Tuesday, June 30

Lemon Buttermilk Shortcake with Red Fruit and Cream

Early summer days, fresh local strawberries, and Canada's 148th birthday all had me hankering for an old-fashioned, fresh-flavoured dessert. I wanted something not too sweet or fussy but with enough "wow" to serve to company.

For inspiration, I found myself leafing through one of my favourite cookbooks, Food That Really Schmecks by Edna Staebler. First printed in 1968—just a few years after the iconic Canadian maple leaf flag was inaugurated—it's full of recipes and notes of Mennonite country cooking. A recipe for a simple shortcake caught my eye. Notice I said shortcake, singular, which is baked in a cake pan, not shortcakes, which are generally baked as individual biscuits. Nor is this shortbread, which is yet another similar but different concoction. Rather it's a cross between cake, biscuit and shortbread and it hit a nostalgic note that appealed.

With the shortcake as a starting point, I made a few tweaks, including fresh lemon to brighten it up, and decided to pair it with red fruit and white cream in honour of the upcoming Canada Day. The result is just what I was aiming for.

You have some options in how to serve this. Because the cake is tender with an even profile, you can spoon some fruit right on top and alongside a piece, adding a dollop of whipped cream. Alternatively, you can slice each piece in half horizontally like you would a biscuit and then layer the whipped cream and fruit between the halves. I'm showing you both ways (they were equally delicous!).

Whether you make this recipe for Canada Day or just because it's summer, I hope you enjoy an old-fashioned day of sunshine and fresh air!

Lemon Buttermilk Shortcake with Red Fruit and Cream

Serves 6-8 
The texture is a cross between a cake and a biscuit. The flavour is subtle and complements all sorts of fresh fruit or compotes. Try it with grilled peaches in late summer.
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (optional)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • zest from 1 lemon, grated
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut in cubes, plus more for the pan
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 cup buttermilk (approximately)

For Serving:
  • 4-6 cups mixed fruit, such as pitted cherry halves, sliced red plums, sliced strawberries
  • 2-3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
  • squeeze of lemon juice (or a splash of red wine)
  • 1 cup whipping cream, well chilled
    2 tablespoons sugar
  • lemon zest (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9" square baking pan. Line with parchment paper and butter paper.

In a small bowl, set aside 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Stir in ground ginger, if using.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine remaining 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, flour, icing sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. Add the butter and mix with the paddle attachment until incorporated and mixture looks crumbly.

Pour the juice of half a lemon into a measuring glass. Add enough buttermilk to make 1 cup liquid. With the mixer on low, slowly add the lemon-buttermilk, stopping the machine as soon as the wet and dry are almost combined. Finish mixing by hand with a spatula until no more dry bits remain. Don't overmix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading as evenly as possible (it's sticky and thick, just do your best). Sprinkle the reserved sugar-ginger mixture over top. Bake until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for at least 10 minutes.

Slice into 6 or 8 pieces. Serve warm.

While cake is baking, mix fruit with sugar and lemon juice and set aside, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar and release the juices. Whip cream and sugar to stiff peaks just before serving.

To serve, you can simply tumble some fruit and whipped cream on the top and alongside, or split horizontally and fill it in the classic shortcake style. Garnish with a sprinkling of lemon zest, if desired. Enjoy!

Vanilla Variation:
Omit the ground ginger, lemon zest and juice. Add 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract to the buttermilk. Sprinkle the batter with vanilla sugar before baking. 

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