The long and short of homemade shortcake


A GOOD shortcake can make up for shortcomings. It can, for instance, transform a bunch of so-so strawberries into one of the world's most appealing desserts, strawberry shortcake.

Homemade shortcake has several clear advantages over the stuff you find in the stores. First of all, the homemade variety is not too sweet. In the proper strawberry shortcake scenario, the berries take the lead and the cake is complementary, providing supportive, background flavor notes. If the shortcake has too much sugar, it competes with the sweet berries, not to mention also tussling with the whipped cream, which is the required topping.

Then there is the texture. Shortcake should be crumbly, not springy. It should make you think of scones, not sponges. When it encounters any stray strawberry juice on the bottom of the bowl, a properly made shortcake embraces the juice, and the union is a happy one. Such a shortcake usually comes from a home oven, not a commercial one.

I live in household of short-tempered shortcake eaters. When my wife makes shortcakes, our two kids immediately start arguing over who gets how many cakes.

The other night, for instance, as soon as a sheet of shortcakes emerged from the oven, one kid appeared in the kitchen, ready to divide the goods. This kid likes to start off eating his shortcake straight, without berries. To get himself ready for the strawberry-covered shortcakes served for dessert, he eats an uncovered shortcake as an appetizer.

However, if this kid is allowed to eat too many of these appetizers, the portions of dessert served to the rest of the family get smaller. When desserts get smaller, tempers get shorter, at least in our house.

Thanks, no doubt, to the many hours spent in his seventh-grade math class, the kid was able to quickly make the shortcake calculations. There were seven shortcakes and four eaters. The kid figured he could eat one shortcake as an appetizer and there would still be enough to supply him and his brother with their required double serving at dessert time. Or, in shortcake math - one appetizer, plus two dessert cakes each for the two kids, plus one shortcake each for the two parents, wipes out all the sheet of shortcakes.

I didn't have to be a math whiz to figure out that when it came to divvying up dessert, I was getting the short end of the shortcake.

Basic Shortcake

Yields about 7 cakes, 3-4 inches wide

1 3/4 cup sifted all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons double-acting baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

5 tablespoons chilled butter

3/4 cup milk

In a bowl, mix flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Add the butter to the dry ingredients by cutting butter with two knives until mixture is consistency of coarse cornmeal.

Make a well in the center of this mixture and add milk all at once. Stir until the dough is fairly free from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Knead gently and quickly, folding it about 8 to 10 times. Roll with a lightly floured rolling pin, until the dough has the desired thickness. Cut with a biscuit cutter or coffee cup.

Place on ungreased baking sheet in preheated 450-degree oven. Bake until lightly brown, about 10 minutes.

Pub Date: 5/10/98


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