We don’t know if you’ve also noticed, but there are still a lot of berries going around—really, really delicious berries. We’ve made good use of them all summer, making berry pies and maple-berry waffle sauces, berry ice cream sundaes and berry crumbles, and just plain eating them by the palmful, gleefully, right out of the carton (or yellow colander, as the case may be).
But we realized we hadn’t made a single shortcake. Unacceptable. Few things say American summer the way a shortcake does.
While iconic in name, the thing about shortcakes is that they always sound incredible, but they don’t always taste as good. And there’s just no good reason for this. There are a lot of heavy/tasteless/boring shortcakes out there. We’re talking about something that’s basically made of butter, flour, sugar, and for us, buttermilk. Something that you make with whatever especially delicious fruits you can get your hands on at the moment… and that you top off with a generous dollop of (homemade) whipped cream.
This shouldn’t be difficult to make delicious.
Our perfect shortcake criteria are:
But often, when you eat a shortcake, it seems like someone’s forgotten that while, yes, the shortcake is itself a vehicle for the things you put inside, it still makes up a lot of the dessert as a whole. That means it shouldn’t just be a tasteless canvas. (Literally, we’ve had some that have pretty much tasted like canvas.) It should have some personality, some crunch, some tenderness, and definitely some flavor. Ours is faintly vanilla-flavored, lightly sweet, a little tangy, and has a seriously gorgeous texture. You don’t want to eat a shortcake and just remember the fillings, right? The two should work in concert to create one unforgettable knock-out of a dessert.
There’s definitely more than one way to make a great shortcake, but we wanted to share ours. We love using buttermilk any way we can for the tanginess it lends to recipes and the way it encourages delicate texture in baked goods, so we weren’t going to make a shortcake without it. Since there aren’t many ingredients in shortcakes, the quality of each is really important. This means using really good butter, buttermilk, cream, and real vanilla extract is crucial, as is using the best fruit you can find.
And, it’s true, you could stop here. And you would have a fantastic shortcake.
But if you’re going to make our shortcakes, you’re going to need one of the most perfect foods ever invented: lemon curd. (If you know the Inventor of Lemon Curd, please let us know ASAP. We’d like to send him several thank you notes.) The only thing better than the intensity of exactly ripe summer berries is topping those berries with homemade lemon curd.
So, hurry up! August is slipping by, but it’s not gone yet. Grab a pile of those sadly-soon-to-fade berries at the height of their berriness, stack them up as high as you like between the pillowy goodness of shortcakes, whipped cream, and lemon curd, and feel completely satisfied in knowing that you’ve found one of your favorite August moments yet.
– Fine mesh sieve (possibly)
– 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (juice from about 2 lemons)
– Zest of 1 lemon, grated
– 1/4 cup granulated sugar
– 6 tbs unsalted butter cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
– 1/4 tsp kosher salt
– 1 large egg, at room temperature
– 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
* Add egg, yolks, salt, and sugar to a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk immediately and continuously over medium-low heat until smooth and light yellow.
* Trade out your whisk for a wooden spoon and add lemon juice, lemon zest, and butter. The spoon is better here since a whisk will gather up all of the zest.
* Stir constantly and cook until curd is smooth and thick enough to coat the back of your spoon. When you lift the spoon out of the curd, draw a line through the coating on the spoon. If the line stays defined, the curd is done. Getting to this stage will take about 10 minutes.
* If some curdling has happened during cooking and the lemon curd is not totally smooth, don’t stress. Strain through a fine mesh sieve as you transfer to a bowl. If you don’t have any curds, just pour directly into the bowl. You can also strain out the zest, if you like, but we prefer to leave it in.
*Once you’ve poured the lemon curd into a bowl, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, laying it directly on the surface of the curd to prevent a skin (like a pudding skin) from forming. Make sure to press the plastic wrap up against the sides of the bowl to seal completely. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until firm (at least an hour).
*Once cooled, you can store in jars for later use. The lemon curd will keep, sealed, for about a week in the fridge.
* * * *
Buttermilk Shortcakes with Summer Berries and Lemon Curd
Makes 8 shortcakes
– Pastry blender (or a fork if you don’t have one)
– Pastry brush
– 3 cups all-purpose flour
– 4 1/2 tbs granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling (or you can use coarse/sanding sugar for sprinkling for extra crunch and sparkle)
– 4 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp kosher salt
– 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
– 1 1/2 cups cold, well-shaken buttermilk
– 2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 tbs heavy cream (for brushing dough)
– 2 1/2 pints of your favorite summer berries (we used blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries)
– Homemade whipped cream
* Preheat oven to 375 °F.
* In a bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. Add salt and sugar and combine with a fork or whisk.
* Cut in cold butter with a pastry blender (or a fork) until you have a coarse meal with mostly pea-sized pieces of butter.
* Create a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the buttermilk and vanilla extract.
* Using a wooden spoon or your hands, gently incorporate the flour-butter mixture into the buttermilk until you’ve added it all and the dough just holds together. Don’t overwork it or you’ll wind up with heavy shortcakes.
* Use your hands to form 8 shortcakes. Again, they should just hold together—don’t pack the dough in. The dough will be sticky so flour your hands if you need to.
* Place shortcakes on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush each with some of the heavy cream and sprinkle with the extra granulated sugar or some sanding sugar.
* Bake for about 20 minutes until pale golden brown.
* Let cool on a baking rack until ready to use.
* When the shortcakes have cooled and you’re ready to assemble everything, gently cut the cakes in half horizontally. Spread some lemon curd on the bottom half, top with berries, some whipped cream, and the other half of the shortcake.