Having realized that summer is over and that I mostly squandered it, I usually spend early September desperately trying to squeeze in all the summer activities I was too lazy to do in June, July, and August. This means finding excuses to put on a swimsuit, refusing to go to any bar that doesn’t have a patio, and frantically eating all the late-summer produce I can get my hands on.
No late-summer produce is dearer to me than strawberries, and no strawberry recipe more sweetly evokes the soon-to-disappear insouciance of summer than strawberry shortcake. Whipped cream is pure frivolity (like “Get Lucky,” only edible), and soft, ripe strawberries embody summer sultriness like no other foodstuff. Meanwhile, the biscuits that form shortcakes’ base are springy as a diving board and light as a sundress, and their buttery flavor portends the one good thing about autumn, which is that it whets the appetite for rich food.
Biscuits I’ve addressed before (and address further in the video above), and there’s not much shortcake-specific to say about them, except that I’ve chosen to use yogurt instead of buttermilk for practical reasons (about which more in a bit). Even though shortcakes are a dessert, you can’t make biscuits too sweet—add too much sugar to the dough and they’ll melt into a cookie-biscuit hybrid—so plan on compensating in two ways: First, sprinkle sugar on top of the biscuits before baking them. Second, make sure your strawberry and cream fillings are sweet enough to offset the blandness of the biscuits.
Flavor balance is not the only reason you need to add a little sugar to your strawberries: You want to soften them up a little too. Unless every single strawberry in your package is perfectly tender and juice-laden—and, let’s be honest, that never happens—you’ll want to macerate them with sugar and a little acid to tenderize them and simulate juiciness. You can use lemon juice for the acid; I like balsamic vinegar for its syrupy depth.
I also like to add a little tartness to the whipped cream by folding in a little yogurt. (This is why I use yogurt in the biscuit dough—one fewer ingredient to buy.) Its tangy flavor complicates the cream’s sweetness, just as the knowledge of the winter to come complicates the joy of the last warm days of the year.
Yield: 8 to 10 small shortcakes
Time: About 45 minutes
1 pound strawberries, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons brown sugar
1¼ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and rolling
1¾ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup (½ stick) cold unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-milk yogurt
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ cup heavy cream
1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Combine the strawberries, the balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar in a medium bowl. Let sit at room temperature while you make the biscuits.
2. Combine the flour, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the baking powder, the salt, and the baking soda in a medium bowl. Add the butter and blend with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of the yogurt and ½ teaspoon of the vanilla extract and stir just until combined, then transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead 5 or 6 times.
3. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it’s ¾ inch thick (or pat it flat with your hands). Cut into rounds with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or glass and transfer to an ungreased baking sheet with the edges of the rounds touching. Gather up the dough scraps, roll them out, and repeat. Brush the biscuits with the milk, then sprinkle the granulated sugar over them. Bake until the biscuits are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
4. While the biscuits are cooling, beat the cream with the whisk attachment of a stand mixer (or a handheld electric mixer) until soft peaks form, then beat in the remaining ½ cup yogurt, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. To serve, split each biscuit horizontally and top with a few tablespoons each of the strawberry mixture and the cream mixture.