In my opinion, biscuits are the true queens of the quick breads. With a bit of practice, they can be cobbled up from scratch and popped into the oven in a matter of minutes.
Leftovers can be buttered and toasted for a snack, or for the next morning’s breakfast. Back in the days when school kids often brought their own brown bag lunches and swapped sandwiches with their pals, big biscuits made great sandwich bread.
Moreover, if you’ve got a few biscuits, you’ve got the makings of a couple of great desserts: biscuit pudding or fabulous, old-fashioned strawberry shortcake. I can remember when strawberry shortcake could be enjoyed only during the season of ripe strawberries, but having it year round is one of the perks of living in an age of rapid transportation and advanced freezing techniques.
Feel free to use your own favorite biscuit recipe for the cake part of this dessert, although you might want to add a bit of sugar to it. The amount of sugar found in shortcake recipes varies widely, from none at all to almost as much sugar as flour. Personally, I think it should be sweeter than bread biscuit dough, but not too sweet. Of course, I’m violently prejudiced by childhood memories.
For the covering, heavy cream may be used. It’s your choice whether or not to whip it, and in this day and age, no one is going to feel indignant if you use the nondairy whipped topping instead of real cream, as long as you use it generously.
Not everyone keeps nutmeg on hand — not everyone even likes nutmeg. But don’t worry, it’s an optional ingredient. If you do use it, do so with a light hand, just enough to be barely noticeable as a light, tantalizing aroma. Sift through a small mesh strainer before measuring, to avoid lumps.
OLD-FASHIONED STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, optional
1/4 cup shortening
About 3/4 cup milk
Whipping cream, or whipped topping
Slice strawberries into a bowl; sprinkle with sugar, and set aside. (Save some whole berries for garnish.)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. For one large shortcake, butter a 9-inch cake pan and set it aside; if making individual servings, butter a baking sheet and set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and nutmeg. Cut in shortening (for a richer dough, butter may be used). A little at a time, stir in milk, using enough so the dough holds together but is still soft. Dough should not look wet and shiny.
Turn out onto a floured surface.
For one large shortcake: Divide dough into halves, and roll or pat each one out into a 9-inch round. Put first layer into prepared cake pan, brush top with melted butter (about two tablespoons). Top with second round, and bake for about 12 minutes.
Turn out, split with fork and butter generously between layers and on top. Place bottom layer on serving dish. Spoon on a layer of prepared strawberries, then add whipped cream or topping. Add top layer, then more berries, and cover whole cake with cream or topping. Best served while biscuit portion is hot.
For individual shortcakes, roll out dough and cut out with biscuit cutter at least 3 inches in diameter. Brush tops of half the rounds with melted butter and cover with unbuttered rounds. Arrange on baking sheet, and continue as for large shortcake.