whipped cream. Use an electric mixer to beat the heavy whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla extract to medium peaks.
7. REMOVE the chilled cake layers from the refrigerator and use a small knife to score each layer in half horizontally. Then use a large serrated knife to slowly cut all the way through each layer, using the scored line as a guide.
8. PLACE one cake layer on a cake plate or stand. Cover with 1 cup of whipped cream and one-quarter of the strawberry mixture. Repeat with the remaining cake layers, whipped cream, and strawberries. Serve cake immediately.
While shortcakes are made with other berries and with stone fruits (peaches, plums) the most popular version is strawberry shortcake. Sliced strawberries are mixed with sugar and some vanilla, and allowed to macerate.
To make a modern shortcake, a sweetened biscuit—the eponymous shortcake—is split and the bottom covered with the strawberries, and then a layer of whipped cream. The juice relinquished by the berries during maceration is spooned on top, and the other portion of the shortcake placed on top of that.
In the U.K., a shortcake is what Americans call a biscuit. (In the U.K., a biscuit is a cookie.) A “shortened” dough is leavened with baking powder or baking soda.
“Short” does not refer to stature. Rather, it’s a common baking term that derived in the 15th century, when “short” became a term for “crumbly.” (The origin of the word “shortening” dates to 1733.)
It is an old concept. The first known printed record of the term “short cake,” and the earliest recipe for it, appear in an Elizabethan cookbook, The Good Huswifes Handmaid for Cookerie in her Kitchen (London, 1588)—which was the second printed cookbook in English [source].
By 1850, strawberry shortcake was a well-known biscuit and fruit dessert in England, served with sweetened cream. Whipped cream had not yet arrived. Some sources say that it wasn’t until 1910 that French pastry chefs added heavy whipped cream.[source].
But we have a long way to go until then. Let’s cross the pond.
Earlier American recipes, which lasted into the 21st century, particularly in the South, used pie crust rounds or broken-up crust pieces.
Eliza Leslie (1787–1858), an American author of popular cookbooks during the 19th century, published a precursor recipe in The Lady’s Receipt-Book (Philadelphia, 1847). It popularized the concept of shortcake, but it was unleavened—more of a cookie.
With the advent of chemical leavening in the 19th century—first potash, then baking soda—it was time for leavened shortcakes to emerge as a popular base for strawberries. Some American shortcakes became more like what we’d recognize as cake.
Although it was still made without whipped cream, desserts called “strawberry shortcake” became popular in the U.S.
In the June 1862 issue of the Genesee Farmer (Rochester, New York), “Strawberry Shortcake” consisted of a soda biscuit layered with fresh berries, sugar, and cream: “The cake should be made like soda biscuit, rather richer, but very light…split it in three parts, and spread them with butter very thinly…Spread a thick layer of [strawberries and sugar] upon one of the sliced of the cake, and pour over them the richest cream that you can process; then add another layer of the shortcake and another of strawberries, as before. [source]
A similar recipe with three cake layers, berries, and cream was included in Jennie June’s American Cookbook by Jane Cunningham Croly (New York, 1866), the author noting: “This is the method of making at the finest city restaurants.” [Ibid.]
In post-Civil War America, strawberry shortcake was the rage, a summer specialty. Local strawberries were available then, and with the advent of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, California strawberries could be shipped on ice across the country, extending the brief season. Strawberry-topped shortcakes surged in popularity. [Ibid.]
Finally: Whipped Cream!
By the end of the 1800s, many American households stored their perishable foods in an insulated icebox made of wood and lined with tin or zinc. A large block of ice was stored inside to keep the food chilled. Cream could be kept at hand and whipped to make shortcakes. (Electric refrigerators became available in the 1930s.)
Whipped cream’s popularity corresponded to home refrigeration. Strawberry shortcake recipes with whipped cream became standard—if festive occasion—fare [source].
In those days, strawberries were a summer season treat, available fresh in and around the month of June. The crop frequently lasted through July 4th festivities.
Many Americans would look forward to annual shortcake parties to herald the onset of summer [Ibid]. (We are old enough to remember this!)
Following the growth of Big Agriculture after World War II, large farmers’ co-ops and distribution companies began to emerge. To meet growing demand for America’s favorite fruit (strawberries) beyond the summer, seed developers created strawberry cultivars for just about every type of growing soil and climate. This led to the ability of year-round strawberry crops.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of strawberries. While strawberries are grown in every state, California, Florida, and Oregon the top three strawberry-producing states. California produces the lion’s share, and the state has so many different growing regions that it can produce strawberries every month of the year. There are also greenhouse-produced strawberries and imports.
Originally from northern Europe, strawberries are now grown in almost every country in the world (the history of strawberries). They are the most widely grown fruit crop. Today, there are more than 100 varieties of strawberries to suit many different climates [source].
In the U.S., shortcake variations continue to be made with the classic biscuit, with sponge cake, yellow cake, and white cake.
The French variety is a fraisier, layers of génoise, mousseline cream, strawberries and almond paste (fraise is the French word for strawberries—photo #8).
In late-night foraring, we have made individual portions with toasted brioche, toasted pound cake, and ladyfingers, which are sponge cake.
They are adapated into other forms, from cupcakes (photo #9) to ice cream, ice cream cake, ice cream pops, roulades, trifles, and other fancies.
And of course, ice cream can be substituted for the whipped cream on a classic biscuit shortcake.
Requests to make National Strawberry Shortcake Day a national holiday began in 2003 [source].