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What’s the Best Strawberry Shortcake?

“How about strawberry shortcake?” my friend Diane asked. Strawberry shortcake, a perfect springtime dessert. My mouth watered remembering how Mom made it. A square serving of a one layer yellow cake, cut in half. The bottom half covered with fresh sliced strawberries that had been mixed with sugar and refrigerated to make syrup. The other cake half placed on top, then more strawberries and extra juice drizzled to saturate the cake. And topped with a dollop of homemade whipped cream.

I reminded myself that everyone didn’t make this dessert like Mom did when Diane served her mother’s version. A sweet biscuit sliced in half, served side by side. Topped with slice sweetened strawberries and Cool Whip and garnished with a big berry. It was good. Diane and I discussed and laughed about how we cook like our mothers.

One time I took shortcuts and served sweetened strawberries piled onto dessert shells, those round yellow store-bought cakes packaged in cellophane. I squirted whipped topping and put a berry on top. It wasn’t what my taste buds were trained to expect when my ears hear the words strawberry shortcake.

I’ve seen and eaten many variations of this dessert. Trifle bowls layered with cubes of angel food cake, dry sliced strawberries, and whipped topping. Meringue shells filled with berries. A two layer white or yellow cake with crushed sweet berries and whipped cream between layers and on top. Even pound cake, vanilla ice cream, and sweeten sliced berries.

With so many variables no wonder there are many recipes. Cake or biscuit or shortcake or meringue? Sliced or whole berries? Sweeten or not? Juicy berries or not? Whipped cream or whipped topping or ice cream?

I googled strawberry shortcake recipes and about 9,900,000 results are available. The very first one was a combination of Diane and my mothers’ recipes. Mom’s sliced sweetened berries with juice and real whipped cream, and Diane’s mother’s sweet biscuit. And I learned the definition of shortcake is a sweetened biscuit.

The first known recipe for strawberry cakes was published in an 1845 Columbus, Ohio newspaper. It was a British version with an unleavened biscuit, layered with strawberries, covered with a hard icing, and topped with more strawberries.  The addition of whipped cream came much later. And the recipe for strawberry shortcake with a sweet biscuit or cake, berries, and whipped cream is an American creation, first published in1862 in Rochester, New York.

Classic strawberry shortcake is made with sliced and sweetened strawberries. According to Betty Crocker, macerated berries. Macerating infuses flavor into food, usually fruit, by soaking it in a liquid. So when berries are tossed with sugar, the juices are drawn out and their flavor enhanced. Toss the berries with sugar an hour or two before serving for juicy firm berries.

While strawberries are in season, maybe I’ll try the recipe with traditional sweet biscuits, sliced juicy berries, and real whipped cream. But it won’t be like Mom’s strawberry shortcake, the world’s best strawberry shortcake.

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