In their strawberry shortcake recipe, Joy of Cooking suggests using either shortcake or sponge cake. On this important issue I must stand firm against the words of the cooking bible: strawberry shortcake should only be made with shortcake; strawberry sponge cake is an imposter that should be banished. If that makes me a cooking heretic, than so be it.
There's no reason to buy anything pre-made for this recipe, except possibly whipped cream in a can (e.g. Reddi-wip). While grocery stores sell gallons of strawberry glaze, all you have to do is add sugar to sliced strawberries, and osmosis will kindly make the glaze for you, drawing out moisture from the strawberries to create a sweet syrup. Making the shortcake from scratch is as easy as making biscuits; the only useful piece of specialized equipment is a pastry blender, but even that can be replaced with two knives, a fork, or your fingers.
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk or half-and-half
2 pint fresh, whole strawberries
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
Sweetened whipped cream (homemade or canned, e.g. Reddi-wip)
To prepare the strawberries:
1) Rinse the strawberries and remove the calyx (sepals).
2) Slice the strawberries lengthwise 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick and place into a bowl.
2) Add the sugar to the strawberries and mix well.
3) Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
To make the shortcake:
0) Preheat your oven to 450F.
1) Mix the flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. I typically use a pastry blender to do this, though a fork or whisk also work.
2) Cut the butter into a few pieces and add to the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender, fork, knives, or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour, stopping when the largest chunks of butter are pea-sized and most of the butter is in very small pieces. Be careful not to melt the butter.
3) Add the milk or half-and-half, and mix with a spoon until the dough starts to come together. Knead the dough against the sides of the bowl a few (~5) times. If the dough doesn't come together easily, even after kneading, try adding a tablespoon or two more milk or half-and-half.
4) Roll or pat the dough out on a floured work surface until it is approximately 3/4 inch thick.
5) Cut the dough into 2 1/2 to 3 inch squares. I don't worry if they're not perfect squares; I just cut the pieces so I use all the dough. If you want a more formal presentation, you can cut the pieces into perfect squares or use biscuit cutters, and then re-roll the leftover pieces to use them.
6) Bake, on a cookie sheet, in a 450F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are moderately browned.
7) Let the shortcakes cool a minute or two before serving.
Assembling the shortcakes:
1) Split a shortcake horizontally (a fork can help) and place the halves, interior facing up, onto a plate. Spoon strawberries and accumulated syrup onto the top of the shortcake, top with lots of whipped cream, and enjoy.
Here's what ours looked like on Friday:
Two pints of strawberries allow for a very generous proportion of strawberries to shortcake; you can make this with only one or one and a half pints of strawberries (scaling down the sugar) and still be fine. Keep in mind that as water leaves the strawberries to make the syrup, the strawberries will start to soften. Thus I generally try to prepare only as many strawberries as will be consumed in one sitting, though if you like softer strawberries (as my SO does), you can prepare them ahead of time and put them in the refrigerator until you need them.
We typically use the pre-made sweetened whipped cream that is available in the dairy section of most grocery stores, primarily because it's more convenient than whipping fresh cream by hand and tastes similar to freshly whipped cream. If you prefer homemade whipped cream, by all means use it instead of the canned variety. Joy of Cooking suggests that whipped cream mixed with sour cream makes a good topping; we've used that mixture on tarte tatin and loved it, but we've never tried it on strawberry shortcake. Please don't use Cool Whip.
The shortcake recipe is slightly modified from Joy of Cooking.
Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.