I have always been amazed at how cutting strawberries and tossing them with sugar can transform them from tidy little berries to a sweet mess of juice.
It just so happens that it takes the same amount of time to macerate strawberries as it does to make drop shortcakes with a baking mix like Bisquick.
Strawberry shortcake has been an American treat for nearly as long as we’ve been a country, and combining strawberries with a crumbly cake goes as far back as the 1500s in England.
Scones, another crumbly shortbread, go back even further in Europe, and though it might be tempting to pick a favorite or debate the nuanced differences between shortcake and scones, we might just agree that strawberries are a pretty perfect way to unite these members of the biscuit family.
For our latest Year of Baking project, I decided to focus on scones. (I’ll leave homemade angel food cake and pound cake — other great vehicles for strawberries — for another day.)
Those drop shortcakes were popularized in the 20th century, when Bisquick printed the recipe on a box that was in nearly every American pantry as some point or another. They are hard to mess up and, conversely, hard to improve, especially for those of us with strong flavor and texture memories that pull us back to that yellow box.
Scones, on the other hand, aren’t something that many of us grew up making. I didn’t really eat scones until I was an adult and moved to a city with grocery stores that sold them. When I set out to make my own, I decided to put the strawberries in the scones, rather than simply serve them on the side.
Truth be told, you could serve macerated strawberries with canned biscuits and Cool Whip and I’d be a happy camper. But if I’ve learned anything from this Year of Baking series, it’s that there are lots of sugary paths that lead to that sweet spot — and it’s fun to sometimes take the more difficult route.
But really, scones aren’t that difficult. They are in the same category as biscuits, which is to say you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry right now. As long as you can cut butter into flour, you can make them.
I started with a base scone recipe from King Arthur Flour that called for between 1 and 2 cups of fresh or dried fruit. I ended up increasing the vanilla and the flour because the first few batches of dough were pretty wet.
Scone bakers all seem to have different techniques for rolling out and cutting the dough. I used my hands to press the dough into discs and, because of that wet dough, I couldn’t separate the cut wedges from each other without having to reshape some of them.
Those scones weren’t as uniform as I would have liked, so I decided to cut the wedges but bake the disc as a whole, cutting again along those lines halfway through baking. The edges of the scones weren’t as crusty as the ones that I’d baked with separation between them, but you’ll have to decide which approach will work best with your dough and your expectations for perfect shape or exterior texture.
You can buy scone pans, but I was pleased enough with baking them in a disc that I’ll probably make them that way from now on.
Here are a few other scone tips and ideas:
- Dried raisins and currants are among the most common scone add-ins, but because they don’t have as much liquid as fresh fruit, your dough might be a little drier and easier to handle. Freeze-dried fruits, chocolate chips and nuts are other options.
- You can make savory scones with small pieces of cheese, ham, olives or chives.
- Don’t overmix the dough, either when you are cutting or rubbing the butter into the flour or when you add the liquid mixture. You want uneven pieces of butter, some the size of small peas and others like grains of sand. Mix the dry and wet ingredients until they just start to come together. As you shape the discs, the liquid will absorb more into the flour.
- If you like sweeter scones, increase the sugar in the dough to as much as 1/2 cup. You can also make a glaze to drizzle on top by mixing three tablespoons milk with about a cup of powdered sugar.
- You can reheat scones by placing them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.
- If pressing the dough into discs and cutting the scones doesn’t sound like something you want to do, you can increase the milk (or half and half) to 3/4 cup and scoop the dough, much like those drop shortcakes.
- As with biscuits, you can freeze the dough after the scones have been sliced and store them in a zip-top plastic bag. No need to thaw them before baking.
- Add a few tablespoons of limoncello to your strawberries as they sit in the sugar.
Have other scone-baking tips? I’d love to hear them! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 512-912-2504.
Serve these scones with macerated strawberries and whipped cream for a shortcake-inspired spring treat.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar, plus additional for topping
3/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
2 large eggs
3 tsp. vanilla extract or the flavoring of your choice
1/2 cup milk (or half and half)
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Whipped cream and sliced strawberries mixed with sugar, for serving (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Using a fork, pastry cutter or your hands, work the butter into the flour mixture until it is unevenly crumbly. Stir in the strawberries.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla and milk or half and half. Reserve 2 tsp. of the milk mixture.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients. Gently fold together and then dump the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Coat your hands in flour and divide the dough in half. Form two circles that are between 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch thick. Brush each circle with reserved milk and sprinkle with sliced almonds, sugar and a pinch of salt.
Using a knife or a pizza cutter, slice each circle into six wedges. For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Bake the scones for 15 minutes and remove them from the oven. Cut through the score lines again and then bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown.
Remove the scones from the oven, and cool briefly on the pan. Serve warm. When they’re completely cool, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to several days.
— Adapted from a recipe by King Arthur
Eagle-eyed Bisquick shortcake lovers will note that this recipe from the box is different from older ones. This newer version calls for 2/3 cup milk, a little more than the 1/2 cup that the recipe used to rely on. Apparently, the company reformulated the Bisquick mix in 2009 to reduce the amount of fat, which led to some tweaks in some of the recipes. These shortcakes are sweeter than the scones and when paired with the sugared strawberries can be too sweet for some palates, so feel free to cut back on the amount of sugar in the dough.
If you want to mix up your own Bisquick for this recipe, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon sugar.
For the berries:
4 cups strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup sugar
For the shortcakes:
2 1/3 cups Bisquick mix
2/3 cup milk
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup whipping cream
Heat oven to 425 degrees. In large bowl, mix strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside.
In medium bowl, stir Bisquick mix, milk, 3 tablespoons sugar and the butter until soft dough forms. On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by 6 spoonfuls.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Meanwhile, in small bowl, beat whipping cream with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.
Split warm shortcakes; fill and top with strawberries and whipped cream.
— Adapted from a Bisquick recipe
We’re on our fourth Year of Baking project, and each story has a video you can find at austin360.com/yearofbaking. Here is what we have baked so far:
- January: Cherry muffins.
- February: Brownies.
- March: Cream puffs.
- April: Scones.
- Coming up in May: Fruit crisps.