When I was little, every summer my family would drive out to a pick-your-own strawberry farm. The work was fun at first, but after some time in the shadeless June sun, the excitement would fade. We’d keep working, entranced by the promise of the literal fruits of our labor.
After a tiresome morning in the strawberry patch, my mom would usually opt for a biscuit mix to make quick and easy shortcakes. She’d bake them in mounds with crisped tops and edges that guarded a soft, crumbly interior for a texture somewhere between a scone and a biscuit. Once ready, we’d pile on sliced strawberries and generous spoonfuls of whipped cream.
Strawberry shortcakes are a cookout classic, but sometimes you want to impress for a birthday or celebration. Would you believe me if I said that for roughly the same amount of effort as baking and assembling individual shortcakes, you could make a showstopping three-tiered version? Strawberry shortcake cake is sure to earn you some oohs and ahhs.
Making the Perfect Shortcake Cakes
I wanted this cake to resemble the flavors and textures of the strawberry shortcakes I grew up but with wow factor. To pull it off, I needed cake layers that were sturdy enough to stack, buttery like a scone or biscuit, but still nice and tender like a layer cake.
For the ideal shortcake cake layers, I relied on the reverse creaming method popularized by Rose Levy Berenbaum. This method mixes the softened butter directly with the dry ingredients before adding the liquid followed by the eggs. The butter coats the flour, preventing cake-toughening gluten from forming. It’s a seemingly backward method that I knew would achieve the sturdy yet tender cake I had in mind.
Stabilized Whipped Cream
A crucial element of strawberry shortcake is, of course, a big dollop of homemade whipped cream. I did not want to give that up when converting this dessert into a layer cake. What makes whipped cream so enticing—its light and fluffy creaminess—is what makes it unruly in a tall layer cake.
Stabilized whipped cream, which is whipped cream made with the addition of a stabilizing ingredient, was the answer. It doesn’t compromise any of the creaminess but makes a sturdier filling. It also lasts longer than regular whipped cream, which tends to melt quickly. My stabilizer of choice in this case is cream cheese, which also adds a subtle tanginess that is superb with strawberries.
Swap Out the Strawberries
Strawberries are one of the first fruits of summer, and can be fleeting. If you love shortcakes, you can extend the season by macerating the same weight of other fresh fruits. I find macerating works on berries or stone fruits. Here are some delicious ideas:
- Peaches: Macerate peeled or unpeeled sliced peaches with the sugar. Try flavoring the whipped cream with rum extract.
- Cherries: Pit cherries and cut them in half. Macerate the cherries with the sugar and add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon to the cherries for a subtle note of spice. Try it with bourbon whipped cream: substitute 1 tablespoon of bourbon for the vanilla extract.
- Plums: Macerate peeled or unpeeled sliced plums with the sugar and add the grated zest from half of an orange.
How to Make It Ahead
You can absolutely bake the cake layers ahead of time, but you should prepare the strawberries and whipped cream just before assembling and serving. The cakes will keep wrapped airtight on the counter for up to 3 days or tightly wrapped and frozen for up to one month. To thaw, transfer the wrapped cake layers to the refrigerator overnight.
What to Do with Leftover Cake
For the best flavor and texture, eat strawberry shortcake soon after assembling it. Moisture from the strawberries will start to leech into the cream and the cake layers over time. But don’t waste those leftovers: the cake is still delicious and worth saving, even if it isn’t as pretty.
Store the leftover cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use parchment paper or plastic wrap to cover the exposed, cut area and enjoy within 3 days.
Strawberry Season Delights
- Fresh Strawberry Pie
- Strawberry Ice Cream
- Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
- Strawberry Eton Mess
- Strawberry Marscapone Tart
Preheat the oven:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans or two 9-inch round cake pans. If desired, line the bottom of the pans with parchment rounds.
Combine the dry ingredients;
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
Add the butter and buttermilk:
Add the butter and mix on low speed until the mixture looks sandy, about 2 minutes.
Pour in the buttermilk and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Then increase the speed to medium and continue mixing for 30 seconds.
Add the eggs:
Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed until fully combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula after each addition. After adding the last egg, mix on medium-high speed for 30 seconds. The batter should be smooth and thick.
Transfer the batter to cake pans:
Divide the batter evenly among the pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. If you have a kitchen scale, each layer should weigh about 15 ounces (425g) for three 8-inch layers, or about 22 1/2 ounces (640g) per layer for two 9-inch layers.
For 8-inch cakes, bake for 21 to 24 minutes. If you’re baking two 9-inch layers, bake for 28 to 33 minutes. The edges should just be starting to pull from the sides of the pan and turning golden brown. A toothpick inserted into the center of one of the layers should come out clean.
Cool the cakes in the pan for 5 minutes. Run an offset spatula or butter knife around the edge of the cakes to loosen them from the pan, then carefully turn them out onto a rack to cool completely.
Prepare the strawberries:
While the cakes cool, prepare the macerated strawberries. Use a paring knife to hull the strawberries. Then, placing them flat side down on the cutting board, slice them into 1/8 to 1/4-inch slices.
Transfer the sliced strawberries to a bowl, pour in the sugar, and stir to coat them evenly. Cover the bowl and let the strawberries sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Make the whipped cream:
In the cleaned bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract on medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.
With the mixer still running, slowly pour in the heavy cream in a steady stream. Continue beating on medium speed until the mixture thickens and stiff peaks form. When you lift the whisk out of the cream, the whipped cream should come to a point at the tip of the whisk that stays upright.
Assemble the cake:
Place one of the cake layers, right side up, on a large plate or cake stand. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread about 1 cup (1 1/2 cups for a 9-inch two-layer cake) of the whipped cream evenly over the cake layer. Arrange half of the strawberries in an even layer on top of the whipped cream. Repeat with the second cake layer.
If you’re making a two-layer cake, top with another 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream and pile the remaining strawberries on top. For a three-layer cake, add the last layer and spread with about 1 cup of the whipped cream. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to create swoops and swirls. Garnish the top of the cake with extra strawberries.
The cake is best enjoyed immediately after assembly.
That said, it will keep, covered, for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. It won’t look as pretty as the strawberry juice starts to run, but it’s still delicious. The extra whipped cream will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
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